Vassallo Interviews: John Wayne’s Granddaughter Anita Swift Shares Memories

Anita Swift

John Wayne was the greatest actor in the 20th century, bar none! What he accomplished on and off the screen for our country is legendary. The interview below with his granddaughter Anita La Cava Swift provides more insights into this fascinating individual and his greatness.

HottyToddy.com: Thank you Anita for taking the time to meet with us. Please tell our readers a little about yourself and where you presently reside.

Anita Swift: My name is Anita La Cava Swift, I am the oldest grandchild of John Wayne. I am the daughter of Mary Antonia “Toni” Wayne La Cava, his oldest daughter from his first marriage to Josephine Saenz Wayne. I live in Newport Beach, California with my husband of 35 years Timothy Swift and my four grown children, Matthew with his wife Heather, Luke, John and Maria. I travel the country raising money for the John Wayne Cancer Institute and Foundation. When my grandfather was dying of cancer he asked his family to use his image and likeness to find a cure for cancer so we license his image to do that and fund various projects. You can go to these websites to see what we do: jwci.org and jwcf.org.

HottyToddy.com: Your grandfather is considered by many as the greatest nonpolitician of the 20th century. Your thoughts?

Anita Swift: People would always ask his opinion regarding issues that faced the American people and he would answer with his opinion. Some people liked his opinion and others did not! One thing about him that people constantly try to do is pigeonhole him as an extremist. The Republican party was always trying to convince him to run for office. His mother was very active in politics and I am sure that is where he developed his interest in politics.

HottyToddy.com: We all have our favorite John Wayne motion picture. Which is yours and why?

Anita Swift: I have three movies that I love: The Searchers, The Cowboys, and The Quiet Man. I love The Searchers for many reasons, the location, the story, its a John Ford classic, the cast, every time I watch I see some new moral to the story. I recently was lucky enough to watch it on a blow-up screen in front of Gouldings Lodge where they filmed it in Monument Valley, amazing! The Cowboys, I love that movie, even though he dies, because it reminds me of my grandfather in so many ways. He really loved being with children, and we loved meeting all of those real cowboys. The Quiet Man is a favorite because I love the pairing of Maureen O’Hara and my grandfather. Also, the cast is one that remained very close through the years. So I have fond memories of many of the people from that movie.

HottyToddy.com: What are three or four of your fondest memories of your grandfather?

Anita Swift: Anytime we could spend with him was special of course! I would say Christmases were great, he would always try to make sure everyone had a special present. When we went to Catalina or Mexico on the Wild Goose, his boat was always special because we had his undivided attention! Thanksgiving at the 26Bar Ranch Cattle Sales were special, we would be there with other kids from ranching families from across the US that were there to buy cattle. I still run across those families today with their children now and we share those special memories. My most favorite memory was when I was in the eighth grade and I played Fagan in the play, Oliver. My grandfather snuck in the back of the auditorium and watched me perform. He sent me flowers and a telegram and called me after the show to tell me how proud he was of my performance!

HottyToddy.com: Your grandfather was admired by most everyone. Regarding other actors, were there a few that he particularly was fond of that you could single out?

Anita Swift: Well the ones that he worked with over and over again it was obvious he admired Maureen O’Hara, Harry Carey, Ward Bond, Claire Trevor, Victor McLaglen and Jimmy Stewart, to name just a few. He worked with all the greats and admired them all!

HottyToddy.com: Dean Martin was another legendary entertainer. Were Dean and the Duke close friends or strictly actors who crossed paths?

Anita Swift: They crossed paths both on and off screen at charity events etc. But I would not say they were running buddies! My grandfather was not part of the rat pack.

HottyToddy.com: What is the most frequent question you are asked about your grandfather?

Anita Swift: What was he like? and Did you know him? My answers to those questions are: He was just what you saw, a great honest bear of a man, a wonderful grandfather. I was 21 when he died so I was very blessed to have spent some wonderful time with him.

HottyToddy.com: Tell us about your brothers and sisters, aunts and uncles.

Anita Swift: Do you have a year? My grandfather had seven children: Michael, Toni, Patrick and Melinda from his first wife Josephine; then Aissa, Ethan and Marisa from his third wife Pilar. He has at last count 27 grandchildren and 30 great-grandchildren. I am the oldest of eight children with six brothers and one sister. There was never a dull moment around our house and at family gatherings!

HottyToddy.com: Were you ever on the production site while one of the John Wayne classics was being filmed?

Anita Swift: I was lucky enough to be on the set of many of his films. The first one I was on was The Alamo, and I have a bit part in that movie at the age of two, sitting on my mother’s lap as the women and children are leaving the Alamo. The Undefeated, The Hellfighters, The Shootist, Rio Lobo, Chisum and Big Jake are just a few of the sets that I visited while filming was taking place.

HottyToddy.com: The Green Berets is often referred to as the only pro-Vietnam war movie. Your thoughts?

Anita Swift: Was it pro-Vietnam or was it supporting the Green Berets? I know that my grandfather was ashamed of the way our servicemen were being treated when they returned home from Vietnam, and he was trying to show them in a positive light. I was recently made an honorary Green Beret something I am very proud to carry on in the tradition of my grandfather.

HottyToddy.com: What was the relationship between your grandfather and President Reagan?

Anita Swift: They were very good friends. They knew each other from their acting days and my grandfather supported him during his political days in the Screen Actors Guild and his governorship in California.

HottyToddy.com: Could you share a fun fact about your grandfather that few know?

Anita Swift: He had a sweet tooth, loved candy and loved to go to the drugstore. His favorite candy was an Abba Zabba. His father was a drugist and owned a drugstore.

HottyToddy.com: How did your parents meet and what are their names?

Anita Swift: My parents met at a wedding where a priest introduced them. My mother’s name is Mary Antonia “Toni” Wayne and my fathers’s name is Donald La Cava.

HottyToddy.com: Totally shifting gears, why do you think so many of your community’s children are finding their way to Oxford and Ole Miss?

Anita Swift: Many of my friends children are finding their way to Ole Miss because of the academics and the fantastic collegiate atmosphere!

HottyToddy.com: Here’s a bonus question. How did your grandfather feel about the South and us Southerners?

Anita Swift: I don’t think he differentiated between the South and the North. The only difference he ever made between people were rude people and polite people as far as I can remember!


Steve Vassallo

Steve Vassallo is a HottyToddy.com contributor. Steve writes on Ole Miss athletics, Oxford business, politics and other subjects. He is an Ole Miss grad and former radio announcer for the basketball team. Currently, Steve is a highly successful leader in the real estate business who lives in Oxford with his wife Rosie. You can contact Steve at sovassallo@gmail.com or call him at 985-852-7745.

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