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John Wayne

JOHN WAYNE’S SON ETHAN REMEMBERS THE WESTERN SCREEN ICON

Born on Feb. 22, 1962, John Ethan Morrison (known professionally as Ethan Wayne) is the youngest son of the late Western film icon John Wayne (birth name Marion Robert Morrison and known to friends as “Duke”) and wife Pilar Pallete. Memorably, as a boy Ethan appeared on-screen with his father and older brother Patrick in Big Jake (1971). In the wake of his dad’s death from stomach cancer at age 72 on June 11, 1979, young Wayne turned a stint doing stunt work, then returned to acting on both the big and small screen, including a co-starring role in the police drama The New Adam-12. When older brother Michael Wayne died in 2003, Ethan took the reins as president of the family-run John Wayne Enterprises and director of the John Wayne Cancer Foundation.
Wild West recently caught up with Ethan to discuss the various Wayne family endeavors, including the new museum, John Wayne: An American Experience, in Fort Worth, Texas.
Ethan Wayne today posing with his dog aboard his boat

Wayne carries on his father’s legacy as both president of John Wayne Enterprises and director of the John Wayne Cancer Foundation. (Interfoto/Alamy Stock Photo)
WHAT WAS THE GENESIS OF THE NEW MUSEUM?
In the last few years the team at John Wayne Enterprises and I hosted a series of successful interactive pop-up exhibits in both Nashville and Las Vegas. After seeing the impact my father still has, our family decided we wanted a more permanent location. Through my good friend Patrick Gottsch I was introduced to Craig Cavileer of Majestic Realty, and they brought me down to the stockyards in Fort Worth. Once we saw Cavileer’s vision for the stockyards, we knew it was the right place for John Wayne.
WHAT UNDISCOVERED TREASURES DID YOU TURN UP IN THE FAMILY STORAGE FACILITY?
When they packed up my father’s house, it looks like they emptied the contents of every drawer and just wrapped the whole thing up in brown packing paper. While unwrapping all of it, we stumbled on everything from unread mail to his Oscar he won for True Grit. We also found some really good old whiskey, which is what inspired our collaboration with Duke Spirits. It really was like a step back in time.

Among the scores of costumes and hats on exhibit at the Fort Worth museum John Wayne: An American Experience is this iconic Stetson. (John Wayne: An American Experience, Fort Worth, Texas)

WHAT ARE YOUR FAVORITE ASPECTS OF THE MUSEUM AND ITEMS ON DISPLAY?
For me personally it’s the wardrobe display in the “Life on Screen” section. All the costumes he wore in the most iconic films, set up on mannequins exactly how they appear on-screen. It’s very impactful.
HOW DOES IT FEEL TO BE NAMED FOR BOTH A WESTERN FILM ICON AND ARGUABLY HIS GREATEST CHARACTER ROLE (ETHAN EDWARDS OF THE SEARCHERS)?
It’s a great legacy. I’m proud to carry that moniker.
WHAT WAS LIFE WITH YOUR DAD LIKE, AT HOME, ON THE SET AND ABOARD HIS CONVERTED WORLD WAR II MINESWEEPER WILD GOOSE?
My dad was happiest out on the water or on location; he loved projects and stories. On set, he was all business—very focused on the project. At home, he was warm, but consistently busy with the day-to-day, as you could imagine. On Wild Goose, though…he really was in his element with friends, family and lots of laughter and adventure.
TRUTH BE TOLD, I’M STILL ABSORBING THE IMPACT HE HAD ON THE WORLD
WHEN WERE YOU FIRST AWARE OF YOUR DAD’S CELEBRITY?
It was always there—I don’t really have a specific story to point to on that. I suppose as a teenager I understood his influence a little more, but truth be told, I’m still absorbing the impact he had on the world.
WHAT OTHER CELEBRITIES WERE IN YOUR FAMILY’S ORBIT? DID YOU HAVE ANY FAVORITES?
I was a little too young to really know them, but I have fond memories of Dean Martin and Maureen O’Hara. Those two stick out as favorites.

The cast of the 1971 film Big Jake, including John Wayne, sons Ethan and Patrick, Maureen O'Hara, Bobby Vinton and Christopher MitchumThe starring cast of the 1971 Western Big Jake pose between takes. Ethan and father John pose at top with Maureen O’Hara. Seated from left to right are Patrick Wayne, Bobby Vinton and Christopher Mitchum (actor Robert Mitchum’s second son). Up front is Laddie (known in the film simply as “Dog”). (Picturelux/The Hollywood Archive/Alamy Stock Photo)

WHAT DO RECALL ABOUT YOUR DEBUT SPEAKING ROLE IN BIG JAKE, IN WHICH YOU PLAYED JACOB “LITTLE JAKE” MCCANDLES, THE KIDNAPPED GRANDSON OF YOUR FATHER’S TITLE CHARACTER, JACOB MCCANDLES?
Growing up, I was on location all the time, but really wasn’t a part of the team. On Big Jake I was on the team. I loved the whole cast, and it was an amazing experience.

