MARION MORRISON BORN IN WINTERSET, IOWA
On the morning of May 26, 1907, Marion Robert Morrison was born in Winterset, Iowa. The first child to Clyde Leonard “Doc” Morrison, a pharmacist and Mary “Molly” Brown, a telephone operator, Marion was born in the back bedroom of the family home. His first name, Marion, was from Clyde’s father (Marion Mitchell Morrison), with his middle name, Robert, from Molly’s father (Robert Emmett Brown). According to an announcement of his birth published on May 30, 1907 on page four of the Winterset Madisonian, Marion was 13 pounds at birth.
The City of Winterset, the seat of Madison County, was founded in 1849 and is located less than 40 miles from the Iowa’s state capitol of Des Moines. The area, known for its beautiful covered bridges, retains its small town charm with a population close to 5,000. The John Wayne Birthplace still exists to this day. In 1981, the John Wayne Birthplace Society (a non-profit 501(c) 3) was formed and acquired the house to preserve and honor John Wayne’s early history in the community. The John Wayne Birthplace Society currently maintains the Birthplace home, gift shop and park grounds for guests to enjoy. Plans have been developed for construction of an 8,500 square foot Museum and Learning Center adjacent to the John Wayne Birthplace. This new facility will provide an exciting, interactive experience for the whole family. In addition to the John Wayne Birthplace museum, visitors can still see several historical buildings from the 1900’s including the local courthouse and several covered bridges in existence when the Morrison’s lived in Winterset.
Living in Iowa
Marion spent his early childhood years in Winterset. While growing up in Iowa, stories indicate Marion’s love of sports began at an early age. One of his favorite pastimes was playing football with his father, who had played college football. His father became a trained and licensed pharmacist, and while living in Winterset, worked at the M.E. Smith Drugstore.
During Marion’s youth, Clyde continued his pharmacy work while the family lived in a few small towns throughout Iowa, including Earlham where the Morrison family owned a store for a short time. In December 1912, Molly gave birth to Marion’s brother, Robert Emmett Morrison, named after Molly’s father. It was around this time that Marion’s middle name was changed from Robert to Mitchell, after Clyde’s father.
The Morrisons Move West
Not long after the birth of Marion’s brother, Robert, the Morrison’s decided to make the move west to California. Stories indicate Marion’s father developed a health ailment, and it was suggested a dry climate might help improve his condition. Clyde’s father already made the trek to California, and invited his son and family to move west.
Clyde decided to join him in late 1913, where he took up farming, and spent time preparing the family’s homestead in the community of Lancaster, California in Antelope Valley. Molly, Marion and Robert joined Clyde in 1914. By the time the Morrison family settled in Lancaster, electricity was introduced in the valley, there was a new grammar school on Cedar Avenue, a new public library, and several paved streets.
Though the family tried farming and ranching for several years, following the death of Clyde’s father, the Morrison’s decided to leave their first home in California behind and moved from Lancaster, California to Glendale, California.
How Duke Got His Name
In 1916, the Morrison family moved to Glendale, California. The small town was an idyllic spot for the Morrison family with its temperate climate and bustling yet quaint community.
It was while living in Glendale that Marion acquired the nickname, Duke. The Morrison’s dog Duke, an Airedale, was Marion’s constant companion. Marion would visit the local firehouse accompanied by his dog.
The firefighters knew the dog’s name, and started calling Marion Duke as well. The name stuck.
Marion Morrison's high school years
The Morrison family continued to live in Glendale, California while Duke attended high school from 1921 – 1925. During Duke’s teenage years, Glendale called itself the “Fastest Growing City in America,” with its downtown growing into a bustling commercial and entertainment location with banks, stores, and theaters along Brand Blvd., still today Glendale’s Main Street.
A member of the class of 1925, Duke Morrison attended Glendale High School, where he was active in sports and school activities. Duke played football as a member of the Class B and champion Varsity teams, and excelled as a 170-pound guard. Duke thrived at academics, earning the Bronze Honor Pin and contributing to the school newspaper, the Explosion, as a sports writer. Active in student government, Duke was junior class representative and vice president, and later elected president for the class of ’25. Duke also enjoyed social activities, serving as chairman of the senior class dance and reception committee.
Even as a teenager, Duke was at home participating in various productions as both a stage crew member and an actor. One of his more humorous performances was during Glendale High School’s Variety Show, when he and his football teammates participated in a fashion show donning the latest fashions – for women!
