Frank Sinatra and John Wayne Nearly Came to Blows Over Sinatra ‘Crony’ JFK and Communism

Though Frank Sinatra had more conservative political leanings toward the end of his life, the celebrity was initially liberal enough to pick up suspicion from the FBI. John Wayne was a staunch conservative who disagreed with Sinatra’s politics. After Wayne made comments about Sinatra’s ties to John F. Kennedy and a Communist filmmaker, the two men nearly got into a physical altercation. 

A black and white photo of Frank Sinatra and John Wayne wearing cowboy hats.
Frank Sinatra and John Wayne | Archive Photos/Getty Images

Frank Sinatra and John Wayne had different political leanings

In the 1940s, Sinatra openly supported various antiracist, antifascist, and internationalist causes. He also served as a board member for the Independent Citizens Committee of the Arts, Sciences, and Professions (ICCASP). According to Jacobin Mag, the ICCASP was a group of influential figures such as Duke Ellington, Albert Einstein, and Eleanor Roosevelt who supported causes like “free speech, racial equality and, after the end of World War II, campaigns against the atomic bomb.”

Given the national mood during the Red Scare, Sinatra’s political leanings garnered attention from the FBI. While they compiled a file on the singer that primarily dealt with his alleged mob ties, they also focused on his leftist beliefs. 

By contrast, Wayne was a prominent Hollywood conservative. Per the Washington Post, he belonged to the John Birch Society, a right-wing, anti-communism group. He also supported the House Un-American Activities Committee, which kept an eye on Sinatra’s politics. 

The two men fought over their political beliefs

Sinatra irritated Wayne in the 1960s when he hired Alfred Maltz, a blacklisted Communist filmmaker, to write a screenplay for The Execution of Private Slovik. Sinatra worked with Maltz in the 1945 short film The House I Live In. The film shows Sinatra decrying anti-semitism and promoting tolerance. 

Per the Saturday Evening Post, Wayne responded bitterly when a reporter asked him what he thought of the collaboration.

“I don’t think my opinion is too important,” he said. “Why don’t you ask Sinatra’s crony, who’s going to run our country for the next few years, what he thinks of it?”

With “crony,” Wayne was referring to Kennedy, who Sinatra publicly supported. The outcry against Maltz was strong enough that Sinatra fired him and canceled the project. Shortly after, Sinatra and Wayne were at the same Hollywood benefit show. Sinatra “stalked off the stage” when Wayne took the microphone.

“What the hell did you walk away from me for?” Wayne later asked Sinatra.

“Well, you cried,” Sinatra said. “You blasted off your mouth.”

Per the LA Times, witnesses at the benefit said that the two men nearly got into a physical altercation over the comments.

John Wayne initially denied that there was an altercation with Frank Sinatra

Despite witness accounts that Sinatra “tried to square off” against Wayne, the actor denied the altercation.

“There was no trouble at all,” he said just after the benefit. “I like Frank. Frank was the backbone of the entertainment that evening. In fact, he kept the show going.”

Still, he recounted the tense moment for the Saturday Evening Post in 1962. In this version of the story, however, the disagreement ended calmly. 

“Duke, we’re friends, and we’ll probably do pictures together,” Wayne explained that Sinatra said. “Let’s forget the whole thing.”

Ultimately, though, the moment did not permanently mar Sinatra and Wayne’s relationship.

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