Did John Wayne really have a love affair with Gail Russell?
We speculated about that possibility in a blog published way back in October of last year, and we just recently received a most welcome response from reader Greg. He has a detailed view of the situation, for which we are grateful.
First some backround: We know that you know who John Wayne is. Gail Russell? Perhaps not so much.
The former Elizabeth Russell was born in Chicago in 1924. She moved with her parents to Los Angeles when she was 14, and found herself making her onscreen debut (in Henry Aldrich Gets Glamour) just five years later. She impressed Paramount and later the Republic Pictures front office with her combination winsome yet sultry good looks, perfect for film noir and westerns.
Her career wasn’t lengthy — covering some 25 movies over an 18-year span — and it was during her Republic Pictures period when her liaision with Wayne (who worked like a dog at Republic) flourished in the late Forties a year or two before her one and only marriage to beefcake actor Guy Madison (it lasted five years).
Russell costarred with Wayne in the 1947 western Angel and the Bad Man. It became obvious that Wayne, who was unusually proper with his leading women — and who took each of his three marriages seriously — harbored a very big soft spot for Russell. They also co-starred in The Wake of the Red Witch.
Nine years later Wayne insisted that Russell be cast in Seven Men From Now, a western starring Randolph Scott and Lee Marvin, produced by Wayne’s Batjac Productions. This despite her not working for several years, having had a brush with the law and being a notorious alcoholic. This fueled the rumors that they had once been lovers.
The rumors had started when mention of their relationship came up in the legal proceedings prefiguring Wayne’s bitter divorce from his spitfire second wife, Esperanza (“Chata”) Baur. She said she nearly shot her husband with the .45 she owned “when he had staggered (home) after a night with Russell.” At the time both Russell and Wayne denied the affair.
Recalled director Budd Boetticher, (Wayne) was more fond of Gail Russell than any of them. And I think Duke had a crush on her. I think she was the one leading lady that he really cared about in anything but a professional way.
Here’s Greg’s view of the situation:
No, John Wayne did not have an affair with Gail Russell. But he did love her dearly, more like a father intensely loving and cherishing a daughter.
That’s the verdict in “JOHN WAYNE: The Man Behind The Myth” (2005) by Michael Munn. In the book Wayne is quoted as angrily cursing the Hollywood “SOB’s who took advantage of this beautiful young girl…”.
Wayne’s close friends and co-workers note with admiration how Wayne nurtured and was extremely protective of Gail, but all say without fail that there was no affair and that the deep love between them was platonic.
Gail’s tremendous talent as an actress is evident in anything she worked in. But in the two movies she worked with John Wayne, Gail is noticeably bright, contented, happy and free of demons.
I attribute that to the powerful bond and trust between them. Also, in “Angel and the Badman” Gail truly shines as the star she is, while Wayne happily plays supporting actor. Obviously Wayne allowed that to happen, which speaks volumes about the man’s character and his deep feelings and concern for Gail.
There have been negative comments toward Wayne not attending Gail’s funeral. I think it would have simply been too painful for Wayne to attend.