Duke's Hollywood Entry
In the late 1920’s, while Duke was employed as a prop man and as an extra in pictures, he was first introduced to those individuals who would become his closest colleagues, including John Ford. Morrison’s first job for John Ford was on the set of “Mother Machree” (1928), herding geese. In later interviews, Duke would recall his first interaction with John Ford on the set of “Mother Machree.”
Ford knew Duke was a USC football player, and asked him to get into a football stance. Duke was braced on his forearms and feet when Ford proceeded to kick his arms out from under him, causing Duke to land in the mud.
At the time, Duke was not interested in a motion picture career, and therefore told Ford he’d like to try it again. Duke again got into a football position, at which point Duke proceeded to kick Ford in the chest. Duke remembered the deadly silence that followed. He recalled fondly the incident as one that could have been the deciding moment in his film career!
Mother Machree starred Victor McLaglen, with whom Duke would make several other films throughout his career, including, among others, “She Wore a Yellow Ribbon” (1949) and “The Quiet Man” (1952).
Throughout 1928 and 1929, Duke would work as an extra on a number of Ford films, including “Four Sons,” “The Black Watch” and “Salute.”
John Wayne in the Big Trail
With a few years of property and extra work under his belt, young Duke caught the eye of director Raoul Walsh. Walsh, who by the late 1920’s was already an accomplished actor, writer, producer and director, saw something in the tall young actor, and cast him in his first starring role as Breck Coleman. The film was “The Big Trail” (1930).
It was on this set that Marion Morrison acquired the name John Wayne, which he would use for the remainder of his personal and professional life. Also on the set of “The Big Trail” was Duke’s colleague and fellow USC football player Ward Bond. The friends would go on to star in many films with Wayne during his career, including “The Searchers” (1956).
The Big Trail has been tagged “The Most Important Picture Ever Produced.” The “all talking” picture was selected as one of 25 films for the 2006 National Film Registry at the Library of Congress.
John Wayne Hones his Craft
Though his first starring role did not instantly catapult Wayne to stardom, it did give him the opportunity to hone his craft and acting style by working on a stunning number of films – more than 70 – throughout the decade.
From playing a bank employee to Barbara Stanwyck’s Lily in the 2005 National Film Registry’s “Baby Face” (1933), to boxing his friend Ward Bond in “Conflict” (1936), His star continued to rise as films of this time period brought him to the attention of the movie going public, especially across the heartland of America.
Throughout the 1930’s Wayne and his frequent co-stars stuntman Yakima Canutt and regular western sidekick George “Gabby” Hayes were often referred to as the Lone Star Stock Company because of their many on-screen pairings in these early westerns, including “Blue Steel,” “The Man From Utah,” “Randy Rides Alone,” “The Star Packer,” "The Lawless Frontier,” and “Neath the Arizona Skies.”
Also during this time period, Wayne’s Stony Brooke character starred in a number of titles. Though the storyline and shenanigans would change, Wayne and his co-stars would portray the same characters from film to film.
The 1930’s also brought Wayne the new role of husband and father. To remain close to the motion picture industry and a steady job during the country’s slow recovery during the economic depression, the family made their home in Los Angeles.
The Ringo Kid in Stagecoach
The end of the decade brought the opportunity to work with John Ford again, this time as a star in “Stagecoach” (1939), the first John Ford movie filmed in Monument Valley.
After working at a breakneck pace in film for more than ten years, Wayne’s on-screen style and unique delivery were established. Probably one of the greatest entrance scenes in the movies, Wayne steals the movie with his physical presence in the role as the rifle-toting Ringo Kid. Having worked as a property man, Wayne knew how to use his tools of the trade. Also making its appearance in “Stagecoach” was the 1892 Winchester carbine rifle Wayne modified himself. The large loop lever and shortened barrel allowed Wayne to twirl it like a pistol.
The 32-year old Wayne emerged a major film star, a position he would hold for the next forty years. Among other nominations and awards, “Stagecoach” garnered Ford an Academy Award nomination for best director.
The Making of an Icon
The 1940’s for America was punctuated with conflict and major milestones in U.S. history. Wayne was an avid and proud supporter of the U.S. military. John Wayne made many trips to the front during World War II as part of the newly created United Services Organization (USO).
Wayne would send letters and pictures home to his children relaying his experiences. While in the Pacific, he described entertaining the troops in an informal, open air ampitheater. As the theater was temporary, there were no chairs and the servicemen would sit on the ground as far as the eye could see.
