Happy birthday to the Duke himself, Mr. John Wayne. What a cowboy name, right? Makes sense, considering he's one of America's most iconic cowboys and film star. IMDB claims he holds the record for the actor with the most leading parts at a whooping 142! Being such a prolific star and and even having an airport named in his honor, would you believe John Wayne isn't actually his real name?
Marion Robert Morrison (though some sources say 'Marion Mitchell Morrison' and 'Marion Michael Morrison') was born May 26, 1907 in the town of Winterset, Iowa. His parents, Mary "Molly" and Clyde "Doc" Morrison, moved the family West in 1914 to attempt farming in Southern California. The farming attempt failed and soon the family relocated to Glendale, California where Clyde was a pharmacist. Marion received the nickname "Duke" from some local firefighters who always saw him playing with his large Airedale dog... named Duke.
Both Marion and his younger brother Robert did well academically and in football. Marion went on to receive a scholarship for football to USC until a bodysurfing injury ended his football career. With the Great Depression in full swing, the Duke sought out work at local movie studios to support himself.
Marion eventually found a job at the Fox Film Corporation as a prop man, moving furniture, material, and equipment around for filmmakers. He was the right build to stand in a few scenes here and there as an extra, starting as a football player in Brown of Harvard in 1926 and again in Drop Kick in 1927. The following year, one of Hollywood’s great directors, John Ford, noticed Morrison and gave him a job herding geese on a 1928 film called Mother Machree. Eventually, the two of them hit it off and became lifelong friends. Eventually, Ford introduced him to a colleague, director Raoul Walsh, who gave Morrison his first starring role, as the cowboy Breck Coleman in the 1930 film, The Big Trail. During this production, studio executives gave Morrison a new name in the hopes of making him an easier sell to film audiences, and he readily accepted the moniker “John Wayne,” saying he was OK if the people paying him wanted to spruce up his name.
Throughout the 1930s, John Wayne diligently and strategically honed his craft while starring in a series of less well-known Westerns, though he preferred to spend most of his time with stuntmen and real-life cowboys so they could teach him the necessary skills needed to play a realistic cowboy on screen. He developed his signature walk, a fist-fighting style, wardrobe preferences, and performed many of his own stunts during this time. It was in 1939 that John Ford gave him his big break as the Ringo Kid in the film, Stagecoach. Wayne’s performance made him a star with staying power, and earned Ford an Academy Award nomination for Best Director.
In the 1940s and ‘50s John Wayne developed into an important figure with a series of starring roles in major Westerns and War pictures. He also tirelessly toured the world and entertained troops for the USO, all while raising a growing family, including his son Michael, daughter Toni, son Patrick, and daughter Melinda with his first wife, Josephine Saenz.
Wayne added romantic comedies, police dramas, and historical dramas to his portfolio in the 60's and 70's, earning three Academy Award nominations, and finally won the big award in 1969 for his performance as Rooster Cogburn in True Grit. Wayne made his directorial debut with The Alamo (1960). Starring in the film as Davy Crockett. His final on-screen performance, Wayne portrayed an aging gunfighter dying of cancer in the 1976 film The Shootist is considered among his greatest performances.
John Wayne survived a bout with lung cancer in 1964 which caused him lose a lung and several ribs. He also had survived a couple of divorces before marrying his third wife, Pilar Palette, and having three more children—Marisa, Aissa, and Ethan. Later in life, he increasingly spoke out on national issues, and played a central role in helping to get the United States Senate to ratify the Panama Canal Treaties in 1977, shortly before his death. John Wayne was diagnosed with stomach cancer, finally succumbing to the disease June 11, 1979, at the age of 72.
Posthumously, John Wayne was awarded the Congressional Gold Medal and the Presidential Medal of Freedom, In the same month as Wayne's passing, the Orange County Airport was renamed after him. He was later featured on a postage stamp in 1990 and again in 2004 and was inducted into the California Hall of Fame in 2007.
Perhaps an even bigger legacy than that of his movie career, John Wayne asked his family and supporters to use his name and likeness to help the doctors fight cancer—a wish that led to the creation of the John Wayne Cancer Foundation (JWCF) in 1985. Over the years, JWCF has supported research by funding the creation of the Cancer Institute that bears his name, education programs, awareness programs, and support groups.