John Wayne spends Christmas in Brisbane

Colonel William Jefferson Bleckwenn with actor John Wayne at Albion Park races, Brisbane, 1943. John Oxley Library, State Library of Queensland. Neg 102486

Colonel William Jefferson Bleckwenn with actor John Wayne at Albion Park races, Brisbane, 1943

In 1943, a few days prior to Christmas, a Hollywood star arrived in wartime Brisbane. The actor John Wayne, most noted for his roles in Hollywood westerns, such as Stagecoach and The Big Trail, travelled to Australia with accordion player and singer Vikki Montan. “I never knew there was so much water in the world till we crossed that great Pacific,” he remarked on his voyage out. As fellow actor Gary Cooper had done a month earlier, Wayne was in Australia to entertain American troops. Wayne told reporters his stage performance for the tour was not overplanned – “I’m here to entertain the troops. I have no special act but hope to get by on appearances.”

Telegraph newspaper, 24 Dec 1943

John Wayne with Vikki Montan in Brisbane, pub. Telegraph newspaper, 24 Dec 1943

On Christmas day John Wayne spent four hours at a military hospital near Brisbane. The Truth newspaper reported the actor signed autographs and swapped yarns with the patients, many of whom were wounded while fighting in New Guinea. Vikki Montan joined him, entertaining those present by playing requests on her accordion, with “White Christmas” being one of the most popular tunes.

When a reporter questioned Wayne about why he visited the hospital prior to his scheduled tour to entertain US troops in “northern battle zones”, he replied, “It was Christmas, I was here and I wanted to say hello to some of the boys in hospital. That’s all there is to it”.

Truth (Brisbane), 26 Dec 1943, p.7

John Wayne with Vikki Montan in Brisbane, pub. Truth newspaper, 26 Dec 1943

A few days later on 27 December 1943, John Wayne made an appearance at Albion Park Raceway at Breakfast Creek, Brisbane. The top photograph shows Wayne, dressed in military uniform, with Col. Blackwenn.

Myles Sinnamon – Project Coordinator, State Library of Queensland