The Big Guy Takes The Stand—John Wayne
Barring a last minute out-of-court settlement, Hollywood and the public are going to be treated, on October 19, to one of the toughest, roughest legal battles ever waged between a movie star and his wife.
John Wayne, forty-six, and his hot-tempered, excitable, thirty-year-old wife, Esperanza, are scheduled to throw the book at each other in a divorce suit that will make world-wide headlines.
These two handsome people, once so tenderly and romantically in love, now dislike each other with such violence and intensity that they are prepared to make public the most private aspects of their marital confusion.
“Chata,” as Mrs. Wayne is known throughout the film colony, has charged John Wayne with beating her. That charge is already part of the public record.
So, too, is Duke Wayne’s denial. “I have never in my life struck Mrs. Wayne,” the actor testified in court last May. “But there have been many times,” he continued, “when I have had to protect myself from her temper. I’ve held her hands and feet but only to protect myself.”
When Wayne made that statement in court, his wife, sitting next to her lawyer, suddenly crimsoned. “Why! That’s a lie,” she blurted out.
Spectators smiled. The picture of Duke Wayne, six feet, four inches tall, weighing 200 pounds, protecting himself from Chata, five feet, seven and 135 pounds, conjured up such a comic scene, that several of the more uninhibited people in the courtroom were startled into laughter.
There is no doubt that Mrs. Wayne is going to amplify her charge of physical cruelty against America’s number-one box office attraction.
The elaboration of that charge is certainly going to be one of the most fascinating aspects of the divorce action.
Mrs. Wayne has been seen with a black eye on occasion, and she is sure to testify or offer depositions as to how, where, why, and from whom she received such telltale bruises.
It is no secret that in preparation for the divorce trial, private detectives have been hired “to get the goods” on each of the participants. Both the plaintiff and the defendant in the pending trial have made that clear.
A few weeks ago, Mrs. Wayne’s lawyer hired a couple of detectives to see what they could find out about Wayne’s behavior while he was in Mexico making his latest film, Hondo.
He explained to the two investigators that Mrs. Wayne did not have enough money to pay them at the time. Should the private eyes return to Los Angeles with evidence that could be used in court—either photographs or recordings—then they would be well taken care of. That is, they would be paid at the end of the divorce trial when the Court ordered a final financial settlement.
The detectives were also told not to undertake the job unless they sincerely believed in the righteousness of Mrs. Wayne’s cause—that out of the $500,000 John Wayne makes each year, she was entitled to more than the temporary alimony allotment of $13,200 per year.
The two detectives made their way to Camargo, Mexico, where Duke was on location. They attempted to install small, hidden microphones in Wayne’s hotel suite. Instead of entering Wayne’s suite, however, they got into the apartment of the governor of Chihuahua, the top official in that area.
They were arrested and (with their recording equipment) tossed into the Camargo jail. A few hours later, the news services were carrying reports to the effect that the two detectives, both of Los Angeles, were in jail for installing “bugs” in the suite of the governor of Chihuahua. These two detectives were sent to Mexico by attorneys representing Mrs. Esperanza Wayne, John Wayne’s estranged wife. Allegedly, they were below the border to gather evidence against Wayne who is in Camargo working on a film. His two sons are with him there on vacation.
According to Ward Bond, one of Duke’s best friends, who was down in Camargo at the time, this is what happened.
“One afternoon,” Bond recalls, “Duke gets a phone call from one of the Mexican police officials. He tells Duke that the Mexican police have picked up two guys from Los Angeles who were attempting to ‘bug’ a room at the Santa Rosalia Motel. He also says that after searching these two characters they found one with a letter addressed to John Wayne.
“Duke says he never heard of the guys. The police say, ‘We’ve got ’em in jail, and we’re holding them on four or five different counts, entering the country illegally, working without a working permit, forced entry into a room, tampering with the mails, spying on the governor, and a lot of other stuff.’
“One of these two detectives is fat and the other is lean. One lives in Glendale, and the other in Los Angeles. They’re interrogated by the police, and they say that they were hired by Chata’s lawyer, Jerry Rosenthal, to come down to Mexico to investigate Duke. They say very frankly, and mind you, they swear to this in a signed statement to the Mexican authorities, that they were trying to find Duke with some girl. This is a very funny thing in a way, because at the time, Duke’s brother, Bob Morrison, was down there with his fiancée. These two guys apparently got some wrong information from someone and figured that Duke was with a girl who’ll probably be his sister-in-law eventually.
“Anyway, the governor of Chihuahua didn’t know what to believe. He didn’t know whether these two guys were private detectives or spies or Communists or what.
“Being the kind of decent fellow he is. Duke explained that they had been hired by his wife to tail him and that they had no evil intentions toward the Government of Mexico.
