John Wayne became one of the biggest film stars in history thanks to his stellar career. The ‘True Grit’ actor began his working life in another industry entirely, but ultimately grew to be the biggest movie star of his generation.
Besides starring in many films, John Wayne was also a well-known family man. He was married three times, and had seven children. And while some actors’ children can recall their mom or dad not being present during their childhood, it turns out that John Wayne was one of the exceptions.
Since his tragic death, several of his kids have spoken publicly about him, revealing the truth for all to read. Here’s all you need to know about the legendary John Wayne – and the tragic ending to his life.
John Wayne was actually not born John Wayne. Instead, the prominent entertainer was born Marion Morrison on May 26, 1907, in Winterset, Iowa. It was at a young age that his first “name change” occurred, all thanks to the Airedale [Terrier] dog named Duke that his parents, Clyde and Mary, owned.
“There’s a picture of him in the book, he looked to weigh about 80 pounds — and Marion was Little Duke. He liked the name and for the rest of his life he always insisted that people call him Duke,” biographer Scott Eyman’s told Yahoo.
When Wayne was around nine or ten, his family decided to move to Glendale, California. His father began working there as a pharmacist, but the family faced many challenges along the way. Simply put, it turned out that making it in California wasn’t all that simple. In the end, John Wayne was given the opportunity to see many things that would shape his character and values.
For this reason alone, his time there probably helped him significantly later in life.
“You have this young boy, who has a sickly father, and they move west to the Mojave Desert to try to farm. That’s a rough place to farm, and they fail, and he has a very hard, charging mother,” Wayne’s father Ethan said when recounting his father’s upbringing.
“It’s tough on the father and he’s never satisfied. And they end up in Glendale – which, at that time, was in another small, rural environment, and the father was social, and the mother was kind of a taskmaster. And I think [John] found solace in school and relationships in school.”
John enrolled at Glendale High School, where he first found his passion for acting. Besides playing football and excelling in his classes, among other activities, he also participated in student theatrical productions.
He was the school newspaper’s editor-in-chief, ran the debate team, and participated in the dance committee and drama clubs.
Wayne was also the football team’s captain, leading them to a championship season and earning a football scholarship to the University of Southern California.
Initially, he was a great student, but the tuition was expensive, and in the end, he left to work instead. Of course, that wasn’t the only reason for his giving up on a college education.
No, it seemed that the young John Wayne was destined for a career in the NFL. He had the talent and the ambition, but in 1926 he was involved in a bodysurfing accident that left him injured.
So Wayne got a job at the local movie studios, employed as both a prop man and an extra in several films. It was there he came into contact with some influential people in the movie business, including John Ford, who taught him a lot.
“I was a carpenter, I was a juicer. I rigged lights, I helped build sets. Carried props. Hauled furniture. I got to know the nuts and bolts of making pictures,” Wayne said, as quoted in Scott Eyman’s biography, John Wayne: The Life and Legend.
Wayne worked with the aforementioned Ford for the first time on the set of the 1928 film Mother Machree, where he was tasked with herding geese. As he had worked some years at the studio, he had come to be known by a lot of people. One such individual was director Raoul Walsh, who gave John – at this point still known as Marion Morrison – his first gig.
Sooner after, he landed the starring role in the 1930 film The Big Trail – and it was on the set of that flick that his name would change forever.
“Back then the studios didn’t like ethnic names, they wanted names that sounded kind of classical,” Eyman told Yahoo.
“Winfield Sheehan, who ran Fox Studios, was a big fan of ‘Mad Anthony’ Wayne, the Revolutionary War general — that’s where the ‘Wayne’ came from, and ‘John’ just sort of came up in conversations because it seemed to fit with ‘Wayne’: ‘John Wayne.’ It had a nice symmetry to it.”