John Wayne in a still from the 1972 Western The CowboysJohn Wayne plays a desperate rancher forced to hire boys in the 1971 Western The Cowboys, Ethan’s current favorite starring his father. (Screenprod/PhotoNonStop/Alamy Stock Photo)

DO YOU HAVE FAVORITES AMONG YOUR FATHER’S FILMS, WESTERNS OR OTHERWISE?
Right now, The Cowboys. The Wil Andersen character is probably the most similar to how my father was with me in real life. Watching it now, it makes me feel very nostalgic.
HOW DID YOU GET INTO STUNT WORK?
After my dad died, Gary ”Whiz Kid” McLarty hired me to do stunt work on The Blues Brothers and gave me some direction at a rudderless time in my life.
WHAT WERE YOUR MOST MEMORABLE MOMENTS AS AN ACTOR AND STUNTMAN?
Meeting John Belushi and Dan Aykroyd. That was amazing as a young man just starting out. I also really enjoyed working on The New Adam-12, because it was a pretty fast-paced production. I had a terrific co-star [Peter Parros] and really enjoyed the experience.
DID YOU HAVE ANY QUALMS ON INHERITING OLDER BROTHER MICHAEL’S MANTLE AS HEAD OF THE FAMILY ENTERPRISES AND THE CANCER FOUNDATION?
Yes, Michael was very smart and a great businessman. Though I wish we had had time to discuss the business a little more before he passed, I was excited by the challenge and the privilege of the position.
OUR JOB IS TO SHARE HIS POSITIVE INFLUENCE WITH THE COUNTRY AGAIN…TO BRING HIS CORE VALUES AND CHARACTER BACK TO THE PEOPLE
WHAT DO YOU HOPE TO ACCOMPLISH THROUGH JOHN WAYNE ENTERPRISES?
The main objective is to keep John Wayne’s name and essence alive. We’re hard at work on the John Wayne: An American Experience exhibit in Texas, fine tuning a retail line and creating partnerships with other companies that live his values. I think our job is to share his positive influence with the country again. So, basically, trying to bring his core values and character back to the people.
WHAT ARE YOUR GOALS FOR THE JOHN WAYNE CANCER FOUNDATION?
When my father was dying, he asked us to use his name to help doctors find a cure, so that’s the big one. We’re working toward that by raising money for cancer research, funding a kids skin care program called Block the Blaze and creating John Wayne Fellowship Programs at a couple of great universities—the University of California, Irvine, and Texas Tech—so doctors can continue their surgical oncology education. There is actually a whole room dedicated to this work at John Wayne: An American Experience that I would encourage people to check out.

A preteen Ethan Wayne poses with his famous father, John WayneA preteen Ethan Wayne poses with his famous father on the set of the 1975 action film Brannigan. (Everett Collection Historical/Alamy Stock Photo)

DO YOU HAVE A FAVORITE PERSONAL KEEPSAKE OF YOUR FATHER’S?
Of course I do. But if I told you, it wouldn’t be personal anymore.
WHAT LESSONS DID HE TEACH YOU THAT STAY WITH YOU?
The first thing that comes to mind is “red, right, returning.” I’ve always been fascinated by anything I could drive, so I especially loved learning about Wild Goose and how it worked. Any fellow watermen reading this will know about that rule.
WHAT IS YOUR LAST CLEAR MEMORY OF YOUR DAD?
I was right there with him at the last part of his life, and I’ve got to say, he showed a lot of courage. The man had grit all the way to the end.
HOW WOULD YOU LIKE HIM TO BE REMEMBERED?
Well, he said himself how he’d like to be remembered: “Feo, fuerte y formal,” which translates to “ugly, strong and dignified.”
WHAT IS JOHN WAYNE’S GREATEST LEGACY?
There is no arguing that his film career was one of the greatest of all time, but I’d have to say the greatest legacy is the work we’re doing at the John Wayne Cancer Foundation. He’d be very proud of the strides we’re taking in the fight against cancer. WW
Dave Lauterborn, based in historic Harpers Ferry, W.Va., has been the managing editor of Wild West since 2008. For further reading he suggests John Wayne: The Life and Legend, by Scott Eyman, and Duke in His Own Words, with an introduction by Ethan Wayne.

