Why John Wayne Not Serving in World War II Made Him Hollywood’s Valuable Commodity

Actor John Wayne avoided serving in World War II, which had both positive and negative impacts on his career. The “super-patriot” always held high opinions of the country and those who served to protect it. However, Wayne took criticism for not fighting for the country when he had the opportunity to do so. The actor believed that he served in his own way, but staying home actually benefited his career more than one may think.

Why John Wayne avoided serving in World War II

John Wayne as Lt. Rusty Ryan and Robert Montgomery as Lt. John Brickley, who had different career positions during World War II. They're wearing uniforms and squinting at the oncoming light while standing on a boat.
L-R: John Wayne as Lt. Rusty Ryan and Robert Montgomery as Lt. John Brickley | Silver Screen Collection/Getty Images

Wayne had a variety of reasons why he didn’t serve in WWII back in the day. However, he would later open up about the real reason why he didn’t enlist. The actor initially tried to explain how he wanted to serve, but that he wasn’t allowed to. Wayne ultimately didn’t enlist in WWII on the basis that he was the sole supporter of his family, but he failed to mention that he was in the process of getting a divorce at the time.

Nevertheless, the Western movie star ultimately found his own purpose to serve during the war. He felt that he symbolized America in a unique way and he wanted to act as morale for the soldiers fighting for the United States. However, some folks surrounding the actor didn’t agree with this assertion and they reminded him of that.

John Wayne became Hollywood’s valuable commodity after not serving in World War II

Marc Eliot wrote about the They Were Expendable actor in American Titan: Searching for John Wayne and how not serving in WWII ultimately gave him a huge advantage in his career. As a result, he became a huge commodity in Hollywood because many of the leading men went off to war.

Naval reservist Henry Fonda was called to active duty, even though the 37-year-old was married with three children. Meanwhile, 33-year-old Jimmy Stewart went on a diet of candy, beer, and bananas to reach the minimum weight requirement to serve his country by flying dozens of missions over Germany.

Eliot explained how Gene Autry joined the Army Air Corps, Robert Montgomery and William Holden joined the army, and Tyrone Power enlisted in the Marines. Additionally, Clark Gable joined the army after his wife, Carole Lombard, tragically died in a plane crash during a tour selling war bonds. Ronald Reagan also gave up his booming acting career to fight in the war, which resulted in World War I veteran Humphrey Bogart getting the lead role in Casablanca.

Many male actors left to fight in WWII because of the pressures of patriotism, but not Wayne. Even Laurence Olivier, a member of the “Beverly Hills Brits,” had to return home to do their duty.

As a result, Wayne was one of the few big names in Hollywood to not leave to fight in WWII, allowing him to further expand his brand and movie career.

The actor’s patriotism took a hit

Wayne ultimately saw his film career continue to grow for not serving in WWII. However, he considered himself a “super patriot” and that self-assessment took a hit as a result. Wayne often represented America itself at the time and many audiences look up to him as such. Nevertheless, his mentor, John Ford, knew how to push his buttons – bringing up the fact that he didn’t fight for his country in the war.

The actor heavily regretted not serving his country. However, he still stuck to his guns that he served in another way. Wayne remains one of America’s biggest actors, who frequently made movies about and supported the soldiers in the wars he didn’t serve in.

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