Winterset, Iowa: Birthplace of John Wayne, Well-Known Western Film Star
Winterset, Iowa is a beautiful little town and was the birthplace of the well-known film star known as John Wayne. The man who was eventually called John Wayne by millions of moviegoers was born to Clyde and Mary Brown Morrison in the little four-room cottage pictured above on May 26, 1907, and he was named Marion Robert Morrison.
His dad was a pharmacist, and in 1910 he was able to purchase his drug store in Earlham, Iowa where he moved his little family. It was about 15 miles down the road from Winterset. When a second son was born in 1911 (Robert Emmett Morrison), Marion's middle name was changed to Michael.
Marion grew up absorbing turn of the century midwestern values and when his family picked up stakes and moved to California (primarily for the health of his father), one of the many jobs that he had was delivering newspapers. He was very athletic and became not only a football player in high school but was also captain of his team.
His birthplace located at 224 South Second Street, Winterset, Iowa 50273, is open to the public daily from 10 AM until 5 PM. December through February the hours are 10 AM to 4 PM.
Since the time of our visit, a 6,100 square foot museum is now adjacent to the small home. The official opening was May 23, 2015. As of August 2019, adult tickets for the home and museum now cost $15, seniors 60+ $14, ages 8 to 12 is $8, 7 and under is free. Tour groups of 20+ cost $10 each.
The kitchen and the parlor in the home have been restored and filled with authentic furnishings to showcase what the appearance would have been like in the year 1907. There are hundreds of photos of The Duke and other memorabilia to be viewed.
Home Where "The Duke" Was BornClick thumbnail to view full-size
Duke was a nickname that he got, which followed him all of his life. The account of just how he was labeled with the name is fascinating.
He used to walk to school but left his dog whose name was Duke at a nearby fire station. The dog's name was known by the firemen but not the boy's name. So when the men at the fire station saw the young boy, they started calling him Duke. The name stuck, and he was lovingly nicknamed Duke for the rest of his life. If someone many years later used the term "The Duke," everyone knew of whom they were speaking.
Duke was an attractive young man with a 6 foot and 4-inch frame. He was spotted and received his first acting job in 1928 at Fox Studios where for a while he worked as an extra. He earned a salary of $75 per week.
He had been going to the University of Southern California and thought that he wanted to become a lawyer. For help with paying for his room and board, he washed dishes while in school. When the movie offers started coming, he gave up his former idea of a career.
John Wayne and Movies
Some of the first movies of which the Duke played a part included "Salute" and "The Big Trail." One of his producers did not like the names of Marion or even Duke and renamed him John Wayne, which he thought was a more American sounding name and a better moniker for the movies.
John Wayne, he became and for the rest of his years except for the nickname of The Duke that was how he was known.
The movie Stagecoach was his breakthrough film, and after that, he started getting starring roles.
He went on to be featured in some 200 movies many of which are still well known and loved today by fans of his. A partial listing reads like a history lesson of our historic western past and includes such films as the following:
- True Grit
- Rio Lobo
- The Alamo
- Rio Bravo
- The Oregon Trail
These movies are a mere sampling of the films in which John Wayne played a part. He was known for his swaggered way of walking and his deep, distinctive voice.
John Wayne Tribute (with El Dorado sung by George Alexander)
Politically he was a conservative and a Republican. He supported Richard Nixon and Ronald Reagan, among others and spurned offers to enter the field of politics personally. However, he made his feelings known through his efforts on behalf of others as well as in some of his films, which were not always popular.
Although he did not enlist in the war effort when other actors were taking on that assignment, he personified commitment and bravery in his many war films.
His Love of America
John Wayne was known for speaking his mind about how he felt about his country. He authored a book titled America Why I Love Her. He encouraged people to concentrate upon "the good things about America" and to "nurture her strengths and strengthen her weaknesses..." which is undoubtedly good advice for anyone to follow if living in any land of one's birth or country of one's choice.
America, Why I Love Her is a book that will not only let you know what John Wayne thought of his country but will make you proud to be a part of it as well. I would highly recommend reading this book if it has not yet been on your radar screen. It is touching as is the video below.
Why John Wayne Loves America
What To Know About John Wayne
From visiting his birthplace in Winterset, Iowa, we learned the following:
- Maureen O'Hara went before Congress to urge them to strike a medal in John Wayne's honor. Many other people of note also testified as to wanting this honor bestowed upon the Duke. Congress authorized the medal and it was approved by President Carter in 1979. The inscription reads: "John Wayne - American."
- John Wayne had three marriages and ended up with a total of seven children and twenty-one grandchildren during his lifetime. He ended up owning several ranch homes, a jet airplane, and a 135-foot yacht called "The Wild Goose."
- He was honored with several awards in his lifetime, and after his death, Congress awarded him a Congressional Gold Medal which is one of the highest honors that can be bestowed upon a civilian.
John Wayne epitomized the spirit of patriotism and has been dubbed The Great American by many.
The town of Winterset still has many buildings that date from the late 1800s and has a beautifully constructed courthouse that dominates the small town.
Is Winterset, Iowa and viewing the birthplace of this most famous film star known as John Wayne worth a visit? We thought so, and my mother, niece and I carried away memories of this Great American, the Duke, with a little more perspective about his humble and straightforward past as well as his lifetime achievements.
Do you remember John Wayne wearing a coonskin cap?
This content is accurate and true to the best of the author’s knowledge and is not meant to substitute for formal and individualized advice from a qualified professional.
© 2009 Peggy Woods