On May 26, 1907 a 13 pound boy came into this world in Winterset Iowa. He was named Marion Robert Morrison, but his parents later changed his middle name to Mitchell when they decided to name their second son Robert. Marion Morrison would later become the actor John Wayne, fondly known as “The Duke”.
Later his family moved to California. It was there as a boy he got the nickname Duke. His beloved dog was named Duke and since the two were together so much they would be referred to as “Little Duke” and “Big Duke“.
In school the Duke was a good student. He participated in sports, student government and in the school’s theatrical productions. He won a scholarship for football to the University of Southern California. After a couple of years he was injured while bodysurfing and lost this scholarship. Without the scholarship college was unaffordable for the Duke.
After leaving school the Duke got a job at the local film company starting in the prop department and then working his way up to bit parts in films. He and the director (John Ford) who provided most of the roles for the Duke became lifelong friends. The Duke was given the name John Wayne while working at the Fox Film Corporation in the early days.
John Ford cast John Wayne in a starring role in his film “Stagecoach” in 1939. He had trouble getting financing for the film since John Wayne had no track record in a starring role. Finally, by giving a bigger name star, Claire Trevor, top billing Ford was able to finance the film. It was a huge success and John Wayne became a star.
This was the start of a fabulous career spanning several decades. John Wayne starred in and was popular for both his western epics and his war movies. He won Best Actor Oscar for True Grit. He directed two films, “The Alamo” and “The Green Beret”
In his political life John Wayne was a conservative Republican. Early in his political life he voted for Franklin D. Roosevelt and admired Harry S. Truman, both Democrats. He was a big supporter of the Republican Party and a supporter of the war in Vietnam. He did not serve in World War II and his widow said he expressed regret for not having served. He did visit servicemen at bases and in hospitals in the South Pacific. John Wayne had a love of country and was very patriotic.
In later years he was awarded two of the highest civilian decorations The Congressional Gold Medal and posthumously the Presidential Medal of Freedom. He also received the Naval Heritage Award from the U.S. Navy Memorial Foundation for his support of the military during his career.
John Wayne’s personal life does not appear to have been as successful as his film career. He was married three times and divorced twice. His first marriage was to Josephine Alicia Saenz with whom he had four children. Esperanza Baur was wife number two. His third wife was Pilar Pallete and they had three children.
After John Wayne and Pilar separated in 1973 he and his former secretary Pat Stacey lived together until his death from stomach cancer on June 11, 1979.
In the biography of John Wayne written by Michael Munn he talks about the fact that Wayne was a drinker and chain smoker. Directors knew to shoot his scenes before noon because by afternoon he would be intoxicated. He developed lung cancer and had to have his left lung removed. The surgery was successful, but after recovery Wayne went back to chewing tobacco and smoking cigars. His lung capacity was decreased to the point they had curtail some activities and supplement at time with oxygen.
John Wayne was named an all-time top money making star. His rugged demeanor and calm voice and attitude made him a favorite with movie fans everywhere. His films are still enjoyed today many years after his death.