John Wayne Was Once Almost Murdered By His Wife

Western movie legend John Wayne shot so many bandits, desperadoes, and other assorted villains on screen that it's easy to forget he wasn't, in real life, a murderous prodigy. His last film, "The Shootist," seemed to sum up his own career as well as its main character's. It's a little disconcerting to think of the Duke, in real life, at the mercy of some other cowboy with a gun.

But it did happen, and the other "cowboy," in this case, was his wife. Outsider tells the story of Wayne's real brush with violent death.

In 1947, Wayne was filming "Angel and the Badman," costarring Gail Russell. Rumors had circulated that Wayne and the sultry Russell were having an affair; both denied it, but Wayne's then-wife, Esperanza Baur, apparently burned up with jealousy. When filming for "Angel and the Badman" closed, the cast and production team threw a wrap party, which lasted long into the night. Baur waited up for her husband, drinking heavily and ruminating on what he may have been up to with Russell. 

Angel and the Badman

Finally, late that night, Wayne came home. As he walked through the door of his house, Baur (shown above) drew a pistol and fired at him. She missed, but with better aim or a drink or two less in her, she could have executed the Duke at the prime of his career. There's something perversely poetic about her attack following the wrap of "Angel and the Badman," a film about a gunslinger who changes his ways for the love of a peaceful Quaker girl (per IMDb).

It must have been rather a shock to Wayne, but not terribly surprising. According to Classic Country Music, Wayne described his marriage to Baur as being "like shaking two volatile chemicals in a jar." Nor was Baur's jealousy particularly unfounded. Whatever his relationship with Russell — and it may have been purely professional and chaste — Wayne had a wandering eye. He may have met Baur in 1945 while still married to his first wife, Josephine Saenz (the sources disagree). He married Baur in January of 1946, according to The New York Times. That's an infidelity, a divorce, a marriage, an alleged infidelity, and a murder attempt in under two years.

Josephine, Esperanza, Pilar

John Wayne, or rather Duke Morrison — John Wayne was his film persona — was an unlikely Don Juan, as critic Emmanuel Levy notes. He was often uncomfortable and stilted around women, and seems to have turned down a few seduction attempts. (Perhaps he never picked up on the signs.) 

But the Duke never lacked for duchesses, in spite of his awkwardness. One of them was co-star Marlene Dietrich, then a byword for sophisticated sex appeal. But the blonde, imperious German was never really Wayne's type. He liked Latin women, and his three wives were all beauties from South or Central America. Josephine Saenz, his first wife and mother of his first four children, was Panamanian, the daughter of a diplomat. Baur, his second, was from Mexico City. Pilar Palette, his third wife (shown above) and mother of three more of his children, came from Peru. His first two marriages ended in divorce; Wayne and Palette neither divorced or legally separated, although she had moved out of their residence several years before his death. The Los Angeles Times quotes her as saying, "we were married until the day he died."