John Wayne

John Wayne’s Cause of Death and His Last Words

John Wayne is a legendary Western movie star who the world will always recognize for his contributions to the medium. However, his final words on his deathbed didn’t have anything to do with movies or his career. Rather, he used them to speak sentimental, heartfelt words aimed at his daughter, Aissa Wayne, who stayed at his bedside.

John Wayne’s cause of death was stomach cancer

John Wayne wearing a cowboy hat

John Wayne | Silver Screen Collection/Getty Images

According to History.com, Wayne died on June 11, 1979, of stomach cancer at the age of 72. However, it wasn’t his first encounter with cancer, as he fought it for more than a decade. Unfortunately, the doctors reported that the actor was too weak to begin chemotherapy and experimental treatment, which the actor approved of.

Wayne coined the term “The Big C” for cancer in 1964. He ultimately needed to have his left lung and four ribs removed. Wayne seemed to recover at the time, despite regularly being short of breath. However, he didn’t stop his habit of smoking and chewing tobacco regularly, which certainly didn’t help with his situation.

John Wayne’s last words were to his daughter, Aissa Wayne

Outsider confirmed that Wayne was surrounded by his family during his stay in the hospital. He was never left alone, as the doctors tried to do all they could to strengthen his physical state. However, their efforts ultimately failed. Wayne spent his last days before his death in and out of consciousness.

Wayne’s name is generally associated with a tough sense of masculinity, but he also had a sentimental side of him. These stories particularly come from his family, including Wayne’s final words.

Wayne’s daughter, Aissa, was at his bedside at the time of his death. She was holding her father’s hand and asked him if he knew who she was. He responded with his last words, “Of course, I know who you are. You’re my girl. I love you.”

‘The Shootist’ was his final acting role

Wayne’s final movie role before his death was starring as J.B. Books in The Shootist. The film follows his character, who is an aging gunfighter who has cancer. He heads to Nevada and rents a room from the widowed Bond Rogers (Lauren Bacall) and her son, Gillom (Ron Howard). Many folks confront Books for various reasons involving his notoriety. However, Books doesn’t plan to die quietly but will go out with a bang.

Wayne surprised critics and audiences with his performance, as many folks previously believed that he simply played himself in all of his roles. However, he wouldn’t ultimately earn an Oscar nomination for his role.

Wayne earned his first two Oscar nominations for Sands of Iwo Jima and The Alamo. However, it wouldn’t be until 1969’s True Grit that he would finally earn the golden statue. Many of his fans still believe that he deserved to get an Oscar nomination for his final work on The Shootist.

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John Wayne

John Wayne Was ‘Miserable’ Because of ‘Venomous Remarks’ on ‘The Man Who Shot Liberty Valance’

The Western genre went through a series of changes over the years. However, John Wayne will always remain one of the most iconic depictions of the Western film genre with performances in big titles, such as The Man Who Shot Liberty Valance. Unfortunately, he didn’t have such an easy time on the set. Wayne had a “miserable” time filming because of John Ford‘s “venomous remarks.”

John Wayne played Tom Doniphon in ‘The Man Who Shot Liberty Valance’

'The Man Who Shot Liberty Valance' John Wayne as Tom Doniphon and James Stewart as Ransom Stoddard shouting at assembly

L-R: John Wayne as Tom Doniphon and James Stewart as Ransom Stoddard | Sunset Boulevard/Corbis via Getty Images

The Man Who Shot Liberty Valance follows Senator Stoddard (James Stewart) as he returns to a small town for a funeral. The press questions his arrival, but they’re about to hear the story of his connection to a local man named Tom Doniphon (Wayne). The story brings audiences back in town when Tom saved Stoddard from Liberty Valance’s (Lee Marvin) crew of outlaws. However, Stoddard and Tom are the only two willing to stand up to him and his crew.

Wayne’s performance in The Man Who Shot Liberty Valance is iconic. He once again delivers his Western charm along with his repeated use of the line “pilgrim.” As a result, popular culture continues to refer back to the legendary actor’s performance.

John Wayne was ‘miserable’ because of John Ford’s ‘venomous remarks’ on the set

Wayne worked with Ford on many films, including The Man Who Shot Liberty Valance. However, the filmmaker often targeted Wayne with “venomous remarks,” verbally attacking him. Michael Munn’s John Wayne: The Man Behind the Myth detailed some of the comments that Ford made toward the actor, which really made him angry.

“But the most damage Ford did was to the friendship me and Duke Wayne might have had,” co-star Woody Strode said “He kept needling Duke about his failure to make it as a football player, and because I had been a professional player, Ford kept saying to Duke, ‘Look at Woody. He’s a real football player.’”

However, the comments didn’t stop there. Ford brought up Wayne not serving in the military while on the set of The Man Who Shot Liberty Valance. As a result, he praised Stewart’s service. This is a particular weak spot for the actor, who deeply regretted not serving in the military when he had the chance.

Strode continued: “It’s like he’d needle him about whatever reasons he had for not enlisting in the war by asking Jimmy, ‘How many times did you risk your life over Germany, Jimmy?’ And Jimmy would kind of go, ‘Oh, shucks’ or whatever, and Ford would say to Duke, ‘How rich did you get while Jimmy was risking his life?’ … What a miserable film to make.”

‘The Man Who Shot Liberty Valance’ goes down as one of the best Westerns of all time

Ford never came forward with a specific reason for verbally attacking Wayne on the set of The Man Who Shot Liberty Valance. Perhaps it was to get a better performance out of the actor. However, it clearly left an impact on the cast and crew.

Fortunately, that didn’t negatively impact the finished product. Wayne fans often assert that The Man Who Shot Liberty Valance is one of the best Western films of all time. It continues to impact filmmaking to this day. The film only earned an Oscar nomination for Best Costume Design, but it remains a classic that many viewers rewatch.

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John Wayne

John Wayne Was ‘Ready For a Fight’ With His ‘The Man Who Shot Liberty Valance’ Co-Star

The Man Who Shot Liberty Valance is one of John Wayne‘s most iconic roles. However, he didn’t have the most enjoyable time behind-the-scenes. Wayne’s frequent collaborator, John Ford, gave him a difficult time. As a result, he was “ready for a fight” with co-star Woody Strode, who once explained the severity of the situation.

John Wayne plays it tough as Tom Doniphon in ‘The Man Who Shot Liberty Valance’

The Man Who Shot Liberty Valance finds Wayne playing a local man named Tom Doniphon in a small Western town. Senator Stoddard (James Stewart) comes into town for his funeral, which confuses the press. However, the distinguished man tells the story of how Tom helped protect him against a crew of outlaws led by Liberty Valance (Lee Marvin).

Moviegoers embraced Wayne’s signature dialogue delivery. The Man Who Shot Liberty Valance includes one of Wayne’s most iconic words: “pilgrim.” He repeatedly calls Stewart’s Stoddard this, which was an insult within the time period. Nevertheless, Tom maintains Western masculinity as shown in both his narrative and the way the actor plays the part. The character is typically accompanied by his handyman, Pompey (Strode)

John Wayne was ‘ready for a fight’ with co-star Woody Strode

Michael Munn’s John Wayne: The Man Behind the Myth chronicles the iconic actor’s career, including his work on The Man Who Shot Liberty Valance. Ford repeatedly harrassed Wayne on the set with rude remarks that intentionally pushed his buttons. However, the actor took it out on Strode.

“This really pissed Wayne off but he would never take it out on Ford,” Strode said. “He ended up taking it out on me. We had one of the few outdoor scenes where we hightail it out to his ranch in a wagon. He’s driving and I’m kneeling in the back of the wagon. Wayne was riding those horses so fast that he couldn’t get them to stop. I reached up to grab the reins to help, and he swung and knocked me away.”

Strode continued: “When the horses finally stopped, Wayne fell out of the wagon and jumped off ready for a fight. I was in great shape in those days and Wayne was just getting a little too old and a little too out of shape for a fight. But if he’d started on me, I would have flattened him. Ford knew it, and he called out, ‘Woody, don’t hit him. We need him.’”

However, Wayne ultimately calmed down to allow them to continue filming. Nevertheless, Strode felt that “miserable” tension on the set as a result of Ford’s behavior.

“Wayne calmed down, and I don’t think it was because he was afraid of me,” Strode recalled. “Ford gave us a few hours’ break to cool off. Later Wayne said to me, ‘We gotta work together. We both gotta be professionals.’ But I blame Ford for all that trouble. He rode Wayne so hard, I thought he was going to go over the edge. What a miserable film to make.”

James Stewart has top billing on ‘The Man Who Shot Liberty Valance’

The Man Who Shot Liberty Valance ultimately gives Stewart top billing over Wayne in all of the promotional materials. However, the film itself and the theatre marquees place Wayne’s name above his co-star. Some audiences contemplate which role is truly the main character of the story, as they both experience hardship and change.

However, neither actor would get an Oscar nomination for their performances in one of the greatest Western movies ever made. The Man Who Shot Liberty Valance only earned a nomination for Best Costume Design, although it lost to What Ever Happened to Baby Jane? Nevertheless, the movie remains a vital part of cinema history.

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