Classic Hollywood Stars Who Were Terribly Racist Off-Camera

While most classic films trick audiences into thinking old Hollywood was squeaky clean under its surface, this certainly wasn’t the case. There were plenty of classic Hollywood stars who held some decidedly backwards values. Racism has always been an issue, and it pervaded Hollywood at its roots.

James Stewart

Join Facts first as we take a look at classic Hollywood stars who were terribly racist off Camera James Stewart While the average audience member thinks of the innocent face of old Hollywood, few actors epitomized this.

Quite like James Stewart, known colloquially as Jimmy, James had a long and healthy career in the industry that started before the days of World War II, before blossoming into something even greater after it.

James served in the war, and his father before him had served in World War One. When James returned from the war, he feared he’d have a hard time returning to his career with all the traction he’d lost. While this was an issue initially, he eventually grew to become a bigger star than ever. Of course, some of his most iconic roles include his Turns and Mr. Smith Goes to Washington and It’s a Wonderful Life, as well as appearances in the offered Hitchcock films Vertigo and Rear Window.

Those later films showcased a slightly darker side to Stewart, while his performances in the prior two features were more emblematic of the beloved actor’s public persona as a whole. But beneath James’nice guy demeanor and lovable drawl, there was a streak of racism and general xenophobia.

James Stewart’s nice guy demeanor doesn’t necessarily seem to have been a complete illusion, as most of those who knew the man personally and worked with him closely claimed. He was just as nice when the cameras weren’t rolling as when they were. But this is likely because James made sure to surround himself with people who were likeminded and white.

There was a black costar who accused James Stewart of racism while the two were working on the set of The Man Who Shot Liberty Balance, famous director John Ford directed it, while the actor who accused James of racism was Woody Strode. Those looking to forgive the deceased actors more backward tendencies attribute his racism to his upbringing.

James grew up in a small town in Indiana, and there was nary a nonwhite in sight. James wasn’t afforded the opportunity to see many African Americans during his childhood years, and these opportunities didn’t increase all that much when James ventured out to Princeton to get his higher education. Besides James’s apparent distrust of African Americans, the actor was also seemingly distrusting of Jews.

It seems James was simply xenophobic in general, and this caused him to develop a fairly close relationship with FBI director Jay Edgar Hoover. Both of them shared similar conservative values, and this caused James to become Jay Edgar Hoover’s right hand man.

When it came time to Hunt down communists in Hollywood, James Stewart acted as an informant for the FBI director in many situations.

While Hoover didn’t care about James claims that the Mafia was trying to take over Hollywood, he was all ears when it came time for the actor to spill the beans about his Communist costars.

James Stewart was a good friend of Henry Fonda’s before Hollywood’s second Red Scare.

When Henry found out James was working as an informant for J. Edgar Hoover, the two stopped talking for many years. Despite all these problematic aspects of James Stewart, the actor remains a beloved old Hollywood icon in the eyes of most people.

William Frawley

I Love Lucy’s William Frawley’s legacy has been plagued with complaints that the comedic actor was as much of a kermudgeon off the screen as he was on it, which is part of why he played grumpy characters so well.

But while fans can brush off the fact that William was pretty much always drunk and didn’t get along with his coworkers, audiences may be more hesitant to brush off the hard to ignore reality that William was a bit of a racist.

It was Fraly’s knack for playing hermudgeonly characters that got him hired by Lucille Ball and Desi Arnaz to play the part of Fred Mertz on I Love Lucy.

By that point in his career, the veteran vaudevillian performer had already been working for many years and had developed a reputation for being hard to work with. This almost caused him to lose out on the role of Fred Mertz, but Desi Arnaz’s gut instinct kicked in and made him demand William’s inclusion.

Desi certainly knew what he was doing by hiring Fraley to play Fred Mertz as the role became the actor’s most iconic. Though William was drunk throughout much of I Love Lucy’s filming, the actor managed to curtail much of his problematic behavior to make shoots go smoothly.

Most claim he was a misogynist. While William couldn’t be rude to Lucille Ball because she was his boss, he could be rude to the actress who played his onscreen wife, Vivien. Vance Froli, and Vance reportedly got into it constantly on set, but these incidents consisted mostly of innocent bickering.

On the less innocent side of things was Williams racism. As the actor was said to have thrown around racial slurs liberally.

Today, that kind of thing wouldn’t fly. But William came from a time and a place where people were simply allowed and encouraged to treat women and minorities differently.

Besides William’s penchant for racism and misogyny, the alcoholic actor also infamously punched Clifton Webb in the face on Broadway. Before we tell you more about old Hollywood actors who are racist, be sure to give this article a like and subscribe to facts verse if you haven’t already.

John Wayne

John Wayne was an avid conservative and Patriot, but unlike James Stewart, John didn’t have an authentic nice guy demeanor.

That makes this hard truth easier to go down. In retrospect, the bulk of the modernday controversy surrounding Western legend John Wayne stems from an interview the Hollywood veteran gave with Playboy in a now notorious 1971 issue.

In it, John Wayne does things as outright condone white supremacy, refuse to express remorse about slavery and make flagrant use of homophobic slurs. According to John Wayne, there was no reason he should ever have had to think about the fact that African Americans were historically enslaved.

While one might think the actor was trying to make a point about the fact that he wasn’t directly involved in slavery as it had been abolished years before his birth, his support of general white supremacy suggests there may be more to the actor’s refusal to express remorse about historical slavery.

John’s support of white supremacy in his Playboy interview came with the adage that he only believed white supremacy was necessary until African Americans received a proper education. However, it’s unsure what exactly would have constituted a proper amount of education in the actor’s eyes.

His use of homophobic slurs came about when it was time to discuss the film Midnight Cowboy, which had recently made waves in Hollywood.

Of course, the largely conservative John Wayne was not remotely a fan of the cutting edge film, perhaps because of the excessively flagrant and well documented nature of John Wayne’s problematic values. The actor’s legacy has been damaged since his passing much more than the legacies of the stars we previously mentioned.

John graduated from the University of Southern California. Recently, an exhibit at the College honoring the actor was removed as a result of student protests.

Those being inspired by the actor’s Playboy interview. Some have also attempted to have the actor’s name removed from John Wayne airport in Orange County, though these attempts have continuously failed.

Walter Brennan

Finally, let’s take a look at classic star Walter Brennan.

Walter won several Academy awards over his lifetime and appeared in classics such as the Westerner and Sergeant Yorke. He also appeared with John Wayne in a handful of classic films such as Rio Bravo.

Like William Frawley, Brennan made a name for himself playing characters who were generally curmudgingly.

Also like William, these tendencies were typically matched in the actor’s real life behavior. Like James Stewart, Walter was a Hollywood legend who detested communism.

However, he took his detesting of communism a step further by branding anyone who held any Liberal beliefs whatsoever as such.

The most problematic aspect of Walter Brennan is probably the fact he hung around with members of the John Birch society, which is notoriously in favor of segregation.

The actor also reportedly expressed joy when it was announced that Martin Luther King, Jr. Had been assassinated. Now it’s time to hear from you.

Which one of these stories was most surprising to hear about? Let us know in the comments section below.