Duke's Floating Escape: The Wild Goose

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Having given more than 50 years of his life to the film industry, John Wayne was a cinematic legend in his own time. While his contributions to the big screen were enough to keep him in the pop-culture consciousness for generations to come, beneath the persona of “John Wayne” was a man whose personal life was of equally mythic proportions. His hilarious hijinks with friends, his adventures on the open sea and his hearty appetite are among the many facts about Duke that seem almost too good to be true. But they are. In the 30th installment of The Official John Wayne Collector’s Edition, we’re featuring incredible tales that paint a picture of a life lived to the fullest. Read an excerpt from the issue below and be sure to pick up your copy on August 13th.


John Wayne with son Ethan Wayne aboard the Wild Goose


While John Wayne is most often associated with the sweeping landscapes of the American West, the real Duke devoted much of his off time to his love of the ocean. “Where he really lived his life was on boats or on the beach,” the legend’s youngest son Ethan told Vanity Fair in 2017. And when he felt like captaining his own leisure, John Wayne had the perfect vessel with which to do so—a 136-foot decommissioned Navy minesweeper known as the Wild Goose

By the time Duke bought the beautiful boat in 1962, he was no stranger to the sea. The actor had spent most of his life living and working along the coast of California and was an avid bodysurfer in his younger years, as well as a skilled fisherman. And with the Wild Goose, he had the chance to share his passion for the Pacific with those he held dearest.

John Wayne’s status as a bona fide superstar mean, naturally, he was friends with just about every other major celebrity of the era. And while the legend was likely to bring the likes of fellow Hollywood names such as John Ford and Henry Fonda aboard to cast a line or laugh their way through rounds of drinks, he was also known to set sail with plenty of music icons. “Frank Sinatra would come around, Sammy Davis Jr. would charter the boat, Tom Jones would charter the boat, America the band or Dennis Wilson [of the Beach Boys],” Ethan told Vanity Fair. “He was around everyone.”


Flags from John Wayne's boat the Wild Goose


The Wild Goose was far more than a means for John Wayne to hang out on the open water with a crew of A-listers, however. With his hectic schedule always pulling him in one direction or another, the yacht was one of the few places Duke could count on to enjoy time with his family. Still, any time the legend’s children got to enjoy a day out at sea, they were expected to abide by the same rules they would if they were on land in their Newport Beach home. “If you were on the boat, there were chores,” Ethan remembers. And throughout his many days spent aboard the vessel, the youngest son of the Western icon certainly partook in his fair share of unique chores. When John Wayne and his pals went fishing during a day out on the water, they were known to reel in quite an array of soon-to-be-seafood. The unpleasant part, of course, was Ethan’s responsibility. “If they caught a bunch of fish, I’d be gutting fish for an hour,” he recalls. And when it came time for Duke and his buddies to unwind with a few cocktails, Ethan was tasked with a chore most children would likely never dream of. On the occasions in which John Wayne would sail the Wild Goose to Alaska, the legend would arm the youngster with a fire ax to chop chunks of ice from the glaciers they would pass. “If you get a good piece of glacier ice, it’s much better than ice you could make in a freezer,” Ethan explained to Men’s Health. “It melts so slowly; you can put a piece of it in your drink and the piece will last all night and won’t water the drink down too quickly.”


John Wayne's boat the Wild Goose


For all his efforts, the youngest of Duke’s sons also got to enjoy the luxuries that came along with the Wild Goose. John Wayne would often set sail alongside the man who sold him the yacht, Max Wyman, who would typically travel with a French woman who cooked crepes on board. One morning, Ethan asked his father if he could have the woman’s delicious smelling “pancakes” for breakfast. Duke obliged, then called to Wyman, pulled the Wild Goose up to the neighboring boat and tossed Ethan over to the other crew.

While John Wayne’s youngest son got to experience a delicious dish for the first time, Duke’s youngest daughter Marisa had to endure a much less enjoyable experience. After severely slacking on the chore of picking up her clothes on the boat, Marisa learned not to disrespect her father’s requests. “After asking me about five times, I woke up to him throwing everything overboard,” Marisa says. Having to dive into the water to retrieve her belongings proved to be an important lesson for Marisa, though even if her father’s wisdom warranted unconventional teaching methods.

Aside from all the fun he had with his friends and the quality time he got with his children, rest and relaxation were among the greatest gifts the Wild Goose gave John Wayne. Whether he was kicking back with a book or just listening to the splashing waves against the bow, the boat was his chance to get away from the demands of the film industry. And he certainly earned any rest he could get.