Posted on February 25, 2019

It’s Time to Take John Wayne’s Name off the Orange County Airport

Michael Hiltzik, Los Angeles Times, February 21, 2019


But the resurrection of a 1971 interview [John] Wayne gave to Playboy magazine has underscored the sheer crudeness of the actor’s feelings about gay people, black people, Native Americans, young people and liberals.

This doesn’t necessarily mean that it’s impossible or immoral to enjoy Westerns and war movies starring John Wayne; that’s a personal choice. But it certainly undermines any justification for his name and image to adorn a civic facility.


Wayne’s May 1971 Playboy interview has been unearthed before, notably in 2016 when his daughter Aissa endorsed Donald Trump for president. But it may well resonate more today, when iconic representations tied to racism, such as statues of Confederate war heroes, are being evicted from public spaces.


Some of Wayne’s defenders have stepped forward to say it’s unfair to condemn an elderly man’s memory for a 48-year-old interview conducted during a very different era. In a statement issued Wednesday to Fox News, Wayne’s family says, “It’s unfair to judge someone on something that was written that he said nearly 50 years ago when the person is no longer here to respond.”

But that won’t wash. Wayne was a few weeks shy of his 64th birthday when the interview appeared in print. It was 1971, so the civil rights revolution had been going on for years; Martin Luther King Jr. had been assassinated three years before.

Wayne wasn’t expressing the tenor of the times — he was reacting to the advances being won by African Americans through demonstrations and legislation. His words already were retrograde when they were uttered. Wayne wasn’t an old conservative who hadn’t yet been “woke”; he had seen the future, and it put him into a racist rage.


The great irony of the airport’s moniker is that John Wayne’s old home of Newport Beach hates John Wayne Airport. The first line of the Newport Beach municipal website devoted to the history of the airport states, “Each decade that the airport has been in existence has brought with it changes that have adversely impacted Newport Beach neighborhoods.”

The city sued Orange County in the 1980s to block the airport’s expansion, eventually settling on noise abatement rules that remain in effect, more or less. {snip}

That leaves us with the question of why John Wayne’s name should be associated with any civic institution in Orange County, its airport or otherwise. He doesn’t appear to have been a major contributor to civic life in his home town or county; in 2016, when a GOP state assemblyman from Orange County tried to get the state to declare a “John Wayne Day,” he was rebuffed when legislators mentioned Wayne’s support for the House Un-American Activities Committee and the John Birch Society.