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John Wayne, Hollywood Giant

Updated on November 17, 2014

John Wayne's box-office appeal was unparallelled in Hollywood history. For over a quarter of a century he ruled supreme with his movies grossing over $700million - a record which will probably never be equaled.

But Wayne was much more than just a successful movie star. Even duriing his lifetime he came to be regarded as an icon, a seemingly indestructible force around which movies were constructed. He has become a worldwide symbol of American masculine dignity, moral strength ands physical courage. He was one of the few performers to become a legend in his own lifetime, and now, many years after his death, the legend lives on and grows stronger.

In 1999 John Wayne was ranked by the American Film Institute at number thirteen in their list of the Greatest Male Stars of All Time. He is number three in the Harris poll of America's favorite film stars, the only star to have appeared in the poll every year.

His birth name, "Marion" was considered too feminine by John Ford, so he changed his acting name in 1930. He was always known as "Duke" to his friends, a nickname he gained as a child, named after his Airedale terrier, Duke.

Early Duke

John Wayne was born Marion Michael Morrison in Winterset, Iowa, on May 26, 1907. His family moved to southern California when Marion was 6 years old, and then on to Glendale, where Mr. Morrison opened a pharmacy business. A movie theater was located in the same building as the pharmacy, and young Marion was able to go to the movies four or five times a week, free of charge. It was his first exposure to the big screen and he never forgot its effect on him and the rest of the audience of seeing the giant figures on the screen. He was also able to watch at first hand movies being made as the Triangle Studios were close to Glendale and often shot outdoor scenes nearby.

Whilst still at school he took various part time jobs such as truck driver and ice hauler before becoming a member of a highly successful football team at high school. His natural athleticism,and burly 6' 4" build took him to the University of Southern California on a football scholarship, but his football career was cut short when he broke an ankle in his second year and had to drop out.

While at the university, Wayne, along with many of his teamates, began working as a general laborer and scene shifter at the local film studios. He was the sort of figure who got noticed and he became friendly with the up and coming young director, John Ford, who was to become a lifelong friend. Ford made him part of his team when Duke took over from Ford's regular stuntmen who had refused to do a submarine shoot in choppy seas.

Also during this period, Wayne appeared with his teammates from the USC football team in such football fims as 'The Dropkick' and 'Brown of Harvard', and he was also featured in the film 'Maker of Men' made by Columbia Pictures in 1930. In his earliest movies he was credited as either Michael Burn or Duke Morrison, but in 1930 when he was cast in a movie called 'The Big Trail', a big budget Western, his name was changed to John Wayne. The journey to major stardom had begun.

Did you call me Marion?

Duke Film Quotations Number 1

From The Big Trail

In his first starring role and the first time as John Wayne, Duke, playing the part of a wagontrain scout, gives the following speech when during a blizzard the settlers are about to give up.

"No you're not. We can't turn back! We're blazing a trail that started in England.

Not even the storms of the sea could turn back those first settlers - and they carried it on further, they blazed it on through the wilderness of Kentucky. Famine, hunger, not even massacres could stop them. Now we've picked up the trail again and nothing can stop us, not even the snows of winter nor the peaks of the highest mountain. We're building a nation, but we've got to suffer. No great trail was ever blazed without hardship. And you've got to fight. That's life! And when you stop fightin', that's death! What are you going to do, lay down and die? Not in a thousand years! You're going on with me!"

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Wayne began tok learn the acting business and he spent a long time doing it. From 1933 to 1939 he appeared in over 40 'B' movies, most of them Westerns, for which he was ideally suited, with his riding ability and rugged appearance. In 1939 he ws given his big chance by John Ford when he was cast as the Ringo Kid in the classic film Stagecoach. The movie was a great success and rang out the news: a new star is born.

'Stagecoach' was a landmark movie which, as well as beginning the successful and almost legendary relationship between John Ford and John Wayne, also became the standard for all subsequent Westerns. It established Ford as a major force in directing Hollywood movies and established Wayne as a charismatic screen presenceand as a dominant leading man. Even today, 'Stagecoach' still impresses as the first mature instance of a Western that is both mythic and poetic. The story about a cross-section of troubled passengers unraveling under the strain of Indian attack contains all of Ford's incomparable storytelling trademarks--particularly swift action and social introspection--underscored by the majestic roling landscape of Monument Valley.

After the turning point of 'Stagecoach' Wayne quickly established his versatility in a variety of major roles: a young Swedish seaman in Eugene O'Neill's The Long Voyage home inj 1940 and in the same year he starred with Marlene Dietrich in 'Seven Sinners'. He went on to star with her in two further films, 'The Spoilers' in 1942 and 'Pittsburgh' in 1943. He played a tragic sea captain in Cecil B. de Mille's 'Reap the Wild Wind' in 1942 and a rodeo rider in the comedy 'A Lady Takes a Chance' in 1943.

