≡ Menu

John Wayne – Duke or Dutchess – a book review

“Cross-dressing, or transvestism, can best be defined as an idle fixation of the ruling class.” – Dr. Henrich Mankoff, Sexual Aberration And Power

Books that lance the pustules of Hollywood’s decadence so that the world can marvel over the ooze are nothing new. And in this regard, John Wayne, Duke Or Duchess, which explores the hidden transvestism, or cross-dressing, of actor Wayne, covers no new ground.

In a modern world nearly immune to tales of excess and debauchery–a world of trannies, pre and post-op, see-all Internet porn, high school lipstick parties, and cigars and interns in the Oval Office–a mere cross-dresser doesn’t merit so much as a raised eyebrow these days, particularly in Hollywood. In fact, the last great Hollywood scandal where transvestism raised its head (the breakup of the comic team of Martin and Lewis) was back in the Jurassic Era.

However, when the drag queen in question is a macho icon of the silver screen, and his name is John Wayne, people pay attention. This is why Myron Steigelberg’s tell-all, show-all book, John Wayne, Duke Or Duchess, has been garnering so much attention on the talk show circuit.

Author and octogenarian Myron Steigelberg – who still likes to dress in drag, and strut his stuff as he shuffles his walker around the New Haven Senior Living Center in North Hollywood – is a former accountant for and one-time pal of John Wayne.

Wayne was certainly no pioneer in Hollywood cross-dressing, though he did become a bit of a proselytizer on its behalf. Aside from this bit of eccentricity in dress and manners, he was otherwise a reserved individual. “Duke Or Duchess” paints Wayne as a man of few vices. As Steigelberg says, somewhat defensively, “The Duke didn’t do no drugs! He didn’t cheat on his wife or girlfriends. All he did was like to play a little dress up. You see? And drink a little, maybe.”

Early in his career Wayne was introduced to the world of cross-dressing by western movie producer and longtime transvestite, John Ford, who extolled its virtues – a way to ease the daily pressures of the movie business – to the impressionable young Wayne. (According to Ford’s biographer, the director picked the practice up from acquaintance Winston Churchill, the British politician, who said a bit of cross-dressing greatly eased his bouts with depression, or his black dog as he called it.) Ford got Wayne started, furnishing the young actor with a black shift, some matching pumps, and a glamour wig. A bit of a sentimentalist, Wayne retained the glamour wig Ford gave him and, rumor has it, was buried wearing it. (Wayne can be seen wearing that wig on the cover of the book).

Wayne indeed found the practice of cross-dressing enjoyable and tension reducing. Within a week of his initiation into the practice he had a full body wax and had purchased several elaborate wigs and a substantial number of plus-sized Christian Dior gowns for himself. Like Ford, and Churchill, he found it a great way to relax and take the pressure off. Throughout his career, he was constantly recommending the practice to his friends. In certain Hollywood circles it became a perfectly acceptable thing, even chic, for macho men to do – as innumerable action stars of the sixties and seventies can still attest.

Oddly, according to Steigelberg, Wayne never had an affinity for Hollywood’s gay community, and in fact viewed gays with some disdain.

“It’s not whether you wear frilly panties,” Steigelberg’s quotes Wayne as saying, “but what you do when you take them off at the end of the day that defines you as a man.”

Though the story of The Duke’s secret life is interesting – and the book contains many great and candid pictures (such as the one shown here) of Wayne and his fellow Hollywood stars – the style and pace of the writing are a bit pedestrian at times. Duke Or Duchess contains lots of name dropping and a few revelations and juicy tidbits, but, all-in-all, in Steigelberg’s biography Wayne comes off as a mildly eccentric, if not tepid, Hollywood star and a rather run-of-the-mill drag queen.

