In the pantheon of Americana, few names appear bolder than former President Ronald Reagan and actor John Wayne.
Throughout their careers on screen and in politics, both men were frequently joined at the hip, signifying a brand of patriotism that is not often seen among today’s famous names. The two were often photographed together at galas and celebrity roasts, and by all accounts had a great friendship.
During Reagan’s campaign for and eventual time serving as California’s 33rd governor, Wayne was a heavily relied upon supporter. This clip from 1966 shows Wayne, clad in the cowboy outfits that the country identified him in, telling the citizens of California that just because Ronald Reagan was known as an actor, didn’t mean that he would not be capable of serving them as governor.
“So what’s this empty nonsense about Ronald Reagan just being an actor? I’ve watched Ronald work his entire adult life preparing for public service. His will be a new, informed, vigorously dedicated leadership,” Wayne said in a 1966 campaign ad.
During Reagan’s time as Governor of California, Wayne was a frequent ally, often called upon to do campaign ads for the future president. While the two men had similar visions for the United States, they did have one famous disagreement that saw Wayne publicly hail then President Jimmy Carter.
At the time, Reagan had condemned Carter’s Panama Canal Treaty, which saw the United States return ownership of the legendary canal to Panama. Wayne’s first wife was Panamanian, and he had a close friendship with Brig. Gen. Omar Torrijos Herrera, de facto Dictator of Panama throughout the 1970s.
In a letter to Reagan several years before his death, Wayne criticized his friend’s position. Wayne was responding to a letter Reagan sent to his supporters regarding the treaty.
”Now I have taken your letter, and I’ll show you point by goddamn point in the treaty where you are misinforming people…If you continue these erroneous remarks, someone will publicize your letter to prove that you are not as thorough in your reviewing of this treaty as you say or are damned obtuse when it comes to reading the English language,” Wayne wrote.
Despite their disagreement later in Wayne’s life, Reagan held no ill-will for the legendary actor following his death in 1979.
“Well, he was just about what you saw on the screen. He stood up for what he believed was right, he placed a high premium on honor and he had a rare sensitivity. Nancy and I can bear witness to that.”