He described the sky as pitch black, only broken by a match or flashlight. The picture shown was sent with a letter home from the war to his daughter Antonia (Toni) in which Wayne told his daughter, “They enjoy seeing us because it reminds them of home.”
John Wayne, the Producer
“Angel and the Badman” (1947) found Wayne in the role of both actor and first-time producer. As bad boy Quirt Evans, Wayne stars along with Gail Russell and regular co-stars Harry Carey and Bruce Cabot. It was the first of many films in which Wayne would work on both sides of the camera under the banner of his own production company.
Wayne had been a contract actor at Republic Studios for eight years. He began to desire more control over his films and his roles, so he told the studio that he wanted to produce a movie himself. At this time, it was rare for leading stars to also produce.
However, Republic likely agreed to his request to work as both star and producer on the film so as not to lose Wayne to another studio.
Star of the Decade
Beginning in the 1950’s, Wayne firmly held a position in the top ten box office poll, where he would remain for more than 20 years. He continued to work at an extraordinary pace, often completing five to seven films in a single year.
Honored with numerous awards and accolades, Wayne placed his footprints at Sid Grauman’s Chinese Theater in Hollywood on January 25, 1950. The cement was mixed with sand from the beach of Iwo Jima, Japan.
Declared a historic and cultural landmark in 1968, visitors continue to visit the site of Wayne’s footprints, located between longtime co-star Victor McLaglen, and John Travolta. The picture shown is John Wayne putting his fist print into the sand at Grauman’s.
I Love Lucy
Part of the golden age of television, the 1950’s brought significant entertainment programming directly to American’s in their homes, including the “I Love Lucy” with Lucille Ball and Desi Arnaz and later, “The Lucy Show.”
John Wayne made several appearances on the Emmy award winning series, often playing himself as a victim of humorous plot lines. Whether stealing John Wayne’s footprints from Grauman’s Chinese Theater, spilling ketchup on him or creating havoc on his movie set, John Wayne fans always appreciated Wayne’s appearances with the charming and delightful Lucille Ball.
John Wayne and Maureen O'Hara
In the early 1950’s, Wayne and co-star Maureen O’Hara made their first on screen appearance together in the final installment of John Ford’s cavalry trio, “Rio Grande” (1950).
The stars would appear onscreen together several times over the next twenty years. Whether as Kirby and Kathleen Yorke (“Rio Grande,” 1950); Sean Thornton and Mary Kate Danaher (“The Quiet Man,” 1952); Spig and Min Wead (“Wings of Eagles,” 1957); George Washington and Katherine Gilhooley McLintock (“McLintock!” 1963); or Jacob and Martha McCandles (“Big Jake,” 1971) – the pair always delighted motion picture audiences with their memorable and witty theatrical performances.
Named “Star of the Decade” by the Motion Picture Herald, Wayne graced his first Time Magazine on March 3, 1952.
John Ford and John Wayne are one of the great actor/director collaborations in history. The pair began working together as early as the 1920’s, and they again joined in 1956 to film The Searchers. The Searchers is widely considered an American masterpiece of filmmaking, and the most-revered film of director John Ford. With spectacular VistaVision cinematography in Ford’s beloved locale, Monument Valley, the film captures both the beauty and the danger of isolation in the western frontier. At the time, The Searchers was overlooked by critics and the Academy and received no Academy Award nominations.
Decades after the film’s release, film directors and critics, including Martin Scorsese, Steven Spielbert, John Milius, and George Lucas, have praised The Searchers. Even rock musician Buddy Holly wrote a song based on John Wayne’s trademark line from The Searchers: “That’ll Be The Day,” which was popularized by the Beatles.
In the closing scene of The Searchers, with John Wayne framed in the doorway, Wayne holds his right elbow with his left hand as a tribute to Harry Carey who passed away in 1947. Carey fans would recognize the pose as one that he often used.
The all star cast in “Rio Bravo” (1959) paired Wayne with new co-stars, including 19-year old Ricky Nelson and newcomer Angie Dickinson.
Even very early in his career, Wayne was able to work with a talented and diverse group of co-stars, many of whom went on to enjoy prominent careers in motion pictures, such as Academy Award winners Walter Brennan, Loretta Young, Gary Cooper, Sophia Loren and Jimmy Stewart.
Wayne also enjoyed the company of old friends on the Howard Hawks’ production, including premier stuntman Yakima Canutt. Wayne and Canutt first worked together in the early 1930’s when the two developed an innovative method for staging film fights, the “pass blow” or “past your face" style.
