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
"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
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
John Wayne, Duke, Duke Morrison, Marion Morrison...you will linger in our
hearts forever. Rest in peace, old friend.
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."
Thank you kindly for stopping by. Have a nice day.