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John Wayne

Before He Was John Wayne, Marion Morrison Insisted People Call Him by His Dog’s Name

The name John Wayne still holds weight in Hollywood. It’s impossible to think about the Western genre without bringing up the iconic actor. However, John Wayne is not his real name. John Wayne also had another nickname that he went by based on the dog he had growing up.

John Wayne’s real name was Marion Michael Morrison

John Wayne in Shepherd of the Hills

John Wayne | AS400 DB/Bettmann Archive

The book John Wayne: My Life With the Duke by Pilar Wayne and Alex Thorleifson reveals that John Wayne was initially named Robert Michael, printed on his birth certificate. However, his mother had a change of heart and changed his name to Marion Michael Morrison. His mother had a wealthy relative named Mary and wanted her child to gain a possible future inheritance.

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Pilar and Thorleifson wrote about how Wayne was uncomfortable with his real name and the rough childhood that came with it. Wayne would supposedly get bullied by other kids due to his name.

“Being called Marion made me a target for every bully in town,” the actor once said. “They called me little girl–asked why my mother dressed me in pants instead of skirts–did everything they could to make my life miserable.”

John Wayne adopted a nickname based on his childhood dog

To combat the bullying he experienced due to his name, he adopted a nickname. Growing up, Morrison was very fond of his family’s Airedale Terrier, named Duke. According to Mental Floss, his family called the dog “Big Duke” and Marion “Little Duke.” Morrison later adopted the nickname of Duke Morrison, and many referred to him as “The Duke.”

While he would become known to the world as John Wayne, the actor said he preferred the nickname instead. He believed his real-life persona was not the one portrayed on screen.

“The guy you see on the screen isn’t really me,” Wayne said in 1957. “I’m Duke Morrison, and I never was and never will be a film personality like John Wayne.”

His stage name is based on one of his heroes

John Wayne came up with his stage name with help from western director John Ford. The two collaborated on many westerns, including Stagecoach, The Searchers, and The Man Who Shot Liberty Valance. Wayne, who went by the nickname Duke Morrison at the time, wanted a name similar to Ford. Ford came up with the name by asking Wayne who his hero was.

“Duke says, ‘I’d like to have a name pretty much similar to yours,” Ford once said. “I said, ‘Well, I don’t know any Fords who became famous except Henry. Who was your favorite American hero?’ This is before McArthur became famous, Douglas McArther. He says, ‘I’ve always liked Mad Anthony Wayne.’ I said, ‘That’s a good name, John Wayne.’ He says, ‘So be it.’”

Mad Anthony Wayne was a Revolutionary War General known for his notoriously bad temper. He led troops in the Battle of Brandywine, Germantown, Monmouth, Bull’s Ferry, Stony Point, Green Spring, and Paoli. Wayne did star in several war movies, in addition to his numerous westerns.

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John Wayne

John Wayne Had One Big Problem With Being Part Of Plays

John Wayne gets a bit of a bad rap as an actor. Yes, he mostly made star vehicles after his breakthrough performance in John Wayne’s “Stagecoach,” but he was willing to challenge himself (and his audience) by playing unlikable protagonists in Howard Hawks’ “Red River” and Ford’s “The Searchers.” He had an acute understanding of film acting, and, according to Ron Howard (who worked alongside the Duke in his final film, Don Siegel’s”The Shootist”), could make minor adjustments on the fly that would turn an otherwise ordinary scene into a classic Wayne moment.
 
But did anyone want to see John Wayne play King Lear on Broadway? Not particularly. At least, not because they thought it would be good.
Wayne was not a classically trained actor. He found his way to motion pictures because Tom Mix owed a favor to legendary USC football coach Howard Jones. When Wayne was forced to quit the team, Mix and Ford brought the young man into their extended company. Even then, Wayne acted opposite many of his era’s finest performers: James Stewart, Barbara Stanwyck and Henry Fonda, all of whom got their start on the boards. Did any of their zeal for the theater rub off on Wayne?
The Duke’s theatrical career was… not to be20th Century FoxDuring a wide-ranging 1976 Q&A on “The Phil Donahue Show,” Wayne was asked if he’d ever performed on stage, and, if not, did he have any inclination to do so.
“Well, I was in high school plays and that sort of thing,” said Wayne. “And we did a charity thing of [Maxwell Anderson and Laurence Stalling’s play] ‘What Price Glory?’ earlier in my career, where all the stars in Hollywood did parts.” Wayne, however, was scarred by an oratory contest in his youth, where he recited Shakespeare, and couldn’t remember his lines. From that point forward, it was only movies for the Duke. “I kind of like it the way it is,” he said. “You get another chance if you blow a line.”
Given Wayne’s Irish ancestry, he might’ve been worth seeing in a Sean O’Casey play, or a filmed adaptation of one. His mentor Ford directed a movie of O’Casey’s masterpiece “The Plough and the Stars” in 1935, but opted for Preston Foster to star opposite Stanwyck. This production was a miserable experience for Ford, so it was probably best for Wayne to steer clear, especially since he had yet to make the leap from Poverty Row Westerns to the gunslinging big time in “Stagecoach.”
If, however, you’re curious as to what Wayne’s Macbeth might’ve sounded like, Robin Williams gave us an amusing glimpse in “Dead Poets Society.”

