John Wayne Airport Renaming Question Remains

Ashley Ludwig

NEWPORT BEACH, CA — The legacy of actor John Wayne, one of Orange County's most famous residents, is again under scrutiny amid the Black Lives Matter movement that is sweeping the nation.

For the second time in a year, a group of Orange County Democrats has called for renaming the county airport. As the John Wayne Airport is owned and operated by the County of Orange, Deanna Thompson, spokeswoman for JWA, tells Patch that only the board of supervisors can make that change.

"In 1979, the County Board of Supervisors voted to change the name to John Wayne Airport, Orange County," she says. Though there have been public discussions and media attention on this topic, the County currently has no plans to change the name or to remove the John Wayne statue.

County democrats have resurfaced the renaming question in response to civil unrest following the death of George Floyd, the dawn of the far-reaching Black Lives Matter Movement, and obliteration of memorials dedicated to Civil War generals in the south.

This week, Wayne's youngest son, Ethan Wayne, current president of John Wayne Enterprises, has asked the County of Orange to allow cooler heads to prevail.

A candid interview John Wayne conducted with Playboy in 1971 is the source of the turmoil.

According to Ethan Wayne, this interview has haunted the family since its original printing.
The Playboy interview left no subject off the table. describes how John Wayne answered pointed questions on his opinions of gay relationships, Black people, Native Americans, and the depiction of sex in the movies.

Still, within the 2020 modern context, John Wayne's answers remain cringe-worthy.

The Democratic Party of Orange County remains in favor of taking down Wayne's statue and removing his name from the airport, claiming that Orange County is "a diverse region far different from the time when John Wayne was chosen" as the namesake for JWA.

His family, however, has a different notion of the man they knew and loved.

According to son Ethan Wayne, president of John Wayne Enterprises, the magazine article "pained" John Wayne when he realized his true feelings were wrongly conveyed" in the interview.

In a full statement released to, Wayne described his father as one who would "call out bigotry" when he saw it. According to Ethan Wayne, his father "hired and worked with people of all races, creeds, and sexual orientations," he wrote, adding "it would be an injustice to judge him based on a single interview, as opposed to the full picture of who he was."

"The truth is, as we have seen in papers from his archives, he did not support 'white supremacy' in any way and believed that responsible people should gain power without the use of violence."

John Wayne died of cancer in 1979. He was 72 years old.

This article originally appeared on the Newport Beach-Corona Del Mar Patch