John Wayne - Biography

John Wayne
By Ryan Shiek

John Wayne was a great American. He was a silver screen idol who is still popular today. From being an unbilled extra in Mother Machree to starring in The Shootist, the Duke has been in over 150 movies. This site is dedicated to John Wayne.

Marion Michael Morrison was born May 26, 1907 in Winterset, Iowa. At birth he weighed 13 pounds! His parents were Clyde (the town pharmacist) and Mary Morrison. The family had an Airedale Terrier, named Duke, which little Marion would follow around. Everyone would call the dog Big Duke and Marion Little Duke, from then on the name stuck with him. During this time Clyde and Mary would fight often. During the fights, Marion would run away and fall asleep on empty boxcars. The trains would leave town taking sleeping Marion with them. Frantic Mary would then have the local operator call all the local towns looking for him. Soon Clyde came down with Tuberculosis, and had to move a dry, warm climate. He loaded up the family, now including Marion's little brother Bob, and moved to a farm out in the Mojave Desert. The farm was full of hardships and without electricity and running water. Soon the crops and the farm failed so Clyde once again moved the family. This time to Glendale, a suburb of Los Angeles.

In Glendale, Duke did good in school. He was in football, the debate team, and was in various school plays. He also delivered newspapers & precriptions, picked fruit, and sold soda for money. After high school, Duke planned to go to the Naval Academy at Annapolis, but could not get in. He was given a football scholarship to the University of Southern California. The Depression was in full swing by now and the USC football coach wanted his players to have jobs. He asked Western film star Tom Mix, a USC Trojan fan, to get his players jobs in return for good tickets to the football games. Duke worked as a propman and on a swing gang. Here is where he met, and became friends with, the great director John Ford. This friendship lasted a life time. One day while moving props, Raoul Walsh came up to Duke and asked him if he would like to be in his new movie, The Big Trail.

The Big Trail was shot on a new 70mm film, bigger than the regular film. It was going to be a grand western epic, but it failed at the box office because not many theaters had the right equipment for the large film. Raoul Walsh didn't think that Marion was a good name for a western actor, and gave Duke a new name: John Wayne. After the Big Trail, John starred in a bunch of serials and then got stuck on the poverty row B westerns. Most of the B Westerns were shot in 3 days and had a small budget. None were ever that good of movies, all with uncomlicated stories and poor dialogue. During this time he met stuntman Yakima Canutt. Yakima did most of John's stunts and together they worked out how to film a good fight scene. Before this, fight scene's were filmed from the side to show the audience the action. In this kind of shot, you could see the near misses. In Duke's and Yak's the camera would be set at an angle so it would look like the punches were hitting the other guy, when they weren't. The you add the sound effects and it would look and sound like a real fight. In 1939, John Ford asked Duke if he would like to star in his new movie, Stagecoach.

(a weathered postcard of John Wayne)

Stagecoach was the big break Duke was waiting for. The all star cast and story made it a hit. After Stagecoach, movie offers started pouring in. Duke was no longer doing B movies. The success of John Wayne and Claire Trevor was duplicated in Dark Command and Allegheny Uprising. He started working with many costars and friends including Ward Bond, Jack Pennick, Paul Fix, and one of Duke's favorite actors when he was a kid: Harry Carey, Sr. Also during this time Duke worked with many famous leading ladies. Marlene Dietrich worked with the him in Seven Sinners, Pittsburgh, and the Spoilers. On December 7, 1941 Pearl Harbor was bombed, and America entered World War II. Duke, being unable to enlist in the service, helped the war effort by making propaganda movies. The movie, Flying Tigers, was Duke's first war movie. Many were to follow, including Reunion in France, The Fighting Seabees, and Back to Bataan.

(courtesy of John Wayne Tribute)

After the war John Wayne made such great movies as Angel and a Badman, Red River, and the first of John Ford's cavalry trilogy, Fort Apache. Then in 1949 Duke starred in Sands of Iwo Jima, a story about Marines in WWII. It was a box office hit! Duke was also nominated for his first Academy Award for best actor, but lost.