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The Duke

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A Tribute To John Wayne


We all know the name, John Wayne, and few of us can hear the name without conjuring up a tall cowboy with a dusty hat and a gentle smile. This page is dedicated to the Duke.


John Wayne was born as Marion Robert Morrison in Winterset, Iowa on May 26, 1907. With the addition of his little brother, Robert Emmet Morrison, his name was changed to Marion Michael Morrison. His father, Clyde, was a pharmacist diagnosed with Tuberculosis in 1912. He decided to move his family to Palmdale in southern California. There he bought an 80-acre homestead and they tried ranching. But they couldn't quite make ends meet, so in 1916, they moved the family once more. This time it was to Glendale. Clyde got a job at the local pharmacy and, though he was only 11, Wayne worked, too. He delivered the Los Angeles Examiner in the morning and helped deliver prescriptions for his father in the afternoon. On weekends, he worked in a local theater.

Wayne had a big Airedale dog and they were inseparable. They wandered the streets of Glendale together so much that the firemen gave them a nickname. Wayne was called "Big Duke," and the Airedale was called "Little Duke." That was how he got the name. Years later, after becoming an accomplished actor, John Wayne related the story.

"There's been a lot of stories about how I got to be called 'Duke.' One was that I played the part of a duke in a school play, which I never did. Sometimes they even said I was descended from royalty! It was all a lot of rubbish. Hell, the truth is that I was named after a dog!"

Wayne went to college on a football scholarship to the University of Southern California from 1925 to 1927. A man named Tom Mix was able to get Wayne a summer job working at the Fox lot on Western Avernue as a prop man in exchange for some football tickets. It was there that Wayne met a major influence in his life, John Ford. Wayne, standing 6 foot 4 and lean from football, moved around all the props on the Ford set. One day, Ford invited Wayne to tackle him, as a "test" of his football prowess. Wayne tried and landed quite unceremoniuosly on the ground. Nothing was hurt but his pride, but Wayne was fighting mad. Ford issued another invitation which Wayne accepted. This time Ford landed on the ground, and hard. Ford lay there for a while, stunned and winded. Everyone waited to see what would happen...Wayne's job was on the line. Ford, a fiery Irishman, looked at Wayne as he got to his feet and everyone held their breath. Instead of blowing up, like everyone expected, a big grin appeared on Ford's face. Ford and Wayne were remained the best of friends until Ford's death on August 31, 1973.

Wayne became a permanent fixture at the Fox lots, continuing to move props, but also doing stunt work, caring for the animals used on various sets, and appearing in crowd scenes. In 1930, Raoul Walsh - director of the first outdoor western, In Old Arizona - was contracted to Fox studios. He was about to make a new western, The Big Trail, and a young trail scout was needed. Ford suggested he take a look at a young man by the name of Marion Morrison. Walsh liked him and he passed the screen test with flying colors, but there was a problem. It would be very difficult to convince the American public that "Marion Morrison" was a tough trail scout. Duke Morrison was considered since Wayne had used it in a film just a year or two previously, but it was dropped. Then a general from the American War of Independence, "Mad" Anthony Wayne, was considered. They replaced the "Anthony" with "John" and "John Wayne" was born.

Wayne acted in over 70 B-grade films, 56 between 1930 and 1939, and part of which could have been wonderful successes had it not been for the Depression. Then in 1938, Ford asked Wayne to read a short story by Ernest Haycox called Stage to Lordsburg. It contained these central characters: a gambler, drunken doctor, saloon girl, lady, whiskey drummer, crooked bank owner, and gunfighter known as "Malpais Bill." The name of the gunfighter was changed to the stronger, more appealing "Ringo Kid," and the story was chosen for a movie. Ford asked Wayne who he thought should be cast as "Ringo Kid," and Wayne suggested Llyod Nolan. "Why, you stupid son of a bitch," Ford stormed, "I want you to play it!" In 1939, Stagecoach, starring John Wayne as the "Ringo Kid," was relesed. It was a huge hit and big step up on the ladder of success for Wayne.

Wayne went on to star in such movies as Fort Apache, Red river, She Wore A Yellow Ribbon, Sands of Iwo Jima, Rio Bravo, North to Alaska, The Comancheros, and The Man Who Shot Liberty Valance. In 1969, he starred in True Grit and, in 1970, won a well-deserved Oscar for the performance. Wayne made 11 more films despite the fact that he had cancer. Two major operations were performed to try and cure him, and he thought he had "licked the big C," but he hadn't. In 1972, he made The Cowboys, a big success, and in 1975, he made the sequel to True Grit, a movie called Rooster Cogburn and the Lady. Then in 1976 came the last movie in a sparkling career, The Shootist. It was the story of an aging gunfighter diagnosed with cancer. Wayne's character J. B. Brooks has only a few weeks to live, so he arranges a gunfight in the local saloon. Three men with "old scores" to settle are invited to kill Brooks, but they fail. Brooks kills them, getting wounded in the process. The bar keeper shoots Brooks with a shotgun to finish him off. An avenging angel, in the form of Ron Howard, picks up Brooks's pistol and shoots the craven coward of a bar keeper.

The "big C" won on June 11, 1979 at 5:23 p.m. in the UCLA Medical Center. The memorial service was held at Our Lady Queen of Angels parish in Newport Beach on June 15. As Wayne was beloved by America and huge crowds were expected, Mass was held as 5:45 a.m. Only close friends and family attended, and the press was forbidden. A second grave, a "dummy," was dug and Wayne's funeral flowers were laid on it so that his final resting place would never be disturbed. John Wayne's grave, in Pacific View Memorial Park, remains unmarked to this day.

Little Known Facts

Even though John Wayne was in the eye of the world, much about him remained personal. Here are a few, simple examples.

He was an avid fisherman and explorer.

He loved the Pacific Northwest and Southeastern Alaska.

His pride and joy was a World War II. minesweeper named the "Blue Goose II." with nearly all the original bridge setup as utilized by the U. S. Navy.

He was a fundamentalist and a superhawk, and made the Vietnam War a personal crusade.

A Congressional Medal was struck in his honor, a tribute to the man who "determined forever the shape of certain of our dreams." ~~~~~ Joan Didion

A Farewell

John Wayne was the all-American hero...watched by all, loved by all, missed by all. A man's man, a lady's man, a real man. John Wayne was the one the boys wanted to be when they played cowboys and indians...the Duke...the one you could always depend on. He was the voice of America. A patriot to the death, he could not and would not stand for anyone to speak against our country or our flag. Best described by the words of Daniel Webster, "I was born an American, I live an American, I shall die an American." John Wayne was a good man with a big heart and a strong will. A tough man to buck but honest to the end. We could do with more of his kind.
John Wayne, Duke, Duke Morrison, Marion will linger in our hearts forever. Rest in peace, old friend.

The Duke

By: Brian Cross

The man, a mountain, with a voice like thunder.
Yet a smile and a glance that will make you wonder.
The walk, unbridled, like a wave a mile high,
A man among men, let no one ever deny.
His presence, undeniable. His charm, disarming.
The power he could weild with a word was alarming.
From Ireland to the plains, Germany to the sea,
From the helm of a ship, or atop a great steed,
The screen was his canvas and the world was his paint,
He mirrored our lives from sinner to saint.
And we watch him in awe, this great bear of a man,
Capturing our attention like no one else can...

...His soul has crossed over, his body turned to ashes,
But his visage can be seen with each day that passes.
His work playing daily wherever you may turn,
His memory, a flame that will eternally burn.
The strength, the courage, his destiny no fluke,
For the one, the only, the man called "The Duke."

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