originally Marion Morrison, nicknamed "Duke"
( 1907 – 1979 )
Actor. Born Marion Robert Morrison on May 26,
1907, in Winterset, Iowa. (Some sources also list him as Marion Michael
Morrison and Marion Mitchell Morrison.) One of the most popular film
actors of the twentieth century, John Wayne remains a popular American
icon to this day. He was already a sizable presence when he was born,
weighing around 13 pounds.
oldest of two children born to Clyde and Mary "Molly" Morrison,
Wayne moved to Lancester, California, around the age of seven.
The family moved again a few years later after Clyde failed in
his attempt to become a farmer.
in Glendale, California, Wayne received his distinctive nickname "Duke" while
living there. He had a dog by that name, and he spent so much
time with his pet that the pair became known as "Little
Duke" and "Big Duke," according to the official
John Wayne website. In high school, Wayne excelled in his classes
and in many different activities, including student government
and football. He also participated in numerous student theatrical
a football scholarship to University of Southern California (USC),
Wayne started college in the fall of 1925. He joined the Sigma
Chi fraternity and continued to be a strong student. Unfortunately,
after two years, an injury took him off the football field and
ended his scholarship. While in college, Wayne had done some
work as a film extra, appearing as a football player in Brown
of Harvard (1926) and Drop Kick (1927).
of school, Wayne worked as an extra and a prop man in the film
industry. He first met director John Ford while working as an
extra on Mother Machree (1928). With The Big Trail (1930), Wayne
received his first leading role, thanks to director Raoul Walsh.
Walsh is often credited with helping him create his now legendary
screen name, John Wayne. Unfortunately, the western was a box
nearly a decade, Wayne toiled in numerous B moviesmostly westernsfor
different studios. He even played a singing cowboy named Sandy
Saunders among his many roles. During this time period, however,
Wayne started developing his man of action persona, which would
serve as the basis of many popular characters later on.
with Ford, he got his next big break in Stagecoach (1939). Wayne
portrayed the Ringo Kid, an escaped outlaw, who joins an unusual
assortment of characters on a dangerous journey through frontier
lands. During the trip, the Kid falls for a dance hall prostitute
named Dallas (Claire Trevor). The film was well received by movie
goers and critics alike and earned seven Academy Award nominations,
including one for Ford's direction. In the end, it took home
the awards for Music and for Actor in a Supporting Role for Thomas
with Ford and Mitchell, Wayne stepped away from his usual Western
roles to become a Swedish seaman in The Long Voyage Home (1940).
The film was adapted from a play by Eugene O'Neill and follows
the crew of a steamer ship as they move a shipment of explosives.
Along with many positive reviews, the movie earned several Academy
Around this time, Wayne made the first of several movies with German actress
and famous sex symbol Marlene Dietrich. The two appeared together in Seven Sinners
(1940) with Wayne playing a naval officer and Dietrich as a woman who sets out
to seduce him. Off-screen, they became romantically involved, though Wayne was
married at the time. There had been rumors about Wayne having other affairs,
but nothing as substantial as his connection to Dietrich. Even after their physical
relationship ended, the pair remained good friends and co-starred in two more
films, Pittsburgh (1942) and The Spoilers (1942).
started working behind the scenes as a producer in the late 1940s.
The first film he produced was Angel and the Badman (1947). Over
the years, he operated several different production companies,
including John Wayne Productions, Wayne-Fellows Productions,
and Batjac Productions.
career as an actor took another leap forward when he worked with
director Howard Hawks in Red River (1948). The western drama
provided Wayne with an opportunity to show his talents as an
actor, not just an action hero. Playing the conflicted cattleman
Tom Dunson, he took on a darker sort of character. He deftly
handled his character's slow collapse and difficult relationship
with his adopted son played by Montgomery Clift. Also around
this time, Wayne also received praise for his work in John Ford's
Fort Apache (1948) with Henry Fonda and Shirley Temple.
on a war drama, Wayne gave a strong performance in Sands of Iwo
Jima (1949), which garnered him his first Academy Award nomination
for Best Actor. He also appeared in more two westerns by Ford
now considered classics: She Wore a Yellow Ribbon (1949) and
Rio Grande (1950) with Maureen O'Hara.
