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Ghosts of John Wayne Divorce Case

The memories of the sizzling divorce battle between John Wayne and his brunette Mexican-born wife, Esperanza Baur, linger on in Hollywood—haunting alike those who were embroiled in the sensational case and those who watched it from the sidelines.

Though Wayne, himself, has not suffered any loss of his popularity as the nation’s No. 1 box-office star and Hollywood has been consistently sympathetic, he is unable to banish from his mind the nasty revelations of the trial.

Always firmly on the side of virtue in his screen roles, always the good guy, the typical American he-man hero, John Wayne is still disturbed by the courtroom accusations of Esperanza.

Most startling in her testimony in Los Angeles Superior Court against her strapping husband was her charge that John spent most of one night at the home of actress Gail Russell, estranged wife of Guy Madison, and that Duke bought Gail an automobile shortly thereafter.

The 46-year-old actor was able to fend off with a good show of nonchalance Esperanza’s testimony that he was far rougher in his home life with his wife than with cattle rustlers on the screen.

Her allegations that he beat her, that he drank to excess, that he attended a wild strip-tease party and came home with an incriminating bite on his neck did not, seemingly, upset him unduly.

But her mention of Gail Russell enraged him bitterly—and its recollection endures. It was the kind of searing accusation that, his friends say, he will never be able to forget.

Nor will, it is said, Gail Russell or Guy Madison. Guy despite their rift, is still deeply devoted to his wife.

“Why did she have to drag Gail’s name into it?” angrily asked Big John. “There was absolutely nothing between us.”

The average American family, he said, “dislikes to read this sort of stuff. God knows, I tried my best to prevent it.

“I offered a big settlement, as good as she’ll ever get, before the trial got underway. I have four children that I would have given my right arm to protect from all this.

“I never pretended to be a saint, but an awful lot of lies were told about me and my friends.”

The immediate reaction to the linking of Wayne’s name with the beautiful, brunette, 28-year-old Gail Russell, was a bitter desire by the actor to have his own day in court.

When that day came he denied all of Esperanza’s charges. In turn, he accused his wife of a love affair with Nicky Hilton, hotel heir and ex-husband of Elizabeth Taylor.

He accused Hilton of being Esperanza’s house guest while Wayne was making a picture in Hawaii. He also charged her with excessive drinking and wild outbursts.

In a rebuttal appearance, Esperanza denied each charge.

Nicky Hilton was subpoenaed to explain a week-long stay at the Wayne home during the absence of the actor in Honolulu. And to add to the turbulent drama, the name of actress Betsy Von Furstenberg, said to be the current romantic interest of Franchot Tone, also was projected into the case.

Hilton and Betsy were sweethearts at the time. And Esperanza, it was stated, had been asked by Betsy to house Nicky while he recuperated from injuries received in an automobile accident.

Along with these developments, Gail Russell threatened to sue Esperanza for charging that John Wayne had spent the night with the young actress.

Meanwhile, the movie industry exerted pressure on both sides to end the trial quickly, even though trials involving Hollywood stars seldom hurt their box-office appeal.

With dramatic suddenness the Waynes’ divorce trial ended. The case was a standoff, a Mexican standoff, it has been called in Hollywood. It ended in a draw—a divorce decree for both John and Esperanza. She and her attorney were reported “very happy” with the abrupt settlement.

Under its terms John will pay his wife $500,000—$50,000 a year for the next 10 years. He will keep their $140,000 home, one of the chief issues in the pre-trial skirmishes. It is expected, however, he will sell the place soon.

The Waynes came into the divorce arena when they were not able to agree upon a settlement. Seeking separate maintenance, Esperanza asked originally for $9,000 a month alimony—a sum John called “fantastic.”

In no time at all the flashing-eyed señora and her stalwart husband were engaging in a fusillade of charges across the crowded courtroom—charges of drunkenness, violence and misconduct.

Then in a hectic surprise moment of the turbulent scene, Esperanza accused John of having kept romantic trysts with Gail Russell.

While eyebrows were lifted and the courtroom became so hushed that one could hear a name being dropped, Esperanza testified how she almost plugged John with a bullet when he came home late following a studio party he had attended with Gail.

It was the day they finished the picture, “The Angel And The Bad Man,” in which John and Gail co-starred, Esperanza said.

“Usually I went to these parties with Mr. Wayne,” she told the court. She said she asked her husband if he were taking her this time.

“He said no,” she testified. “He said this time he didn’t want me to go with him, that the party was just for the picture crew.”

Esperanza related that John “never did call, or return,” that “we waited dinner for several hours.” She said she began to worry that something had happened, an accident, perhaps.

She said she called the restaurant where the party was being held and was told “everyone had left by 6 p.m.”

“Hours went by. I became more nervous and worried. Finally, early in the morning I heard a crash like glass being broken. I was afraid someone was breaking into the house.

