This article is written as a tribute in loving memory of the great John Wayne. John Wayne is best known as an American film actor and director who embodied the very spirit of masculinity. He was an American icon best known for starring as a cowboy in Western films.
John Wayne was born with the name Marion Robert Morrison on May 26, 1907, in Winterset, Iowa to Clyde and Mary Morrison. His family moved to Glendale, California around 1914, and growing up, Marion went by the nickname “Duke,” which also happened to be the name of his trusty canine companion. As a child, he was talented both academically and athletically and earned a scholarship to the University of Southern California for his football skills. After applying to and being rejected by the U.S. Naval Academy, he did, in fact, attend the University of Southern California. Sadly, an injury caused him to have to quit football and forfeit his scholarship. As such, he went to work for a local movie studio to support himself.
One of John Wayne’s very first studio jobs was as a prop man on sets for the Fox Film Corporation. After a time, filmmakers began to notice him, and several used him on the stand-in or extra roles in their films. Originally, he acted under the name Duke Morrison, a combination of his childhood nickname and his last name by birth, but later, he went on to later act under the name we know so well today, John Wayne. Eventually, John Wayne caught the eye of a famous director, John Ford. John Wayne and John Ford would eventually go on to become lifelong friends. John Ford also introduced John Wayne to the famous film director Raoul Walsh, who would give Wayne his very first starring role in 1930 in the movie, The Big Trail. In this film, Wayne starred as a cowboy named Breck Coleman. Unfortunately, it was not a commercial success.
After earning the starring role in The Big Trail, John Wayne spent the rest of the decade of the 1930s starring in several Western films playing the role of a cowboy. During this time, he worked with actual real life cowboys and authentic Hollywood stuntmen to learn real life skills that he could put to use in his acting roles. In 1939 after several small roles and minor parts, Wayne’s friend and director John Ford gave Wayne his breakthrough acting role in a film that would go on to become a classic, “Stagecoach.” In this film, John Wayne starred as the Ringo Kid. Not only did John Wayne’s role as the Ringo Kid make him into a real Hollywood star, but the film also resulted in John Ford being nominated for an Academy Award for Best Director.
During the decades of the 1940’s and the 1950’s John Wayne began to become an important actor in both Hollywood and the American cinema. He earned many starring roles in not only Western films, but in war movies as well. During this time, he starred in his first color film. He also spent his valuable time visiting American soldiers serving our country all around the world, and he entertained them while working on behalf of the United Service Organizations. He visited troops serving in both World War II and Korea. At the same time, he was also busy raising a growing family with several children including his sons Michael, Patrick, and Ethan and his daughters Toni, Melinda, Marisa, and Aissa. During this time, John Wayne was married and divorced several times.
During the decades of the 1960’s and 1970’s, John Wayne expanded his acting and the types of movie roles he took on grew. Eventually, John Wayne starred in romantic comedies, crime films, and historical dramatizations. He was also nominated for three Academy Awards for Best Actor. In 1970, he won the Academy Award for Best Actor for his portrayal of Rooster Cogburn in the Western Film True Grit. In 1976, he played what would be his final acting role in the movie, The Shooties, as a gunman suffering from cancer. This final role is considered by many to be one of his greatest performances ever. In total, John Wayne acted in over 142 films, with 83 of them being Westerns.
After he had hung up his acting hat, John Wayne became active politically in the United States and began speaking out on several important national issues. In 1977, John Wayne played a central role in convincing the United States Senate to pass the Panama Canal Treaties. He was active in many political causes and was a member of the Republican Party. He was also known as being very anti-Communist and conservative.
A lifelong smoker, in 1964, John Wayne had been diagnosed with lung cancer. He was cured and survived, but as result of his illness, he lost a lung and several ribs. Unfortunately, in 1979, cancer returned, this time in his stomach, and it proved to be fatal. Sadly, John Wayne, originally born Marion Morrison, died at the age of 72 on June 11, 1979. One of his last dying wishes was for people to find a cure for cancer and as a result, the John Wayne Cancer Foundation (JWCF) was started by his family in 1985. After his death, he was awarded two prestigious honors, the Congressional Gold Medal and the Presidential Medal of Freedom.