Canutt continued to work as an actor, stuntman, stunt coordinator, director, writer and producer throughout his career, receiving an honorary Academy Award in 1967 for his contributions to the stunt profession and acclaim for his work on “Ben Hur,” released the same year as “Rio Bravo.” Wayne and Canutt’s last film together was “Rio Lobo” (1971).
It's all in the family
Under the banner of Wayne Fellows Productions, and later his own production company named after the ship in “Wake of the Red Witch,” Wayne produced a number of memorable and award winning motion pictures throughout the 1950’s, 1960’s and 1970’s. In 1960, Wayne produced, directed and starred in “The Alamo,” which went on to receive seven Academy Award nominations, including for best picture, at the 33rd annual Academy Awards.
In addition to working with his longtime colleagues and co-stars on these productions, Wayne maintained a family environment on set throughout his career. With seven children, he immensely enjoyed the company of his family on set as visitors, actors and as members of the production team.
Throughout the last two decades of his career, Wayne’s children appeared in films such as “Rio Grande,” “The Quiet Man,” ‘The Conqueror,” ‘The Searchers,” “The Alamo,” “Donovan’s Reef,” “McLintock,” and “Big Jake.” The picture shown is John Wayne on the Rio Grande set with his son Patrick.
On Open Water
Wayne’s greatest pleasure was spending time with his family and friends, especially aboard the Wild Goose. Originally a converted wooden naval mine sweeper (USS YMS 328) christened and launched by the U.S. Navy on December 19, 1942, deep sea fishing, swimming, water skiing and card games with friends and family took center stage. Upon moving to Newport Beach, California where he would live for nearly two decades, the Wild Goose became a familiar site in Newport Harbor.
Aboard the Wild Goose, family and friends cruised from Mexico to the Alaska (where the picture shown was taken of the Wild Goose in Alaska). He especially enjoyed the Sequim Bay area near Port Angeles, Washington, and with a gift of land by John Wayne and his family to the Port of Port Angeles, the John Wayne Marina at Sequim Bay was established in 1985.
Filmed in the Arusha National Park in Tanzania, director Howard Hawks’ “Hatari!” (1962) remains a stunning historical record of the region as Wayne and his co-stars bring the beauty and adventure of east Africa to the silver screen. The film proved to be significant for the region, bringing never before seen images and sparking interest in the region as a tourist destination.
Nominated for an Academy Award for best cinematography, the film also became popular for Henry Mancini’s composition, “Baby Elephant Walk.” The picture shown is of John Wayne with his daughter Aissa sitting on a baby elephant during the filming of Hatari!
Considered at the time to be a taboo topic, Wayne was encouraged to keep news of his lung cancer diagnosis private. Unconcerned with the impact on his image or career, he didn’t heed such warnings, telling the press, “there is a hell of a lot of good image in John Wayne beating cancer.”
Though he would lose a lung in battling the disease, it did not stop him from continuing with physically challenging and demanding roles – from fighting oil well fires in “Hellfighters” (1968) to fighting on the front lines in “The Green Berets” (1968) – portrayals difficult with two lungs!
Wayne became a passionate advocate for early checkups, doing numerous public service announcements for the American Cancer Society, as shown in this magazine.
26 Bar Ranch
Along with this longtime friend Louis Johnson, Wayne owned a 39-mile working purebred Hereford cattle ranch in Arizona, the 26 Bar Ranch. It raised more than 400 bulls each year, often winning at the big stock shows. Wayne frequently attended the Hereford production sales, and often made the opening day welcome speech at events.
During his 50-year career, many of his most memorable performances were filmed on location throughout the state of Arizona. From his first breakout role in “The Big Trail” (1930) to one of his last appearances in “Cancel My Reservation” (1972), Arizona cities such as Tucson, Nogales, Sedona, Grand Canyon National Park, Yuma, Flagstaff and Mesa provided beautiful and inspiring film sets.
As the cantankerous one-eyed Marshall Rooster Cogburn, Wayne and his co-stars provided award winning performances in Henry Hathaway’s western adventure, “True Grit” (1969).
Wayne’s performance garnered him a second Time Magazine cover (August 8, 1969) along with numerous awards and nominations: best actor at the 42nd annual Academy Awards; a Golden Laurel Award for best action performance; a Bronze Wrangler for best theatrical motion picture; and a Golden Globe for best performance by an actor in a motion picture drama.
