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John Wayne

True Grit (1969)Born Marion Robert Morrison on May 26, 1907 in Winterset, Iowa
Died June 11, 1979 (age 72) in Los Angeles, California

Early Life
Wayne was born Marion Robert Morrison in Winterset, Iowa. His middle name was soon changed from Robert to Mitchell when his parents decided to name their next son Robert.

Wayne's father, Clyde Leonard Morrison (1884–1937), was the son of American Civil War veteran Marion Mitchell Morrison (1845–1915). Wayne's mother, the former Mary Alberta Brown (1885–1970), was from Lancaster County, Nebraska. Wayne was of Presbyterian Scots-Irish descent through his second great-grandfather Robert Morrison, who was born in County Antrim, Northern Ireland and emigrated to the United States in 1782.

Wayne's family moved to Palmdale, California, and then in 1911 to Glendale, California, where his father worked as a pharmacist. A local fireman at the station on his route to school in Glendale started calling him "Little Duke" because he never went anywhere without his huge Airedale Terrier dog, Duke. He preferred "Duke" to "Marion," and the name stuck for the rest of his life.

As a teen, Wayne worked in an ice cream shop for a man who shod horses for Hollywood studios. He was also active as a member of the Order of DeMolay, a youth organization associated with the Freemasons. He attended Wilson Middle School in Glendale. He played football for the 1924 champion Glendale High School team. Wayne applied to the U.S. Naval Academy, but was not accepted. He instead attended the University of Southern California (USC), majoring in pre-law. He was a member of the Trojan Knights and Sigma Chi fraternities.

Wayne also played on the USC football team under legendary coach Howard Jones. An injury curtailed his athletic career; Wayne later noted he was too terrified of Jones's reaction to reveal the actual cause of his injury, which was bodysurfing at the “Wedge” at the tip of the Balboa Peninsula in Newport Beach. He lost his athletic scholarship and, without funds, had to leave the university.

Wayne began working at the local film studios. Prolific silent western film star Tom Mix had gotten him a summer job in the prop department in exchange for football tickets. Wayne soon moved on to bit parts, establishing a longtime friendship with the director who provided most of those roles, John Ford. Early in this period, Wayne appeared with his USC teammates playing football in Brown of Harvard (1926), The Dropkick (1927), and Salute (1929) and Columbia's Maker of Men (filmed in 1930, released in 1931). Also, it is during this period that Wayne is reputed to have met the legendary gunfighter and lawman Wyatt Earp.

Film Career
While working for Fox Film Corporation in bit roles, he was given on-screen credit as "Duke Morrison" only once, in Words and Music (1929). In 1930, director Raoul Walsh cast him in his first starring role in The Big Trail (1930). For his screen name, Walsh suggested "Anthony Wayne", after Revolutionary War general "Mad Anthony" Wayne. Fox Studios chief Winfield Sheehan rejected it as sounding "too Italian." Walsh then suggested "John Wayne." Sheehan agreed, and the name was set. Wayne himself was not even present for the discussion. His pay was raised to $105 a week ($1,371 in 2010 dollars).

The Big Trail was to be the first big-budget outdoor spectacle of the sound era, made at a staggering cost of over $2 million ($26 million in 2010 dollars), utilizing hundreds of extras and wide vistas of the American southwest, still largely unpopulated at the time. To take advantage of the breathtaking scenery, it was filmed in two versions, a standard 35mm version and another in "Grandeur", a new process utilizing innovative camera and lenses and a revolutionary 70mm widescreen process. Many in the audience who saw it in Grandeur stood and cheered. Unfortunately, only a handful of theaters were equipped to show the film in its widescreen process, and the effort was largely wasted. The film was considered a huge flop.

After the failure of The Big Trail, Wayne was relegated to small roles in A-pictures, including Columbia's The Deceiver (1931), in which he played a corpse.  He appeared in the serial The Three Musketeers (1933), an updated version of the Alexandre Dumas novel in which the protagonists were soldiers in the French Foreign Legion in then-contemporary North Africa. He appeared in many low-budget "Poverty Row" westerns, mostly at Monogram Pictures and serials for Mascot Pictures Corporation.

By Wayne's own estimation, he appeared in about eighty of these horse operas between 1930 - 1939. In Riders of Destiny (1933) he became film's first singing cowboy, albeit via dubbing. Wayne also appeared in some of the Three Mesquiteers westerns, whose title was a play on the Dumas classic. He was mentored by stuntmen in riding and other western skills. He and famed stuntman Yakima Canutt developed and perfected stunts still used today.

Wayne's breakthrough role came with director John Ford's classic Stagecoach (1939). Because of Wayne's non-star status and track record in low-budget westerns throughout the 1930s, Ford had difficulty getting financing for what was to be an A-budget film.  After rejection by all the top studios, Ford struck a deal with independent producer Walter Wanger in which Claire Trevor - a much bigger star at the time - received top billing. Stagecoach was a huge critical and financial success, and Wayne became a star. He later appeared in more than twenty of John Ford's films, including She Wore a Yellow Ribbon (1949), The Quiet Man (1952), The Searchers (1956), The Wings of Eagles (1957), and The Man Who Shot Liberty Valance (1962).

