John Wayne was born Marion Robert Morrison on this date in 1907, in Winterset, Iowa. His family eventually moved to Glendale, California, where he grew up and attended USC on a football scholarship. Through a series of events too complex to write about here, Wayne found his way into movies and eventually devoted his career to the mission of creating of an iconic American male hero. That creation, which included some dark elements as well as admirable ones (See “Red River,” “The Searchers” and “The Man Who Shot Liberty Valance”) that still has a strong influence, and I believe an overwhelmingly positive one, on the culture.
In this he was assisted by two of the greatest of American film directors, Howard Hawks and John Ford, but creating “John Wayne” was Marion Morrison’s life’s work, to the extent where he refused to shoot a character (who has shot him and was running away) in the back in his final film, “The Shootist,” stating that it would violate the principles “John Wayne” stood for.
The man was not the character and didn’t claim to be. He was well-read, preferred to wear sports jackets and slacks, loved chess and by Hollywood standards—not a high bar admittedly— was an intellectual. Wayne once said that he never though of himself as John Wayne and still had “Marion Morrison” locked in his brain. They called him “Duke” in his pre-Wayne days, so he preferred that name off camera.
There are only five genuine Hollywood icons: Chaplin, Marilyn Monroe, Shirley Temple, Fred Astaire and John Wayne, and despite efforts to “cancel” him, Wayne remains the most vibrant, influential, and visible of the group. When I was teaching ethics to lawyers in Mongolia, the judges and lawyers knew virtually nothing about American culture, but they knew (and admired) John Wayne.
1. I’m old enough to remember when it was conservatives who were always trying to censor free speech...apparently many triggered Democrats on social media are demanding that the websites that sell this mug be shut down, or that the mug be censored “like those racist Dr. Seuss books.”