Hanky Panky

Unpacking John Wayne’s Hanky Code, One Western at a Time

If you’re a fan of old movies, you have at least some relationship to John Wayne. Even if it’s the relationship I have with the old Western star, which is that I run from the room screaming any time he comes onscreen.

That said, even I have to admit that the dude was hot in Stagecoach. I mean, come on. 

But no matter how you feel about the Duke, you’ve got to admit that the man loved a good bandana. Many of his performances featured a jaunty kerchief tied around the neck, suspiciously clean and often boasting an eclectic pattern. So let’s unpack this, shall we? Just what kind of gay sex was John Wayne cruising for back in the day?

Strap in, folks. 


The Movie: El Dorado, dir. Howard Hawks, 1966. 

The Character: Cole Thornton

The Hanky: Pale Yellow (pissing) 

 
 
 
 
 
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El Dorado is one of John Wayne’s final great performances, and playing alongside Robert Mitchum (as an alcoholic sheriff) gives the star plenty to do. But more importantly: the kerchief. Knowing that the pale yellow bandana is code for pee play opens up a lot of possibilities when it comes to the co-dependent relationship between the two hotties.


The Movie: Angel and the Badman, dir. James Edward Grant, 1947.

The Character: Quirt Evans (yes, really.)

The Hanky: Orange (wildcard)

 
 
 
 
 
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Angel and the Badman is classic mid-career John Wayne. A lone gunman in the old west wanders onto a Quaker family’s property and has to learn the virtues of a non-violent lifestyle, which, honestly, is pretty tough going for the ol’ duke. But the fact that his name (“Quirt”) is one letter away from “Squirt” leaves ample opportunity for us to imagine what the “wildcard” orange hanky might be signaling to the other lone gunman out on the range…


The Movie: Hondo, dir. John Farrow, 1953.

The Character: Hondo Lane

The Hanky: Blue and Red (Anal + Fisting)

 
 
 
 
 
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In Hondo, John Wayne “carries the heat of the plains in his veins,” whatever the hell that means. He also carries the heat of someone who’s looking for anal fisting in his veins, because that is a very specific hanky choice if ever there was one. The film saw a grand return to Westerns for the star, who’d been out of commission for three years. “A man ought to do what he thinks is best,” Hondo says at one point. Clearly what Hondo thinks is best is fisting. Good for you, Hondo!


The Movie: Rooster Cogburn, dir. Stuart Miller, 1975.

The Character: Reuben J. “Rooster” Cogburn

The Hanky: Brown (scat)

 
 
 
 
 
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Wayne made Rooster Cogburn at the tail end of his career, and it shows. Even Katharine Hepburn can’t pull this thing out of the mud…which, incidentally, is exactly where Rooster wants to be according to the brown hanky he favors in this film. 


The Movie: The Alamo, dir. John Wayne, 1960.

The Character: Davy Crockett

The Hanky: Beige (rimming)

 
 
 
 
 
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Wayne took a seat behind the camera to direct as well as star in this epic tale of America deciding to illegally annex Mexico and call it Texas. Playing the “King of the Wild Frontier” Davy Crockett, Wayne brings his signature grit and weirdness to the role, all while sporting a hanky that cries out for a dusty rim job in between battles. 


The Movie: The Cowboys, dir. Mark Rydell, 1972.

The Character: Wil Andersen

The Hanky: Pink (sex toys)

 
 
 
 
 
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For this late Western, Wayne takes on a paternal role as an aging rancher who must work with a new kind of cowboy in order to drive his cattle herd where it needs to go. He also sports a light pink bandana, signalling to one and all that he’s not averse to taking on a pinch hitter or two when it’s time to get it on. Good for you, John! It’s never too late to experiment. ♦

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