“The police official then stepped in and said, ‘We’re gonna try these two men, and I think we can send them to jail for thirty years. One of them is sick. Looks as if he’s got a ruptured appendix, but we’ll get that fixed up and then we’ll try them.’
“Duke and I went to see these two private eyes, and they told us everything. They had come down on speculation with cameras, microphones, and the whole works, just to get the goods on Duke, just to catch him with some girl, just to get some pictures they could show in the divorce trial.
“One guy, I forget which one, he pleaded with Duke. The sick one. He said, ‘Please, if I’m operated on down here and something happens to me! Ive got three kids and a wife back in the States. I’m their only means of support. Please give me a break.’
“I’ll tell you frankly,” Bond goes on. “I said to Wayne, ‘Duke, let these guys rot in jail. They knew what they were doing when they came down here. You’re trying to make a picture for Warner Brothers. It’s tough enough without these guys. They upset you, me, everyone. To hell with ’em. Let ’em rot.’
“But you know Duke, a real soft-hearted, good-natured guy. He goes to the police officials. He goes to the governor, and he pleads for the release of these two private eyes who came down to Mexico specifically for the purpose of ruining him. I know it’s their job to get evidence. But there’s evidence and there’s evidence.
“After these two jokers give a complete statement of their whole background (and this statement is part of the record in the possession of Duke’s attorney) Wayne springs the men.
“Not only that, but he charters a private plane to fly them to Chihuahua, and then he sees that they’re flown back to L. A.
“I was there. I witnessed the whole incident, this attempt to crucify one of the nicest men on earth. And that’s what happened. With such tactics as these, you can get an idea what an unholy mess that divorce trial’s gonna be.”
From the other side, Chata’s side, also comes stories of private detectives. Wayne’s attorney, Frank Belcher, says, “At ho time has Wayne ever had his wife followed or shadowed by detectives.”
Mrs. Wayne, however, insists that “I’ve been followed for months. I have positive proof,” she states. “I’ve seen the cars outside the house, men in the cars.
“Only a few weeks ago—well, I will tell you the whole story. I was riding with my cousin Charles—Carlos Baur, he is fifteen peels old. He is my cousin from Mexico City.
“We are riding along. I think it is Ventura Boulevard. I see in the mirror we are being followed. The same car is following me for weeks. I jam on my breaks, and this car runs into me.
“I get out and I run back to him. ‘You’ve hit my car,’ I say. ‘And you’ve been following me. I’m going to call the police.’
“This fellow, this detective, he says it’s part of his job. And I say, ‘What do you want to know?’ And he says, ‘Who is that young boy you’ve been riding with?’ And I say, ‘It’s Carlos. My cousin.’ He puts it down in his book, and he apologizes, and then he rides off. So I know very well I am being followed.”
Why can’t this divorce be settled amicably? This is the question many people in and out of Hollywood have been asking. Why all this cloak-and-dagger routine? Why can’t the Waynes get a divorce quietly and preserve some dignity?
The answer is money.
Duke’s wife claims that Duke earns $500,000 a year. She claims that they used to spend $13,000 a month. Under the law, she says, she is entitled to live after the divorce, in a manner similar to her way of living before the divorce. She wants approximately $9,000 a month in alimony after seven years of marriage to Duke.
Wayne admits that his monthly earnings average $40,000—this is all part of the public record—but he has also said that after taxes and expenses, all he has left at the end of the year is $60,000.
Moreover, he has to support his four children by his first marriage; and they get twenty per cent of his earnings.
A few months ago, in an attempt to award temporary alimony, pending the divorce trial, California Superior Court Judge William McKay ruled that Chata would have to get along on $1,100 a month until the final divorce settlement.
Not long after this decision was handed down, Chata’s Cadillac was attached because of failure to pay $2,367 in grocery bills. Mrs. Wayne, in this case, testified that she knew she owed the money, but that she had expected it would be taken care of in her separate maintenance settlement. She lost the case and was given ten days in which to raise the money or lose her car. She now rides around in a half-ton pick-up truck.
What are the reasons behind the failure of the John and Esperanza Wayne marriage? Are the partners equally to blame? Is one more wrong than the other? Was Duke really physically cruel to Chata, as she charges? Was Chata’s extravagance, as Duke testified, responsible for much of the stress and strain, and for the final break?
Adultery, alcoholism, sterility, extravagance, physical cruelty, mental cruelty, aggravation—all of these have been advanced as possible reasons for the Wayne marital mess.
This magazine, of course, takes no side in the case.
On October 19, unless there is a cancellation, postponement, or private settlement—and lawyers for Chata and Duke say none of these are probable—the truth will emerge in the Domestic Relations Court.
Of one thing you may be certain.
In this particular divorce case, the truth will sizzle, and two fundamentally decent and respectable human beings will emerge from the trial hurt and bitter.
—BY SANDY CUMMINGS
It is a quote. MODERN SCREEN MAGAZINE NOVEMBER 1953