A Fox Exec Shut Down A Xenophobic John Wayne On The Set Of The Longest Day

John Wayne, who died of cancer in 1979, wasn't really known for his gentleness or commitment to open-minded, multicultural thinking. Every few years, the internet rediscovers Wayne's infamously racist, misogynist 1971 Playboy Magazine interview, and are offended afresh. He used the three-letter F-word to describe the characters in "Midnight Cowboy," calling it "perverted," before actually saying out loud  "I believe in white supremacy." He also ranted about how in the heyday of his career, there were more white people in movies. 

This interview didn't really expose anything the public didn't already know about Wayne, a man who used antisemitic slurs when talking to Richard Nixon, and who allegedly tried to storm the stage at the 1973 Academy Awards to interrupt Sacheen Littlefeather's speech about how Westerns hurt the public's perception of Native Americans. One can only imagine what Wayne would have thought of Haysi Fantayzee's bawdy 1982 single "John Wayne is Big Leggy." 

The above actions make Wayne's comments on the set of "The Longest Day" seem tame in comparison. In Scott Eyman's biography "20th Century-Fox: Darryl F. Zanuck and the Creation of the Modern Film Studio," the author reported on an incident on the film's set wherein Wayne said something brazenly xenophobic, and that he was actually taken to task for it. The film was a French/British/American/German co-production and sported three directors: Bernhardt Wicki directed the German portions, Andrew Marton the American portions, and Ken Annakin the French and British portions. Wayne, it seems, was uncomfortable working with someone who had one French parent, and wasn't shy about saying so. 

Darryl F. Zanuck got in Wayne's face on the matter.

Wayne's dislike of the French got him in rightful trouble

The publicist on "The Longest Day" was longtime film industry worker Fred Hift. Hift also served as a publicist on other notable films such as "Exodus," "The Hustler," and "Wake in Fright." The story goes that Wayne visited Hift's office and briefly talked to his secretary, somehow asking her what her nationality was. Hift's secretary said that she was half-French and half-American. It seems that Wayne, in a fit of jingoistic pique, replied "There is no such thing. You're either 100 percent American or nothing." Oh boy. 

It seems that Hift's secretary told Darryl F. Zanuck about the incident, and Zanuck was outraged. Zanuck, it should be noted, was no angel himself, known for his short temper and blustering behavior. He was also alleged to have kept a "casting couch" at his office and was said to frequently be sexually inappropriate with various actresses, so he was hardly a hero. He was, however, extremely miffed that John Wayne should treat Hift's secretary so brusquely. 

It seems that Zanuck went to the set of "The Longest Day" to confront Wayne in front of the entire French crew. "Tell them what you told Hift's secretary," Zanuck yelled. "I'm sure they'd like to know." Wayne wouldn't repeat his remark, so Zanuck told everyone what he said. The French crew were disgusted and refused to talk to Wayne for the rest of the shoot. Hift recalls visiting thereafter and finding every French actor giving Wayne the cold shoulder. 

"It was one of the few occasions when I felt proud of Darryl F. Zanuck," Hift said. Wayne may not have rethought his xenophobia, as he gave the infamous Playboy interview nine years after "The Longest Day," but he was, for a brief moment, embarrassed by it.