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John Wayne

Furious John Wayne blasted ‘degrading’ film by his biggest Hollywood rival

Wayne had famously turned the lead role of Will Kane in High Noon down. He believed the story of an honourable former marshal forced to stand alone against vicious outlaws after the cowardly townsfolk abandon him was a thinly veiled attack on Hollywood for failing to stand behind the many who were being accused of communist ties and blacklisted.Wayne was a vocal supporter of blacklists and took pleasure and some credit later for High Noon writer (and former communist party member) Carl Foreman being charged and immigrating to Britain in 1952 after making the film.
The Duke called High Noon “the most un-American thing I’ve ever seen in my whole life,” but showed grace by agreeing to accept Cooper’s Oscar for him with a pointed but charming speech.

At that time Cooper had not publicly come out against blacklists and they were friends, but his stance would change through the 1950s, putting him on the opposite side of the battle from John Wayne.
He pursued morally ambiguous roles with tortured central characters in films like 1958’s Man of the West, themes that were anathema to straight-laced, straight-shooting Wayne. In 1959, he formed his own production company and further explored characters seeking redemption.
One film, in particular, enraged Wayne, specifically because of his devotion to his idealised view of the US military.
DON’T MISS‘Outraged’ John Wayne was restrained during Marlon Brando’s Oscar winJohn Wayne’s wife almost shot him in jealous rageJohn Wayne shot co-star in the back and was reminded of it in his will

Gary Cooper and Rita Hayworth on the set of They Came to Cordura


Gary Cooper and Rita Hayworth on the set of They Came to Cordura (Image: GETTY)In 1959’s They Came to Cordura, Cooper played an army Major disgraced and charged with cowardice who must accompany a group of soldiers who will be honoured with the Congressional Medal of Honour for extreme valour. The film, however, questions their honour and merit and Wayne was horrified.

Wayne raged: “How they got Gary Cooper to do that one! To me, at least, it simply degrades the Medal of Honour. The whole story makes a mockery of America’s highest award for valour. The whole premise of the story was wrong, illogical, because they don’t pick the type of men the movie picked to win the award, and that can be proved by the very history of the award.”

Cooper’s own company, of course, had actually produced the film. However, there was no time for real animosity between the stars, because Cooper’s life was about to abruptly and tragically end.
On May 13, 1961, the star died, aged just 60. Wayne joined the biggest names in Hollywood including James Stewart, Marlene Dietrich, Frank Sinatra, Audrey Hepburn and Fred Astaire when he attended the actor’s funeral. So beloved was the star that when news had first spread about his battle with cancer, even Queen Elizabeth II had sent a personal telegram.

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John Wayne

John Wayne’s 10 Best Movies, Ranked According to Rotten Tomatoes

John Wayne was one of Hollywood’s greatest stars and is universally recognized for his iconic roles in films such as Rio Bravo, The Man Who Shot Liberty Valance, and The Shootist. After his breakout role as The Ringo Kid in John Ford‘s 1939 movie, Stagecoach, the Duke became one of the most popular leading men in cinema with tough, masculine characters like Ethan Edward from The Searchers and True Grit‘s Rooster Cogburn.
There are a dozen of non-Western Wayne movies like The Quiet Man and Donovan’s Reef, but a majority of movie fans consider Wayne to be a pioneering Western star who solidified the standards of the classic genre. Out of his extensive career and exceptional filmography, including El Dorado and Sands of Iwo Jima, they are among Wayne’s highest-rated movies, according to Rotten Tomatoes.
10‘The Searchers’ (1956)