Duke Or Duchess is no Hollywood Babylon, but it is still a worthwhile peek under Tinsel Town’s skirts.
Mahone Dunbar

What other readers and reviewers are saying:

“Shocking. But not unexpected.” Bob C. Lostomy, Book Reviews, Pittsburgh Daily Budge

“I was, frankly, stunned. You wouldn’t think they made stiletto heels in that size.” Mona Grimes, Newport Daily Shopper, Entertainment Editor

“It’s a little known fact that on long breaks between shootings, the Duke liked to retire to his trailer, get in drag, and then prance in front of a mirror for hours.” Tommy Baker, script editor on The Alamo and other John Wayne productions

“Cowboy hats, boots and a bandanna . . . ruffled-skirts, halter tops and mascara . . . Hell, I don’t care. The Duke was a beautiful person.” Rogers Wilson, Chapter Director of LA Cross-dressers Anonymous

“It’s a little known fact that the Duke was a big fan of courageous cross-dressing director Ed Wood and wanted to star in an Ed Wood movie, but was dissuaded by his close friends and business associates. He always regretted letting Eddie down.” Tommy Edwards, Scriptwriter

“A least it explains that funny walk.” Hiram Stein, President, New Jersey John Wayne Fan Club

John Wayne: Duke Or Duchess
Myron Steigelberg

Pub. Date: June 2005

Format: Hardcover

ISBN Y302984894

Add to Wish List

{ 16 comments… add one }
  • John Wayne July 14, 2008, 3:53 pm

    Pilgrim, you just won’t let it rest. Is that old queen Steigelberg giving you a kickback? He certainly skimmed enough off my books to live comfortably without selling this book.

  • GUYK July 20, 2008, 3:09 pm

    just kinda hard to imagine the Duke in panties..BAWAHAHAHA

  • Mahone July 20, 2008, 4:03 pm

    Duke: Juan just couldn’t let this one go. He wanted to reprint it since I’m doing little but cartoons these days (I’m busy getting ready for Obama world).

  • Mahone July 20, 2008, 4:04 pm

    GUYK: I can promise you one thing: if you ever succeed in visualizing John Wayne in a pair of panties, the image will keep you up nights.

  • How to Get Six Pack Fast April 15, 2009, 5:06 pm

    This is very hot info. I’ll share it on Twitter.

  • Mahone May 22, 2009, 2:25 pm

    Six Pack: Thanks. The Duke would have appreciated that. One of his last wishes, according to his son, Patrick Wayne, was that the message of the relaxing benefits of cross-dressing be shared with the world. Duke’s one regret, also according to his son, was that he never got a chance to star in a project he wrote which featured a sheriff who, by night, dressed in drag and ran a bar. It would have reinvigorated the classic western, he maintained.

  • DwightE May 24, 2009, 10:13 pm

    What are you some kind of a commie? You are making fun of The Duke as we honor our veterans on Memorial Day. Maybe he should shoot you like he shot up those yellow monkey japs on Iwo Jima.

  • Mahone May 30, 2009, 3:30 pm

    Dwight. I’m not making fum of the Duke, and neither he nor I are commies; however, that’s not to say the commies don’t appreciate cross-dressing. Stalin, for example, was notorious for dressing up as a Gypsy lady and picking up brasny Russian soldiers in bars. Of course the KGB had to kill each solider afterwards to keep their mouths shut.

  • Leday September 17, 2010, 6:27 am

    Hi Guys

    nice blog ^^

    terbkk http://www.solstique.com

  • Mahone Dunbar September 27, 2010, 12:39 pm

    Leday, glad you enjoyed it.

  • Mahone Dunbar September 27, 2010, 12:41 pm

    Leday: ever thought about introducing a “John Wayne. Duke or Duchess?” line of T-shirts? LOL

  • Rowton December 8, 2011, 6:04 pm

    Hello, Hi, Hey, great article, post, blog, I, we love, like, loved, liked it !!!

  • Fujikawa December 13, 2011, 7:01 am

    Hi, I like your post,Its really helpfull & informative.

  • mahone Dunbar December 19, 2011, 7:35 pm

    Thank you, Fujikawa: may the Duke rest in peace, resplentdent in his simmering gown.

  • mahone Dunbar December 19, 2011, 7:36 pm

    Thanks, Rowton: I’m always pleased to advance the cause of modern mythology.

Leave a Comment

Next post:

Previous post: