John Wayne commented on what a big influence Earp was on his career

John Wayne commented on what a big influence Earp was on his career

John Wayne is a man who needs no introduction having won an Academy Award and starring in almost 300 movies. Perhaps lesser known was his friendship with Wyatt Earp, and the time that Stalin tried to have him killed. The man has some stories, and we have the collection that show us what life was like for one of the most popular movie stars in history.


Before Marion was 10-years-old, his family came out west and relocated to Palmdale, California before settling in Glendale. He was in close proximity to Hollywood, and even though it was in its infancy as a film-making location, it would have a profound impact on his and career.
Just as Marion was big when he was born, and larger than life when he became famous, he grew to be 6’4” which wasn’t so much tall as it was giant in the era. It also made him well suited for sports, and he excelled as an offensive tackle on his high school football team.

Marion was a force on the football field, but he did not rely solely on the sport to occupy his time. He was on the debate team, and in the Latin society. Eventually his football prowess played out well for him, as he was accepted into USC with a scholarship.

Marion was never a fan of his name and was often ridiculed about it sounding feminine when he was growing up. A guy like John Wayne wasn’t about to put up with that, so he dissociated himself from his birth name, That’s when he gave himself the nickname that would stick with him his entire life: Duke.

Duke Morrison got his nickname from an odd place. The Morrison family had a beloved Airedale Terrier, and his name was Duke. The family called the dog “Big Duke” and the future John Wayne “Little Duke,” and despite the fact that he was nicknamed after a dog (like Indiana Jones), it suited him nicely.

Duke was living the good life while in college. He excelled on the football field and joined a fraternity. His first two years were a dream, and the USC football team was destined for greatness, but something happened that caused him to miss the action and changed his life forever.

In 1928 the “Thundering Heard” era of USC football began. Unfortunately for Duke, in 1927, just before his junior year began, he was swept up by a wave while body surfing, and his shoulder smashed into the ocean floor. It was an event that would change the course of his career.

When one thinks of John Wayne, one certainly does not picture a California surfer, but that’s exactly what brought him to Hollywood and the big screen. He tried to return to football, but his shoulder was so badly injured, that even after it healed, it was never quite the same.


Duke Morrison dropped in the roster and was eventually cut from the team. He couldn’t pay his fraternity dues or his tuition fees, and was in desperate need of cash. That’s when one of his former coaches found him a job as a prop guy for Fox Studios. That was his introduction to the entertainment business.

Duke tried his best to go to school and work his new job, but he was on the outs at USC. His injury caused him to quit football altogether, and eventually he left the university too. Even before he left USC, he was able to score a role in his first film: “Brown of Harvard.”

Brown of Harvard” was a sports drama movie made in 1926. Duke was well suited for this role because it involved many live action football sequences. He appeared in those scenes, but was not actually credited for his role. He would go on to play similar roles as an extra in almost 20 films in the next three years.

While on the set as a prop guy and an extra, Duke met the acquaintance of some of Hollywood’s earliest stars. In 1926 he was an extra in “The Great K & A Train Robbery,” starring Tom Mix. Mix was one of the first actors to make the Western genre takeoff, and while Duke learned a lot from him, he learned even more from a legit lawman of the actual old West.

Dodge City Marshall and gunfighter at the O.K. Coral, Wyatt Earp was on hand in many early Western films, and was a close friend of Tom Mix (Mix was a pallbearer at Earp’s funeral, and reports say he wept while carrying the Western icon). If anyone knew about life in the West, it was him.

Eventually, Duke found himself in the company Wyatt Earp himself on the set of a John Ford movie. Two legends of their era exchanged ideas, and the Duke later commented on what a big influence Earp was on his career. John Wayne looked to Wyatt for inspiration and guidance in his roles.

“Earp was the man who had actually done the things in his life that I was trying to do in a movie. I imitated his walk; I imitated his talk.” Through this transference of identity, the legend of Earp played out in the infamous heroes portrayed by the Duke, and the modern American Western hero was born.
In the late 1920s, Duke was perfecting his walk, his talk, and his overall persona. But he still had a ways to go, as Hollywood was slowly making action sequences a more integral part of movies. Lucky for him he worked with one of the b
est stuntmen in film history who pioneered modern techniques.

Yakima Canutt was one tough S.O.B. Between films he competed in rodeos, and while on set, he put everything he had into production. Yakima suffered a broken nose, broken ribs, and broken legs, all for the sake of good content. He even had his intestines severed when a horse fell on top of him.

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