The KGB Comes to Hollywood
According to Munn, Welles’ sources for the story were âexcellent.’ Alexei Kapler, a Russian filmmaker who was imprisoned for having an affair with Stalin’s teenage daughter, Svetlana, told Sergei Bondachuk, a fellow movie maker, about Stalin’s order to murder John Wayne. He was skeptical until yet another Russian filmmaker, Sergei Gerasimov, confirmed the tale. Gerasimov had attended a peace conference in New York in 1949 and allegedly informed Stalin of Wayne’s immense popularity. Perhaps Stalin was concerned that Wayne’s global stardom and anti-communist views were a toxic mix. It seems far-fetched, but given Stalin’s paranoia, it is not impossible.
Munn continues the tale by saying that Wayne once told him a stuntman named Yakima Canutt had saved his life in the early 1950s, probably in 1951. When Munn asked Canutt what the screen legend meant, he was amazed by the stuntman’s response. According to Canutt, the FBI found that that there were KGB agents in Hollywood with the task of killing Wayne. The FBI supposedly told the movie star about the plot, but instead of allowing the agency to protect him, Wayne said to let the agents come, and he would deal with them.
He devised a plot, with the aid of his scriptwriter, Jimmy Grant, to abduct the would-be assassins, drive them to a secluded beach and stage a fake execution to frighten them. This certainly sounds more like the absurd plot of a movie than real life. Surely Wayne was not so naÃ¯ve as to think he and his band of merry movie men could outsmart and scare trained KGB hitmen? Not so, according to Munn.
This tale comes from the chapter entitled âAssassins’ in Munn’s book and reads like fiction although readers are invited to make up their own minds. Grant and Wayne apparently knew the KGB agents were coming for them and told the FBI agents to hide in another room in Wayne’s office at Warner’s. Two Russian agents showed up at nightfall and spoke with perfect American accents. They showed FBI credentials to the guard on duty and were waved through.
Once the KGB agents entered the office, the FBI men came into the room and held the would-be assassins at gunpoint. They were driven to a remote beach where Wayne and Grant each held a gun, filled with blanks, to each KGB agent’s head. Wayne counted to three and fired. It took the agents a few seconds to realize they were not dead. Wayne turned to the FBI men and said: “Send them back to Russia.”
The terrified agents said: “No! Please! Don’t send us back to Stalin. We will both die.” At this point, it seems as if the two men were more frightened of returning home as failures than dying on that remote beach. They offered to start working for the FBI to avoid a ghastly fate in the Soviet Union. If you think this story is preposterous, Munn isn’t finished yet.