1976 Video Shows Legendary Actor John Wayne Launching Ship at Bath Iron Works
Bath Iron Works has been building ships since 1884 and in that time they have launched a lot of ships into the Kennebec River. One of those many launches had one of the most famous actors of all time there at the christening and he had to step in to give the new ship a little muscle.
In his 51-year career, actor John Wayne appeared in 170 films, most of them westerns between the 1950s and 1970s. One of his most famous was the original True Grit released in 1969.
Needless to say, John "The Duke" Wayne was a big deal in the movie industry for a very long time. So it was also a big deal to have him at Bath Iron Works to launch a new guided missile frigate Oliver Hazard Perry in 1976, a ship that was decommissioned in 1997.
As is tradition with the launching of a new ship, it's christened by breaking a bottle of champagne over the bow of the ship and then it is released into the water. CBS News had a segment of the ceremony in 1976 showing several dignitaries trying to break the bottle and send the ship on its way. It took several whacks to finally break the bottle, but even then, the ship didn't move.
That's when John Wayne came up the steps to the bow of the show and gave it a push sending it into the waters of the Kennebec.
You can see in the video that Wayne barely touched the ship, so it seems this was likely staged, but perfectly appropriate for the legend that "The Duke" was. Sadly he passed away three years later at the age of 72 after a battle with stomach cancer.