A new biography of has just hit the shops — American Titan: Searching for John Wayne, published by Dey Street, a division of Harper Collins.

In it, author Marc Eliot tells the legendary actor’s story to a new generation.

John Wayne — and Elvis Presley, for that matter — were two famous popular Americans who never resonated with me. I know little about either.

Therefore, I was somewhat surprised to discover that the actor (whose real name was Marion Morrison) never enlisted in the armed forces to serve in the Second World War because he was too enamoured of Marlene Dietrich. (I’m being polite in using that verb.)

Wayne was married to his first wife, Josephine, at the time.

If this had occurred during the Vietnam War, no one would have batted an eyebrow. However, during the Second World War, Hollywood had a massive war effort. Nearly every able-bodied actor either volunteered or responded to his letter from the draft board.

In a précis of the book, the Mail tells us:

With all the leading men in Hollywood gone he became a valuable acting commodity – and he knew it.

In his book Eliot explains Wayne’s various excuses for not serving: he was too old (other actors in their mid-30s enlisted); he had a shoulder injury (it did not prevent him from starring in action films); he was the sole provider (he divorced Josephine during the war).

He also made the preposterous excuse that Herb Yates, head of Republic Pictures at the time, was going to sue him if he let himself be drafted.

There is no proof of this because when the war ended, the government had destroyed Wayne’s service-related papers.

By 1942, Dietrich moved on and was dating George Raft as well as recent French emigré Jean Gabin, France’s biggest film star. Wayne was crestfallen.

Wayne decided that he could better serve his country by touring American bases with the USO. However, Eliot writes that this did not go well:

He thought he could make up for it by making appearances at USO shows in the South Pacific and Australia – ‘his version of military service’ but he was greeted with raucous booing by the enlisted men who had served in hard combat.

The press didn’t write about the booing but the soldiers viewed Wayne, along with Bing Crosby, Bob Hope and Al Jolson as Hollywood entertainers just looking for some good p.r.

Wayne went to hospitals and ‘told the press he felt he belonged at the fronts with the boys’. He told them he’d be back after his picture commitments. But he never went back to Burma and China not only because he didn’t have time but because of the less-than-warm welcome.

It seems that Wayne later felt guilty and tried to (over-?) compensate for his lack of military service:

Wayne’s third wife, Pilar Pallete, an actress from Peru who he married in 1954 as soon as he divorced ‘pug nose’ Chata, stated that Wayne became a ‘super-patriot for the rest of his life trying to atone for staying at home’ and not serving in the war effort.

Throughout his life, Wayne remained uncompromising in his anti-Communist stance and unforgiving battle against subversives.

He began as a supporter of FDR and became ‘one of the toughest and most unforgiving political soldiers in Hollywood’s war on communism’. He was ‘willing to throw out the cream of Hollywood’s talent, with the bathwater of their perceived politics’ …

‘Wayne’s resistance to change was granite hard and the more doctrinaire he became, the more out of fashion he sounded’.

So, John Wayne, cinema’s war icon, never saw fit to serve his country during wartime. He preferred his own pleasures and new prestige as an actor — when his peers were off fighting the enemy.

A story similar in some ways to that of today’s equivalent: Ted Nugent.