worked with O'Hara on several films, perhaps most notably The
Quiet Man (1952). Playing an American boxer with a bad reputation,
his character moved to Ireland where he fell in love with a local
woman (Maureen O'Hara). This film is considered Wayne's most
convincing leading romantic role by many critics.
well-known conservative and anticommunist, Wayne merged his personal
beliefs and his professional life in 1952's Big Jim McLain. He
played an investigator working for the U.S. House Un-American
Activities Committee, which worked to root out communists in
all aspects of public life. Off screen, Wayne played a leading
role in the Motion Picture Alliance for the Preservation of American
Ideals and even served as its president for a time. The organization
was a group of conservatives who wanted to stop communists from
working in the film industry, and other members included Gary
Cooper and Ronald Reagan.
1956, Wayne starred in another Ford western, The Searchers, and
again showed some dramatic range as the morally questionable
Civil War veteran Ethan Edwards. He soon after reteamed with
Howard Hawks for Rio Bravo (1959). Playing a local sheriff, Wayne's
character must face off against a powerful rancher and his henchmen
who want to free his jailed brother. The unusual cast included
Dean Martin and Angie Dickinson.
Wayne made his directorial debut with The Alamo (1960). Starring in the film
as Davy Crockett, he received decidedly mixed reviews for both his on- and off-screen
efforts. Wayne received a much warmer reception for The Man Who Shot Liberty
Valance (1962) with Jimmy Stewart and Lee Marvin and directed by John Ford. Some
other notable films from this period include The Longest Day (1962) and How the
West Was Won (1962). Continuing to work steadily, Wayne refused to even let illness
slow him down. He successfully battled lung cancer in 1964. To defeat the disease,
Wayne had to have a lung and several ribs removed.
the later part of the 1960s, Wayne had some great successes and
failures. He co-starred with Robert Mitchum in El Dorado (1967),
which was well received. The next year, Wayne again mixed the
professional and the political with the pro-Vietnam War film
The Green Berets (1968). He directed and produced as well as
starred in the film, which was derided by critics for being heavy
handed and clichéd. Viewed by many as a piece of propaganda,
the film still did well at the box office.
this time, Wayne continued to espouse his conservative political
views. He support friend Ronald Reagan in his 1966 bid for governor
of California as well as his 1970 re-election effort. In 1976,
Wayne recorded radio advertisements for Reagan's first attempt
to become the Republican presidential candidate.
won his first Academy Award for Best Actor for True Grit (1969).
He played Rooster Cogburn, an eye-patching drunkard and lawman,
who helps a young woman named Mattie (Kim Darby) track down her
father's killer. A young Glen Campbell joined the pair on their
mission. Rounding out the cast, Robert Duvall and Dennis Hopper
were among the bad guys the trio had to defeat. A later sequel
with Katherine Hepburn, Rooster Cogburn (1975), failed to attract
critical acclaim or much of an audience.
portrayed an aging gunfighter dying of cancer in his final film,
The Shootist (1976), with Jimmy Stewart and Lauren Bacall. His
character, John Bernard Books, hoped to spend his final days
peacefully, but got involved one last gunfight. In 1978, life
imitated art with Wayne being diagnosed with stomach cancer.
died on June 11, 1979, in Los Angeles, California. He was survived
by his seven children from two of his three marriages. During
his marriage to Josephine Saenz from 1933 to 1945, the couple
had four children, two daughters Antonia and Melinda and two
sons Michael and Patrick. Both Michael and Patrick followed in
their father's footsteps. Michael as a producer and Patrick as
an actor. With his third wife, Pilar Palette, he had three more
children, Ethan, Aissa, and Marisa. Ethan has worked as an actor
over the years.
before his death, the U.S. Congress approved a congressional
gold medal for Wayne. It was given to his family in 1980. In
the same month as the Duke's passing, the Orange County Airport
was renamed after him. He was later featured on a postage stamp
in 1990 and again in 2004 and was inducted into the California
Hall of Fame in 2007.
honor of his charitable work in the fight against cancer, Wayne's
children established the John Wayne Cancer Foundation in 1985.
The organization provides support to numerous cancer-related
programs and to the John Wayne Cancer Institute at Saint John's
Health Center in Santa Monica, California.
A&E Television Networks. All rights reserved.