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May 26: ‘That’ll be the day’ to celebrate John Wayne, Newport Beach councilman hopes

A Newport Beach city councilman wants to designate May 26 as a day to honor John Wayne, the actor known for his rugged cowboy roles. Wayne lived in Newport Beach until his death at age 72 in 1979.
(Warner Bros. )

Less than a month after a resolution to honor John Wayne failed to gain traction with state lawmakers, a Newport Beach city councilman is asking his colleagues to designate May 26 as a day to pay tribute to the late actor.

Mayor Pro Tem Kevin Muldoon asked city staff Tuesday to place a resolution honoring Wayne on the May 24 City Council agenda for his colleagues’ consideration. At that time, council members will be able to decide whether to designate Wayne’s birthday, May 26, in his name.

“John Wayne is an iconic figure and beloved in his adopted hometown of Newport Beach,” Muldoon said.

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Known as “Duke,” a nickname he picked up as a boy in Glendale, the actor is known for his rugged cowboy roles in films such as “True Grit,” for which he won an Academy Award in 1970, and “The Alamo.”

Wayne eventually moved to Newport Beach, where he lived until he died from complications of cancer in 1979 at age 72.

Wayne’s legacy is still present in many ways in Orange County. He is buried at Pacific View Memorial Park in Corona del Mar; his beloved yacht, Wild Goose, is still anchored in Newport Harbor; and the Orange County airport in Santa Ana bears his name and a 9-foot-tall statue of him in one of its terminals.

“He symbolized all that is great in America and our city — strength, freedom and love of country and family,” Muldoon said. “It is only fitting that we should honor such a great man.”

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In late April, Assemblyman Matthew Harper, a Huntington Beach Republican who also represents sections of Newport Beach, introduced a resolution that sought to declare May 26 as John Wayne Day statewide.

However, the Assembly voted down the resolution, 35 to 20, after several legislators took issue with statements Wayne had made about racial minorities and his support for the anti-communist House Un-American Activities Committee and John Birch Society.

“He had disturbing views toward race,” Assemblyman Luis Alejo (D-Watsonville) said during the April discussion.

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Alejo cited a 1971 interview with Playboy magazine in which Wayne spoke disparagingly about African Americans.

“I believe in white supremacy until the blacks are educated to a point of responsibility,” he said. “I don’t believe in giving authority and positions of leadership and judgment to irresponsible people.”

Several lawmakers supported the resolution, calling Wayne an American hero whose family created the John Wayne Cancer Foundation after his death.

Madeleine Cooper, Harper’s legislative director, said the assemblyman is pleased that Newport Beach is considering the idea.

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“We were so disappointed that we couldn’t do this at the state level, but we’re happy to see it done at a local level,” Cooper said.

Fry writes for Times Community News.

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