“I grabbed a gun. I went down the hall.”

“I saw somebody lying on the couch. I was just about to shoot him, but my mother grabbed me and said:

“Don’t shoot, that’s your huskand.’ ”

She said Wayne was “flopped on the couch” and she asked him if he had broken the window.

“He just mumbled,” she testified. “He was very intoxicated.”

Esperanza said John told her he had spent the night at Gail Russell’s home, that he had left the studio party with Miss Russell, “just the two of them, and went to her home.”

Mrs. Wayne said that a few days later a friend informed her that John had given Gail an automobile and that she asked her husband about this.

She testified that Wayne said he had given Miss Russell “the down payment on a car.”

“I asked him why he’d give anyone the down payment on a car unless there were some sort of relationship between them. Mr. Wayne told me there was nothing wrong in that—that he wasn’t running around with Miss Russell.”

Gail, in a statement, gave her version of the studio party.

“John took me home after the party,” she said. “He had celebrated too much and apologized to my mother for his condition. He called a taxi. My brother helped him into the taxi and he left about 1 a.m.

“The next morning he sent my mother a box of flowers with a note of apology for the inconvenience he might have caused her.

“I was separated from Guy Madison at the time and was living with my family.”

Wayne continued to be bitter at his wife’s action in mentioning Gail Russell.

“Why did she have to drag that poor kid’s name into this?” he repeated. “I never had anything to do with Miss Russell except to make a couple of movies with her. True, we had a party at the end of the picture. Every studio and company does. Everybody was there from technician to star.”

John asserted he came home at 2 a.m. and broke in the front door, “not because I was drunk but because I had no key and my wife refused to open the door.

“I’m no saint,” he added, “but this is ridiculous.”

As to the down payment on a car for Gail, Duke said, “The poor kid went to work for us on a loanout from Paramount. She was getting practically nothing. She did such a good job in our picture that we tried to get her some of the loanout money but Paramount said no. So Jimmy Grant, who directed the picture, and I chipped in $500 apiece and gave it to her. Chata knew all about it. Jimmy and I had discussed it half a dozen times.”

According to Esperanza, life with John Wayne was six years of smashing fists and crashing missiles, with alcohol the real villain in their marital affairs.

She said he had hit her with everything from the back of his hand to upholstered pillows during their marriage. But, she added, they always kissed and made up.

Esperanza Baur, former Mexico City screen star, was Wayne’s second wife. His first wife, also a Latin-American beauty, was Josephine Saenz, of the Dominican Republic, who divorced him after 11 years of marriage, and was given custody of their four children.

“I tried every way possible to make a go of our marriage,” he said about his life with Esperanza.

At present Wayne is seen much in the company of Pilar Pallette, Peruvian actress. It is confidently believed in Hollywood Pilar will be wife No. 3.

The stalwart 6 foot, 4 inch product of Main Street—Wayne was born Marion Morrison in Waterloo, Ia.—and one-time football star at the University of Southern California where he was known as Duke Morrison, is definitely big time headline material.

He draws headlines because of his persistent appeal for Latin-American women, because he can boast a $500,000-a-year income, because of such box-office winners as “The Quiet Man,” “Hondo,” “Flying Leathernecks,” “She Wore A Yellow Ribbon” and other pictures.

Down deep, according to his friends, Wayne wishes the headlines were not so big or black. The divorce trial publicity is part of the price he is paying for his popularity.

The headlines are a part of the. bitter memories he carries of the courtroom battle in which he and his wife were embroiled so spectacularly.

In that battle Gail Russell made bold headlines, also. They came back to haunt her a month after the trial when she was arrested on a drunk-driving charge.

Ordinarily, such a charge would have attracted little or no attention. Now she made new headlines.

Gail happened to be driving her car in Santa Monica when she came behind a police prowl car that stopped at a red light, and honked her horn. “Sounded off on the horn,” the officers said. There was an investigation and the officers said the actress was intoxicated.

She was taken to jail, and a few hours later a man appeared with $250 bail. The man was Guy Madison. His rush to the rescue gave new emphasis to his remarks last February when he and Gail separated after four years of marriage and three of courtship.

“I’m heartsick over our separation,” he said then, “but somehow we can’t seem to make a go of it. I’m still devoted to Gail. And anything she needs from me she’ll always have.”

He also said he appreciated the “wonderful years she made possible.”

“It was a strong and honest emotional experience. I still believe Gail and I will get back together. I never expect to be emotionally involved with any other woman.”

Gail’s brush with the law—which is scheduled for a court decision soon, for she pleaded innocent to the drunk-driving charge—occurred just as she had returned from a rest in a Seattle sanitarium. She had gone to the sanitarium to seek peace from the turmoil of mind and spirit occasioned by the mention of her name in the Wayne divorce trial.

Divorce trials can be such ghostly affairs.





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