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Top 20 Celebrity Activists of All Time

An inside look at stars ranging from Harry Belafonte to Ronald Reagan

President Gerald Ford and John Wayne campaign in California

John Wayne (right) campaigns with President Gerald R. Ford in Orange County, Calif., in 1976. — David Hume Kennerly/Getty Images

John Wayne

As a political activist, Wayne was less important for what he did than for what he symbolized. He was relatively reticent as an advocate.

Although he served as the president of a conservative Hollywood group that supported the purge of communists (and liberals linked to them) from the entertainment industry during the blacklist era and later campaigned for Richard Nixon (including an appearance at the 1968 GOP convention), Wayne wasn't a regular on the campaign trail. Nor was he as aggressive as later generations of stars in using his celebrity to deliver political pronouncements.

Mostly he influenced politics as a symbol of patriotism and strength; he lent to conservative causes and politicians an aura of rectitude and resolve that by the 1960s struck more-cosmopolitan ears as simplistic if not jingoistic but that still resonated powerfully with the cultural traditionalists who became known as "the silent majority."

It was no coincidence that Reagan, in the election-eve broadcast of his 1980 campaign, cited not another political leader but the recently deceased Wayne as the antithesis of President Carter's fear of American "malaise" and decline. "Duke Wayne did not believe our country was ready for the dustbin of history," Reagan declared, genuflecting at one of the few celebrity images constructed from even more primal American iconography than his own.

Next: Orson Welles >>

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