Michael Wayne, 68; Producer, Guardian of His Father’s Legacy

Times Staff Writer

Michael Wayne, the eldest of John Wayne’s seven children, who headed the family production company and served as the primary keeper of his father’s flame, has died. He was 68.

Wayne died of heart failure Wednesday at Providence St. Joseph Medical Center in Burbank after undergoing surgery for diverticulitis and experiencing complications because of lupus, an autoimmune disease.

Wayne worked in the office of his father’s Batjac Productions before serving as his right-hand man when John Wayne starred in and directed the 1960 film “The Alamo.”

In 1961, Michael Wayne became president of Batjac. He made his solo producing debut on the 1963 film “McLintock!” co-starring John Wayne and Maureen O’Hara.


As producer, Michael Wayne brought the $4-million Western comedy in on budget, earning the praise of his father, who reportedly gloated to a friend that “that kid of mine runs a tight ship. He’s all business and no nonsense.”

Wayne’s credits as a producer and executive producer of his father’s films include “Big Jake,” “Brannigan,” “Cahill -- United States Marshal,” “Cast a Giant Shadow,” “Chisum,” “The Green Berets,” “McQ,” “The Train Robbers” and “The War Wagon.”

“He was about as good a guy that ever walked down the pike; I was very fond of him,” actor Harry Carey Jr., a family friend who appeared in numerous John Wayne films, said Thursday.

“He was John Wayne’s son, but that wasn’t why he was a producer,” Carey said. “He knew the business inside out.”

Maureen O’Hara, who made five films with John Wayne and knew Michael Wayne from the time he was a kid visiting his father’s sets, recalled that he was a “tough” producer.

“One time,” she recalled Thursday, “we were doing one of the movies and I said, ‘Duke, maybe we should do this, or maybe we should do that.’ He said, ‘Maureen, you’ve got to talk to the boss’ -- Mike.

“It’s a pity he didn’t go on producing because he was excellent, and Duke was very proud of him. We all were.”

After his father died of cancer in 1979 at the age of 72, Michael Wayne took great care in overseeing the image of the man he called “J.W.”


To control the use of his father’s name and image, he formed John Wayne Enterprises.

Over the years, the family has licensed numerous products bearing the likeness of John Wayne, including bronze sculptures, plates, prints, a Winchester rifle, Colt pistol and Bowie knife.

A portion of the proceeds, now numbering in the millions, goes to the John Wayne Cancer Institute at St. John’s Health Center in Santa Monica.

Michael Wayne served as chairman of the institute’s board, and he and his wife, Gretchen, created and spearheaded the Odyssey Ball, an annual fund-raiser staged by the institute’s auxiliary.


Wayne also was careful in releasing certain John Wayne films to television and video.

For years, he held back four of his father’s films -- “The High and the Mighty,” “Hondo,” “Island in the Sky” and “McLintock!”

One of his father’s most requested films, “McLintock!” was licensed to TNT in 1995.

“I believe less is more,” Wayne told The Times that year.


“Instead of putting it into syndication, I felt it should have a periodic release. I model myself after Disney. If the public wants to see a picture it hasn’t seen for a long time, there’s more impact with a periodic release.”

John Wayne was starring in low-budget Westerns when his first wife, Josephine, gave birth to Michael, the first of their four children, on Nov. 23, 1934.

The marriage ended in divorce in 1944, with Josephine Wayne receiving custody of the children.

“Even though my parents were divorced, Dad was always around, always the father figure,” Wayne said in a 1975 Times interview.


“He represented the final word. Sometimes the final word was a spanking with his belt.”

Nine years old when his parents divorced, Wayne would spend weekends and summer vacations on location, “hanging out” with his father.

But studio hands also gave him “menial jobs” and errands to do, and he said he relished “the camaraderie, the new places and people, the excitement” of a movie set.

Wayne graduated from Loyola High School in 1952. After graduating from Loyola (now Loyola Marymount) University in 1956, he enlisted in the Air Force Reserve.


Wayne served as president and chairman of the board of the John Wayne Foundation, which contributes to numerous charitable causes.

He was vice chairman of the board of Trustees of the Motion Picture & Television Fund, and served on the board of directors of Mutual of Omaha Insurance Co.

In addition to his wife of 45 years, Wayne is survived by five children, Alicia Wayne McFarlane, Christopher Wayne, Josephine Wayne, Maria Wayne King and Teresa Wayne; his mother, Josephine Wayne Nigg; brothers Patrick and Ethan; sisters Aissa, Marisa and Melinda; and two grandchildren.

In lieu of flowers, donations may be made to the John Wayne Cancer Institute at St. John’s Health Center, or to Providence St. Joseph Medical Center Cardiovascular Services.


A funeral Mass will be said at 10 a.m. Tuesday at St. Charles Borromeo Catholic Church, 10800 Moorpark St., North Hollywood.