He donned the trademark eye patch again when he reprised the character a few years later with leading lady Katherine Hepburn.
America, Why I Love Her
Back in the 1930’s his diverse roles found Wayne cast as a singing cowboy Sandy Saunders in the 1933 film, “Riders of Destiny.” Stories indicate that Wayne asked the producers to find a cowboy who could actually sing – a new star and singing cowboy named Gene Autry took his place. In spite of this, Wayne would later garner a Grammy nomination for his spoken word album “America Why I Love Her.”
America Why I Love Her
You ask me Why I Lover Her? Well, give me time and I’ll explain.
Have you see a Kansas sunset or an Arizona rain?
Have you drifted on a bayou down Louisiana way?
Have you watched a cold fog drifting over San Francisco Bay?
Have you heard a bobwhite calling in the Carolina pines,
Or heard the bellow of a diesel at the Appalachia mines?
Does the call of Niagara thrill you when you hear her waters roar?
Do you look with awe and wonder at her Massachusetts shore,
Where men who braved a hard new world first stepped on Plymounth’s rock?
And do you think of them when you stroll along a New York City dock?
Have you seen a snowflake drifting in the Rockies, way up high?
Have you seen the sun come blazing down from a bright Nevada sky?
Do you hail to the Columbia as she rushes to the sea,
Or bow your head at Gettysburg at our struggle to be free?
Have you seen the mighty Tetons? Have you watched an eagle soar?
Have you see the Mississippi roll along Missouri’s shore?
Have you felt a chill at Michigan when on a winter’s day
Her waters rage along the shore in thunderous display?
Does the word “Aloha” make you warm? Do you stare in disbelief
When you see the surf come roaring in at Waimea Reef?
From Alaska’s cold to the Everglades, from the Rio Grande to Maine,
My heart cries out, my pulse runs fast at the might of her domain.
You ask me Why I Love Her? I’ve a million reasons why:
My Beautiful America, beneath God’s wide, wide sky.
True to his word about never retiring, at 65 years old Wayne continued to work in motion pictures, starring in nearly a dozen films in the last decade of his life including such memorable titles as “The Cowboys” (1972) and “Rooster Cogburn” (1975). In his final film “The Shootist” (1976), Wayne reunited one last time with a few of his former co-stars including Jimmy Stewart, with whom he starred 14 years earlier in “The Man Who Shot Liberty Valance;” Lauren Bacall (“Blood Alley,” 1955); and Richard Boone (“The Alamo” (1960), “Big Jake,” 1971).
Following his stomach cancer diagnosis in 1978, Wayne, a longtime advocate for cancer prevention and treatment tasked his family to use his name to find a cure. After a long and prolific life, Duke succumbed to the disease on June 11, 1979 at the age of 72.
Today, the John Wayne Cancer Foundation, Team Duke, and the John Wayne Cancer Institute continue the fight against cancer in his name.
Congressional Gold Medal
Approved by Congress on Wayne’s 72nd birthday, the Congressional Gold Medal inscribed simply “John Wayne – American,” was presented to John Wayne’s family in March 1980. Among friends offering testimony in support of the Congressional bill was longtime friend and former co-star, Maureen O’Hara Blair.
John Wayne Airport
In his honor, Orange County Airport was renamed “John Wayne Airport” in June 1979. Visitors are greeted by the nine foot heroic bronze by artist Robert Summers.
In a western hat, bib shirt, famous “D” brand buckle and right hip holster, Wayne’s signature walk and determined expression allow visitors to fondly remember one of the great motion picture stars of the 20th century.
Whether portraying on-screen a Captain, Colonel, Sergeant or Lieutenant, some of Wayne’s most memorable and original performances were during the 1940’s.
Wayne continued to work with diverse and talented co-stars, including Henry Fonda, Shirley Temple, Anthony Quinn, Donna Reed, Harry Carey and his son, Harry Carey Jr., Ben Johnson, Victor McLaglen, and Montgomery Clift. As Captain Ralls in the 1948 film “Wake of the Red Witch” Wayne appears on screen again with co-star Gail Russell, and another Duke – surfing legend Duke Kahanamoku.
By the end of the 1940’s, Wayne’s acting work was recognized when he was honored with a best performance nomination for his portrayal as Sergeant John M. Stryker in “Sands of Iwo Jima” (1949) at the 22nd Annual Academy Awards. He also received the Laurel Award from the Motion Picture Exhibitors for “Topliner Star.”