SANTA ANA (CBSLA) — Three days after the Orange County Democrats passed a resolution calling for the renaming of John Wayne Airport over the late actor’s “white supremacist, anti-LGBT, and anti-Indigenous views,” the Hollywood star’s youngest son came to his defense.
“What they are trying to accuse him of is not true,” Ethan Wayne said.
The O.C. Democrats said Wayne spoke publicly about these views in a 1971 interview in Playboy magazine, in which he was quoted as saying, “I believe in white supremacy until the blacks are educated to a point of responsibility. I don’t believe in giving authority and positions of leadership and judgment to irresponsible people.”
Wayne was also quoted as saying that he didn’t “feel guilty about the fact that five or 10 generations ago these people were slaves.”
“There’s no excuse for the words he said,” Ethan said. “It was 1971, we used different words back then. It was a different time.”
The Orange County Board of Supervisors is now expected to vote on the resolution, though Supervisor Michelle Steele — who chairs the board — penned a statement in support of Wayne released by her office.
“The comments by John Wayne from 50 years ago are wrong and sad from someone who so many people across America hold in high regard,” she wrote. “While I have experienced racism first-hand, I do believe that a person should be judged on the totality of their actions and contributions to society which is why I support keeping the name John Wayne Airport.”
Steele noted Wayne’s numerous contributions to Southern California, including assistance to Vietnamese refugees resettling in America and his work to support American troops.
“My father wasn’t perfect,” Ethan said. “I’m not perfect, nobody is.
“We can all grow, and I hope that real change comes out of these situations that we’ve been facing, but if John Wayne was there when that policeman was kneeling on George Floyd’s neck, you can bet that John Wayne would have pulled him off,” Ethan continued. “He would have stepped in and done the right thing, because that’s who he was and represented.”
Ethan said that whether his dad was acting or making strides in cancer treatment through his John Wayne Cancer Foundation, what he stood for never wavered.
“Toughness. Compassion. Humor,” Ethan said. “All of these things that help us interact with each other regardless of race, color, sexual orientation or anything else. He was a good man, and they’re doing something terrible to him, but I don’t think they’ll succeed.”
Ultimately, the decision could be in the hands of O.C. voters who might see the question of renaming the airport on a ballot initiative this fall.