The Mennonite in the Movies?! Oba yo!

Jacob Hiebert, een Plautdietscha ut Mexiko, wea met dem beriehmden Hollywood schauspela John Wayne befrind?!

Jacob Hiebert  was in a movie with John Wayne?!  Yes! Here's the amazing little known story.

Jacob Hiebert was living in Cuauhtémoc, Chihuahua when John Wayne began shooting his new movie "The War Wagon" in 1966.

Filming of "The War Wagon" took place in Durango, Mexico, and at Churubusco Studios in Mexico City, starting on September 19, 1966, and lasted 12 weeks. About the shoot, Wayne said: "We're gaining a day every week. This combined Hollywood and Mexican crew is great. If we can come home a week under schedule, we'll all be home with our families for turkey dinner."

The film team hired locals as extras for the making of the movie.  It's unlikely that any of the film crew would have spoken Plautdietsch.  It's also unlikely that the elders of the nearby Mennonite colonies would have allowed a Hollywood film crew to wander among the colony in search of extras to participate in the making of a "wordly" Hollywood film. So how and where was Jacob Hiebert approached to participate in the John Wayne movie?  That secret has been lost to time. But we do know from Jacob's daughter Anna, that the Mennonite elders did not approve of her father accepting work in movies.

There was just one other obstacle in Jacob Hiebert's acting career.  He could not speak any English at all.  Jacob and a friend auditioned for a part in the film. They were told to simply move their lips as if they were talking.  Jacob got the part.

John Wayne made two movies in Durango over the next four years.  Jacob played various parts in these movies including that of a bank robber, horse handler, pedestrian and a soldier. He also occasionally helped out with stunts although he was not an official "stunt-man".  It's been said that John Wayne liked Jacob and wanted to send him to California to take acting lessons. Wayne also wanted to send Jacob's twin sisters as well.  Alas, stardom was not to be!  Jacob's parents were very protective and would not condone their children pursuing acting careers in Hollywood.  

Jacob's daughter Anna said that her father's acting parts in the John Wayne movies got him into "major hot water" with the Mennonite leadership.  So what happened after his short movie career?  Was he excommunicated or asked to confess his "wordly transgressions" in front of the congregation?  Or did he pack up his family and leave? We don't know.  We do know that Jacob and some of his family eventually moved to somewhere near Alymer southern Ontario Canada and that is where he presumably rode off into the sunset and lived out the rest his days.

The little we know of this story was provided by Jacob's daughter Anna (Hiebert) Kauenhofen.  Jacob Hiebert has since passed away (2003)

Still don't believe the story?   Here's proof.

John Wayne and Jacob Hiebert on location southeast of Durango Mexico during the filming of "The Undefeated".

So there you have it. The true story of John Wayne and Jacob Hiebert, brought to you by the fun loving Mennonite people at Oba Yo!

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  • John Penner on

    We have that same picture in our genealogy book. I knew other people that worked for John Wayne. Apparently they used horses from the Mennonite settlements and a few Menno rebels in the movies. We visited the ranch where this took place recently.
    It’s called LA Joya now.

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