A team of KGB hitmen attempting to assassinate a Hollywood star may seem like the premise for an outlandish movie — but it apparently really happened. Truth is often stranger than fiction, after all. And film historian Michael Munn believes he uncovered a killer plot in which movie legend John Wayne found himself a target of Joseph Stalin. But it seems that when the notorious Soviet dictator decided to take out Wayne, he didn’t count on The Duke’s resourcefulness.
A Western icon — but an Eastern threat
Wayne, of course, was a Western icon and a war film hero famous for his swaggering presence in pictures such as True Grit and Sands of Iwo Jima. He became so well-known, in fact, that in 1975 even Emperor Hirohito from Japan wanted to meet him. Soviet leader Nikita Khrushchev had that pleasure, too — and he apparently confirmed the plot on Wayne's life.
Politically oblivious — at first
It all seemingly stems from Wayne’s activities in the 1940s. The star's trenchant conservative views are arguably part of his legacy, after all. And this was despite the fact that the star paid little mind to political matters during his early years. Henry Fonda even claimed, “When we first made movies together, the Duke couldn’t even spell politics.” In the 1940s, though, Wayne earned a place on the board of the Screen Actors Guild, after which he became aware of the more left-leaning aspects of Hollywood.
A display of patriotism gets attention
It seems that Wayne became interested in politics after being denied entry into the military during World War II. He was said to have been downcast at his rejection and reportedly never felt wholly comfortable about playing military heroes when he hadn’t actually served. Consequently, he looked for other ways in which he could display his fierce patriotism.
Taking on the left
So, toward the end of the war, Wayne became a founder of the Motion Picture Alliance for the Preservation of American Ideals (MPA). This group aimed to take on Hollywood’s leftist fraternity. And while there’s talk that the actor only joined the organization to keep some of his rightwing buddies happy, he nevertheless served as MPA’s president from 1949 through 1952 — when Red Scare hysteria had America firmly in its grip.