Jeffrey Hunter and John Wayne in the desert on horses in The Searchers

Image via Warner Bros

Rotten Tomatoes Rating: 94%
Ethan Edwards returns home after the Civil War and learns that his brother and his family were killed by Native Americans. When Ethan receives word that his niece, Debbie (Natalie Wood), is still alive, he and his nephew (Jeffrey Hunter) set out into the dangerous wilderness to bring her back home.
RELATED:The 10 Highest Grossing Westerns Of All Time
Ford’s epic Western, The Searchers, is a signature Duke film as well as a major influence and inspiration for future filmmakers. Director David Lean watched the movie several times to prepare to film landscape scenes in his Oscar-winning movie, Lawrence of Arabia. Other notable directors like Steven Spielberg, George Lucas, and Martin Scorsese have also paid tribute to The Searchers in their work.
9‘Rio Bravo’ (1959)

John Wayne sitting and Walter Brennan standing next to him in Rio Bravo

Rotten Tomatoes Rating: 96%
When Sheriff John Chance arrests the son of a wealthy ranch owner, Joe Burdette (Claude Akins), for murder, his brother (John Russell) and his men are prepared to break Joe out of jail. With the help of a brave recovering alcoholic (Dean Martin), a young cowboy (Ricky Nelson), and an elderly spitfire (Walter Brennan), Chance defends his post and fights the outlaws off long enough until reinforcements arrive.
Regarded as one of director Howard Hawks‘ finest films, Rio Bravo is a slow-burning Western noted for its extended opening scene with no dialogue. Director and avid Hawks admirer Quentin Tarantino ranks Rio Bravo as his favorite Wayne Western as well as a “hang-out” movie that went on to inspire his underrated heist movie, Jackie Brown. The story and setting of Rio Bravo were also the inspiration behind John Carpenter‘s 1976 movie Assault on Precinct 13.
8‘Stagecoach’ (1939)

John Wayne and John Carradine standing next to each other looking at someone in Stagecoach

Rotten Tomatoes Rating: 100%
A group of strangers in Arizona board a stagecoach headed to New Mexico when a notorious outlaw known as the Ringo Kid escapes from prison. With a dangerous criminal on the run, U.S. Marshal Curly Wilcox (George Bancroft) accompanies the stagecoach. Along the way, he finds Ringo, but instead of finding a ruthless gunslinger, Ringo turns out to be a man worthy of a second chance when he helps the marshal protect the stagecoach on its long journey.
According to John Wayne: The Life and Legend by Scott Eyman, Wayne never aspired to be an actor, and originally, he had attended the University of Southern California on a football scholarship to study pre-law, but after a career-ending injury, he lost his scholarship and had to drop out. His coach, Howard Jones, got him a job as a prop boy and extra for a Ford production, and after playing a few small roles, Ford cast the future star in his groundbreaking Western, Stagecoach.
7‘Fort Apache’ (1948)

John Wayne standing alone looking to the side in Fort Apache

Rotten Tomatoes Rating: 100%
After the Civil War, Kirby York and his men think he will replace the outgoing commander of Fort Apache, but to their surprise, his replacement is a former general and an arrogant West Point graduate, Owen Thursday (Henry Fonda). Thursday arrives at the fort with his daughter (Shirley Temple), but his ignorance towards the American Indians and desire to reclaim his former glory days cause him to clash with Kirby and his new company.
Fort Apache is another top-tier Western directed by Ford that’s widely regarded as one of the first films to portray an authentic and sympathetic view of Native Americans and their culture. The movie is also the first installment in Ford’s Cavalry Trilogy, including She Wore a Yellow Ribbon and Rio Grande, both starring Wayne.
6‘Red River’ (1948)

John Wayne and Montgomery Clift sitting next to each other on the ground looking forward in Red River

Rotten Tomatoes Rating: 100%
Thomas Dunson owns a cattle ranch in Texas, and when he needs money after the Civil War, he plans to take his cattle to Missouri, where he can get a better price. With the help of his faithful ranch hand, Groot (Brennan), and his young protégé, Matt (Montgomery Clift), they lead the cattle to their destination, but the strenuous and exhausting journey starts to take a toll on them.
Red River is another Western directed by Hawks, who made a total of five movies with Wayne. While Ford directed Wayne in some of the greatest Westerns, the director was blown away by his performance in Red Riverand jokingly commented, “I didn’t know the big son-of-a-b*tch could act!” Footage from Red River was also used in Wayne’s final film, The Shootist, to establish his character’s backstory.
5‘Sands of Iwo Jima’ (1949)

John Wayne looking to the side while sitting next to a man laying down in the grass in Sands of Iwo Jima-1