Wayne's first color film was Shepherd of the Hills (1941), in which he co-starred with his longtime friend Harry Carey.  The following year he appeared in his only film directed by Cecil B. DeMille, the Technicolor epic Reap the Wild Wind (1942), in which he co-starred with Ray Milland and Paulette Goddard; it was one of the rare times he played a character with questionable values.

In 1949, director Robert Rossen offered the starring role of All the King's Men to Wayne. Wayne refused, believing the script to be un-American in many ways. Broderick Crawford, who eventually got the role, won the 1949 Oscar for best male actor, ironically beating out Wayne, who had been nominated for Sands of Iwo Jima.

He lost the leading role in The Gunfighter (1950) to Gregory Peck due to his refusal to work for Columbia Pictures because its chief Harry Cohn had mistreated him years before when he was a young contract player. Cohn had bought the project for Wayne, but Wayne's grudge was too deep, and Cohn sold the script to Twentieth Century Fox, which cast Peck in the role Wayne badly wanted but refused to bend for.

One of Wayne's most popular roles was in The High and the Mighty (1954), directed by William Wellman and based on a novel by Ernest K. Gann. His portrayal of a heroic copilot won widespread acclaim. Wayne also portrayed aviators in Flying Tigers (1942), Flying Leathernecks (1951), Island in the Sky (1953), The Wings of Eagles (1957), and Jet Pilot (1957).

The Searchers (1956) continues to be widely regarded as perhaps Wayne's finest and most complex performance. In 2006 Premiere Magazine ran an industry poll in which Wayne's portrayal of Ethan Edwards was rated the 87th greatest performance in film history. He named his youngest son Ethan after the character. John Wayne won a Best Actor Oscar for True Grit (1969).

Wayne was also nominated as the producer of Best Picture for The Alamo (1960), one of two films he directed. The other was The Green Berets (1968), the only major film made during the Vietnam War to support the war. During the filming of Green Berets, the Degar or Montagnard people of Vietnam's Central Highlands, fierce fighters against communism, bestowed on Wayne a brass bracelet that he wore in the film and all subsequent films. His last film was The Shootist (1976), whose main character, J. B. Books, was dying of cancer - the illness to which Wayne himself succumbed 3 years later.

According to the Internet Movie Database, Wayne played the lead in 142 of his film appearances.

Batjac, the production company co-founded by Wayne, was named after the fictional shipping company Batjak in Wake of the Red Witch (1948), a film based on the novel by Garland Roark. (A spelling error by Wayne's secretary was allowed to stand, accounting for the variation.) Batjac (and its predecessor, Wayne-Fellows Productions) was the arm through which Wayne produced many films for himself and other stars. Its best-known non-Wayne production was the highly acclaimed Seven Men From Now (1956) which started the classic collaboration between director Budd Boetticher and star Randolph Scott.

In the Motion Picture Herald Top Ten Money- Making Western Stars poll, Wayne was listed in 1936 and 1939. He appeared in the similar Box Office poll in 1939 and 1940. While these two polls are really an indication only of the popularity of series stars, Wayne also appeared in the Top Ten Money Makers Poll of all films from 1949 to 1957 and 1958 to 1974, taking first place in 1950, 1951, 1954 and 1971.  With a total of 25 years on the list, Wayne has more appearances than any other star, beating Clint Eastwood (21) into second place.

In later years, Wayne was recognized as a sort of American natural resource, and his various critics, of his performances and his politics, viewed him with more respect. Abbie Hoffman, the radical of the 1960s, paid tribute to Wayne's singularity, saying "I like Wayne's wholeness, his style. As for his politics, well - suppose even cavemen felt a little admiration for the dinosaurs that were trying to gobble them up." Reviewing The Cowboys (1972), Vincent Canby of the New York Times, who did not particularly care for the film, wrote: "Wayne is, of course, marvelously indestructible, and he has become an almost perfect father figure."

1964 Illness
Wayne had been a chain-smoker of cigarettes since young adulthood.  In 1964, Wayne was diagnosed with lung cancer, and underwent successful surgery to remove his entire left lung and four ribs.  Despite efforts by his business associates to prevent him from going public with his illness (for fear it would cost him work), Wayne announced he had cancer and called on the public to get preventive examinations.  Five years later, Wayne was declared cancer-free.  Despite the fact that Wayne's diminished lung capacity left him incapable of prolonged exertion and frequently in need of supplemental oxygen, within a few years of his operation he chewed tobacco and began smoking cigars until the day he died.

Death
Although he enrolled in a cancer vaccine study in an attempt to ward off the disease, John Wayne died of stomach cancer on June 11, 1979, at the UCLA Medical Center, and was interred in the Pacific View Memorial Park, Plot: Bayview Terrace, section 575 in Corona del Mar.

More History

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