Why Stalin Plotted To Have John Wayne Killed

John Wayne is synonymous with a specific fantasy: a Hollywood version of the American West where the cowboys are as rugged as the landscapes. But, one chapter of Wayne's real-life reads like a Cold War spy thriller. Some say a Soviet plot carried out many attempts to assassinate the outspokenly anti-communist celebrity, (via The Guardian).

In his 2001 book, "The Man Behind the Myth," the film historian Michael Munn draws from interviews with Wayne himself, Orson Wells, stuntmen, and Russian filmmakers. They all claim firsthand knowledge of the Soviet plot. That said, others, like writer Patrick Lynch for The History Collection, point out the flimsiness of oral accounts. Additionally, the larger-than-life details of the story seem lifted from a Hollywood script. In combination with the rampant propaganda from both the United States and Russia at the time, the story prompts skepticism. Most likely, the story rests somewhere in between truth and fantasy.

A Cold-War Hollywood Tale

The story begins as if it were a spy film. Russian filmmaker, Sergei Gerasimov, attended a 1949 peace conference in New York and brought back word of John Wayne to Joseph Stalin. Whispering in Stalin's ear about the famous American celebrity who was loudly criticizing communism prompted outrage in the Soviet dictator, who then set out to silence Wayne.  Shortly after that, the KGB carried out a series of attempts to kill America's leading cowboy. This story comes from Orson Wells, admittedly not a huge fan of Wayne. However, at least two other Russian filmmakers corroborate Wells' claim (per The Guardian).

Upon hearing of the potential threats against his life, Wayne reportedly said, "No goddamn Commie is gonna frighten me," according to The Scottish Daily Mail (via Pressreader). Then, much like the characters in his films, Wayne took matters into his own hands. When the FBI approached Wayne to tell him that two KGB agents planned to assassinate him at his office, Wayne said that he would take care of it. Along with his scriptwriter Jimmy Grant, Wayne came up with a plan to abduct the would-be assassins. The plan was to kidnap the KGB agents and take them to the beach where they would stage a mock execution to frighten them — clearly a plot cooked up by two people involved in action film. In the end, the FBI agents stepped in and intercepted Stalin's assassins (per The Scottish Daily Mail and The Guardian).

A Gang of Stunt People

No one knows whether John Wayne and Jimmy Grant ever got to pull off their beach plot. Though, many say that the two KGB agents remained in the U.S. and began to work for the FBI (via The Guardian). Regardless, the beach plot was only the beginning of Wayne's efforts to outsmart the KGB using the resources available to him: stunt people.

After the first attempt on his life, Wayne grew cautious and disinterested in government intervention. Michael Munn explains, "John shunned FBI protection and did not want his family to know. He moved into a house with a big wall around it."

Wayne enlisted his stunt people to infiltrate local communist groups. According to Munn, the incognito stunt people were successful. In 1955 Wayne's spies identified a plot to assassinate Wayne from a Burbank-based communist group, as The Scottish Daily Mail writes (via Pressreader). Wayne ordered his gang of stunt people to raid the group and "ran them out of town."

Munn's book reports two other attempts to assassinate Wayne. One attempt occurred in Mexico on the set of "Hondo." Later, in Vietnam, a sniper attacked Wayne on a visit to American troops (via Reuters posted on Los Angeles Times). Oddly, years earlier, in 1953, the hit had been officially called off by Nikita Khrushchev, a fan of Wayne's films. In 1958 he apologized to Wayne, stating that the call for his death was part of ​​Stalin's "last five mad years" (per BBC).