A year after I moved to Newport Beach I was eating at a local restaurant with a business partner. The restaurant was a local hotspot for the city’s powerful to let loose and enjoy some live music and great food.
My partner and I were in the middle of our meal when in walks The Duke with a buddy of his and they were immediately seated in a booth I learned later was John Wayne’s regular spot.
I was admittedly a little star struck and although I knew John Wayne lived in Newport, I was surprised to see him.
I motioned to my partner who told me “I see him here all the time” and we continued with our meal. I kept glancing over at their booth, planning out what I could say that wouldn’t bother him and also allow me to maintain some dignity.
As we finished our evening and paid the waitress, I noticed John and his friend were deep in conversation. My partner left without so much a glance at him but I couldn’t pass up this chance. I slowly walked over and stood in front of their table. John’s companion stopped mid sentence and annoyingly looked up at me, “Can’t you see you’re interrupting our conversation!” I took a step back when John lifted his hand to his friend and in his signature, gravely voice said “Take a seat son.”
I gave his companion the I’m sorry look and sat down as John moved for me to sit. John proceeded to ask me about myself, showing what looked like genuine interest in my answers all while stopping his previous conversation with his buddy. He then motioned for the waitress to come over and ordered me a drink, which he insisted after I initially refused.
Our conversation continued and after discussing the upcoming college football season, local politics, and even an invitation for me to join him and a group of friends on his iconic yacht The Wild Goose (I never went) I gracefully thanked him and offered to pay for my drink. He predictably refused my offer and got up to shake my hand before sitting down to continue his conversation with his friend.
I left very impressed that John Wayne would interrupt his evening to accommodate and show interest in one of his many fans. I developed great respect for the guy, and would spot him every so often in his same spot at that restaurant which is still there today, very much like how it was all those years ago.
That experience taught me you’re never too busy (or famous) to take some time and connect with old friends, family members, or your adoring fans. John Wayne showed real class, something I don’t see too much anymore.