Asked once toward the end of his life about what he was proudest of, liberal activist and actor Paul Newman cited his appearance on Nixon’s “enemies list.” The flip side to this occurred with conservative actor John Wayne making it onto Stalin’s enemies list, with much more lethal consequences than anything Nixon had at his disposal.
According to those close to Wayne, Stalin ordered Wayne liquidated after learning of the outspoken conservative actor’s popularity and anticommunist beliefs from a Russian film-maker who visited New York in 1949.
Wayne was informed of these plots by the FBI in the early 1950s. Told by the Bureau that KGB assassins were in Hollywood tasked by Stalin with killing him, Wayne, true to cinematic form, informed the FBI to let him handle it.
According to his screen writer Jimmy Grant, Wayne plotted to capture the assassins and stage a mock-execution on the beach to scare them. Rumors held that this did not take place and that the would-be assassins were “turned” by the FBI.
More plots were hatched, and Wayne continued to shun FBI protection. Instead, he ran his own intelligence unit composed of his stuntmen who worked undercover in communist groups to learn of Soviet plots to kill the actor.
After a failed attempt while Wayne was on location in Mexico in 1953, Nikita Kruschev, who became Soviet premiere after Stalin’s death, canceled the operations.
Other communist dictators, however, took up Stalin’s baton. Wayne told a journalist that Chinese communist dictator Mao Tse Tung put a bounty on him and that an enemy sniper tried to earn it by trying to kill the actor on Wayne’s visit to American troops in Vietnam.
Wayne earned Stalin’s wrath, both on-screen and in real life. In Big Jim McClain (1951), Wayne busted up an anticommunist cell intent on releasing germ warfare into the United States, and championed America’s melting pot as the best defense against a communist invasion; by contrast, it was the communist spies who were racist (Wayne decked one of them for using a racial slur against blacks).
In Hollywood, Wayne took it upon himself to fight industry communists who were engaging in their own blacklist against anticommunist screenwriters. A chairman of the Hollywood anticommunist group, The Motion Picture Alliance for the Preservation of American Ideals, Wayne helped expose industry Stalinists.
Wayne fervently supported U.S efforts in Korea and Vietnam, advocating with the latter, the bombing of Hanoi.
As with Newman, whose anti-Vietnam activism brought him to the attention of the paranoid Richard Nixon, Wayne also not only earned the wrath of Stalin but when the time came to deal with it, he wanted to fight them on his own.