John Wayne Iconic Western Film Star with Winterset, Iowa Birthplace Photos
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 movie goers was born to Clyde and Mary Brown Morrison in the little 4 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 own 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.
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 interesting.
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 the 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 Tribute (with El Dorado sung by George Alexander)
Some of the early 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
This is 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.
Politically he was a conservative and a Republican. He supported Richard Nixon and Ronald Reagan among others and spurned offers to personally enter the field of politics. 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.
John Wayne was known for speaking his mind with regard to 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 certainly good advice for anyone to follow if living in any country of one's birth or country of one's choice.
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. The medal was authorized by Congress and 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 a number of 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.
Another excellent tribute to John Wayne showing his beloved America in photos; his films and all in his own words.
His birthplace located at 224 South Second Street, Winterset, Iowa 50273 is open to the public daily from 10 AM until 4:30 PM. Adult tickets cost $4 at the time of our visit.
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
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 simple and humble past as well as his lifetime achievements.
Do you remember John Wayne wearing a coonskin cap?
© 2009 Peggy Woods