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John Wayne Moments 1930 - 1939 - (Helped by a stuntman or two)

Duke Movie Quotations Number 2

From The Shootist

"I won't be wronged, I won't be insulted, and I won't be laid a hand on. I don't do these things to other people, and I require the same from them." --as J.B. Books in THE SHOOTIST (1976)

War Years

With America's entry into World War II the majority of male leads left Hollywood to serve overseas. John Wayne saw that his opportunity for Hollywood stardom was seriously at risk. Despite enormous pressure from his inner circle of friends, he put off enlisting but eventually, when he did try he was refused because of an old football injury. So he poured himself into the war effort by making inspirational films such as 'The Fighting Seabees' in 1944 and 'They Were Expendable' the following year.

John Wayne and U.S. Army Special Forces Operational Detachment A-323 at Camp Trai Bi, Tay Ninh Province, Republic of Vietnam, June 1966.

He also became a popular visitor to the war zones in World War II and aferwards in Korea and Vietnam. By the 1950s, due in large part to the success of his war films such as 'Flying Tigers' in 1942 and 'The Sands of Iwo Jima' in 1949, for which he was nominated for the Best Actor Award, Wayne had become an icon to all the branches of the U.S. Military, despite the fact that his actual lack of military service wascommon knowledge. Many veterans have said their reason for serving was in some part related to watching Wayne's movies.

"This is where we separate the men from the boys. Saddle Up".

Later Life

By the late 1940s, Wayne's screen image was changing from a daring young adventurer to a more mature, more restrained and wiser hero. In "Red River," he portrayed a ruthless cattle baron, not altogether a good guy, but one with some depth to him. In this instance, Montgomery Clift, the co-star, represented the forces for good.

Beginning in the late 1940s, Wayne began to take the role of film producer as well as starring in his movies, and in 1960, he made his directorial debut with 'The Alamo', a film which he also produced and starred in (as Davy Crockett).

When he wasn't producing or directing, Wayne continued to act in a variety of different films throughout the 1960s, among them 'Hatari!' in 1962, 'Donovan's Reef' in 1963, 'El Dorado' in 1967, 'The Green Berets' in 1968 and 'True Grit' in 1969, for which he won his first and only Best Actor Oscar.

By the 1970s however, he found himself playing stereotypes of his established slow-talking, straight-walking screen persona in a series of Westerns which succeeded financially, if not critically, because of the star's enduring box-office appeal. Reminding audiences of the actor behind the personality however, in his final film, 'The Shootist' in 1976 (the story of an aging gunslinger who, like Wayne himself, finds out he's dying of cancer), the icon gave one of his greatest film performances.

John Wayne died of lung cancer on June 11, 1979 and was interred in the Pacific View Memorial Park cemetery in Corona del Mar, Orange County, California.

Before his death, Duke wanted a simple epitaph carved on his headstone, "Feo, Fuerte y Formal". Translated it means "He was Ugly, Strong, and had Dignity". His wishes were never carried out. His headstone is a bronze plaque featuring an image of John Wayne astride a horse, near the Alamo.

Its inscription reads:

"Tomorrow is the most important thing in life. Comes into us at midnight very clean. It's perfect when it arrives and it puts itself in our hands. It hopes we've learnt something from yesterday."

Duke Movie Quotations Number 4

From Fort Apache

"If you can see them, they're not Apaches."-- as Captain Kirby York in FORT APACHE (1948).


No other Hollywood performer has ever come to symbolize so many things to so many people: a rugged, heroic, masculine ideal, the life of the frontiersman, even the United States of America as an entity. John Wayne has remained an icon, permanently etched in the collective memory of the world


It has been not only 100 years since his birth, but nearly three decades since his death. Yet Wayne still remains one of the most recognizable faces in the world. He is, as New York Times film critic Vincent Camby once wrote, "marvelously indestructible."

Duke Movie Quotations Number 5

"Women -- I never met one yet that was half as reliable as a horse." -- as Sam McCord in NORTH TO ALASKA (1960).


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    • UKGhostwriter profile image

      UKGhostwriter 5 years ago

      Good old 'Duke'

    • profile image

      GenesisLabs 5 years ago

      I really admire and respect John Wayne. Enjoyed your lens.

    • kerryhrabstock profile image

      kerryhrabstock 6 years ago

      Beautiful job. I once worked with a man who was an extra in one of the war films. His whole platoon was in the film. John Wayne used to bring them cartons of cigarettes during the filming. Sadly ironic huh. Hey, are you American? Bald? Or an eagle?

    • KokoTravel profile image

      KokoTravel 6 years ago

      What a guy, eh?