Rotten Tomatoes Rating: 100%
During World War II, a group of Marines stationed in the Pacific resents their commanding officer, Sergeant John Stryker, and his brutal training methods and coarse attitude. As the fighting progresses, the Marines realize Stryker has been preparing them for the terrifying reality of combat. If they want to survive one of the war’s worst battles, they must follow Stryker and his strategic battle tactics.
Sands of Iwo Jima is a historical film based on one of the bloodiest battles of World War II; the Battle of Iwo Jima. The movie features three surviving Marines of Iwo Jima, including Navy corpsman John Bradley, who was the subject of his son’s book, Flags of Our Fathers. In 2006, the book was adapted into a film of the same title and directed by another Western icon, Clint Eastwood.
4‘The Comancheros’ (1961)

John Wayne and Lee Marvin standing next to each other in The ComancherosImage via 20th Century

Rotten Tomatoes Rating: 100%
Texas Ranger, Jake Cutter, is tasked with finding a gambler, Paul Regret (Stuart Whitman), who manages to escape a date with the gallows and return him to Louisiana. Cutter can track Regret down and take him into custody, but along the way, they cross paths with a group of outlaws known as The Comancheros forcing Cutter and Regret to work together to stop the lawless gunslingers.
The Comancheros is based on the 1952 novel written by Paul Wellman that was originally purchased by the director George Stevens who wanted the film to be his next project afterGiant. Stevens became interested in adapting The Diary of Ann Frank and sold The Comancheros rights to Fox. Fox originally wanted Gary Cooper and James Garner, but due to Cooper’s failing health and a conflict between Garner and Warner Bros. Studio head, Jack L. Warner, they were ruled out. Once Wayne was on board, the script was rewritten by the actor’s regular writer, James Edward Grant, who collaborated with Wayne on 12 projects.
3‘The Sons of Katie Elder’ (1965)

John Wayne and Dean Martin standing with a few men talking to a man in a horse and carriage in The Sons of Katie ElderImage via Paramount 

Rotten Tomatoes Rating: 100%
Four brothers return home to attend their mother’s funeral and soon discover their father was murdered the night he gambled away the family ranch. The brothers agree to avenge their father and win back their home, but the situation quickly takes a deadly turn into serious trouble with the local sheriff and a rival family, The Hastings.
The Sons of Katie Elder reunited Wayne with Martin six years after starring together in Rio Bravo and also stars Dennis Hopper, George Kennedy, and Jeremy Slate. Before filming, Wayne had been diagnosed with lung cancer and underwent surgery to remove one of his lungs and two of his ribs. Despite the dire diagnosis and operation, the Duke insisted on performing his own stunts.
2‘El Dorado’ (1966)

James Caan standing next to John Wayne in El Dorado

Rotten Tomatoes Rating: 100%
Land tycoon Bart Jason (Edward Asner) recruits a group of men to force the MacDonald family out of town to claim their land. The local sheriff, J.P. Harrah (Robert Mitchum), is too deep in a bottle to help the family, and when word about the incident reaches his friend and gunslinger, Cole Thornton, Thornton and his partner, Mississippi (James Caan) travel to El Dorado to help Harrah shape up in time to fight Jason’s group of thugs.
Film critic, Roger Ebert, gave Hawks’ El Dorado three-and-a-half out of four stars, calling it a successful Western that was effortlessly pulled off by three pros of the genre; Wayne, Mitchum, and Hawks. The movie is the second of Hawks that focuses on a sheriff defending his post against ruthless bandits, coming after Rio Bravo and before Rio Lobo, all featuring Wayne in the same similar role.
1‘The War Wagon’ (1967)

John Wayne and Kirk Douglas crouched down behind rocks in The War WagonImage via Universal

Rotten Tomatoes Rating: 100%
After being shot by gunslinger Lomax (Kirk Douglas) and serving a sentence for a crime, he didn’t commit; rancher Taw Jackson is released from jail and out for revenge. Instead of hunting Lomax down, he and the gunslinger join forces to rob mining tycoon Frank Pierce (Bruce Cabot), who set Jackson up. The two plan to rob one of Pierce’s gold shipments carried by a heavily guarded stagecoach, and while they know it won’t be an easy task, the half-a-million-dollar payday makes it all worth it.
In 1966, Wayne signed a contract with Universal Studios to star in two films, The War Wagon and The Green Berets. Unlike Wayne’s other characters, he plays a villain for the first time in The War Wagon, but the movie’s considered a rare Western with humor and outstanding performances. The movie also stars Keenan Wynn, the son of character actor Ed Wynn, and Oscar nominee Bruce Dern, who is the father of actress Laura Dern.

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