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John Wayne

Who Is John Wayne? Meet The Iconic Cowboy of Western Films

John Wayne’s actual name is Marion Robert Morrison. He’s nicknamed Duke in the entertainment industry and was an American actor and filmmaker. John was one of those late actors whose career started in the 1920s silent era and pioneered the Golden Age of Hollywood. Eventually, he was the forerunner of the American New Wave of film and television. The cowboy icon has appeared in an impressive total of 179 films and television productions. This has established him among the top box office draws in three decades.

Early Life

Born on May 26, 1907, at Winterset, Iowa, John Wayne’s birth was featured in Winterset Madisonian on page 4 of May 30, 1907 edition, where it was reported he weighed 13 lbs. (around 6 kg). The actor claimed that his middle name, Robert, was changed to Michael because his parents decided to name his brother Robert, but no legal documents supported his claim.

His grandfather was an American Civil War veteran named Marion Mitchell Morrison, while his father is Clyde Leonard Morrison, a pharmacist. Meanwhile, his mother’s name was Mary “Molly” Alberta Brown, who had Scottish, English, and Irish ancestry. He was raised in Presbyterian.

John Wayne initially wanted to attend the U.S. Naval Academy, but he was not accepted. Instead, he went to the University of Southern California (USC) and majored in pre-law. John went to play on the USC football team but lost his athletic scholarship when he got injured in a bodysurfing accident. Because of this, he had no funds for schooling, thus had to leave the university.

Acting Career

The unfortunate incident of his university life was the push John Wayne needed to start his career in entertainment. He was first hired as a prop boy and extra as a recommendation by silent western film star Tom Mix to his director John Ford. Later on, he moved to support roles in a movie when he established a longtime friendship with Ford. 

Moreover, the first time he was given on-screen credit as “Duke Morrison” happened in the 1929 film Words and Music under Fox Film Corporation. His first big break was in The Big Trail in 1930 when the director Raoul Walsh saw him moving furniture in the studio as a prop boy and cast him as a starring role. He did well on that project, and so, the Fox Studios chief Winfield Sheehan discussed his screen name. The actor suggested “Anthony Wayne,” but Sheehan rejected the idea because it sounded “too Italian.” The second suggestion was “John Wayne,” which was approved, and then his pay was raised to $105 a week.

Thanks to the Stagecoach film in 1939, John Wayne became a household name. The film, directed by John Ford, shot John in mainstream stardom. Even with the breaking out of World War II, John’s career soared, and he won several awards in the 1970 Academy Awards as Best Actor. 1953, 1966, and 1970 Golden Globe Awards gave him Henrietta Award, Cecil B. DeMille Award, and Best Actor for Motion Picture Drama, among other notable accolades.

Marriages And Personal Life

The actor was married three times and divorced twice. His first wife was Josephine Alicia Saenz, his second wife was Esperanza Baur, and his third wife, Pilar Pallete. He had seven children, four from Josephine and three from Pilar. According to reports, his first child Michael Wayne didn’t take his divorcing and new wives lightly because their relationship became harsh at some point. Several of John Wayne’s children worked in film and television. His children also contributed a lot to the productions.

Moreover, the biographer of John Wayne, Michael Munn, chronicled the actor’s drinking habits. This has affected his performance, and some shooting schedules were aligned to it. Sam O’Steen’s Cut to the Chase memoir wrote how the studio directors knew to shoot John’s scene before noon comes as he’s practically a mean drunk by the afternoon. Besides drinking problems, he had been a chain smoker of cigarettes since he’s a young adult and was diagnosed with lung cancer in 1964. Furthermore, he underwent successful surgery to remove his entire left lung and four ribs. Five years later, he was declared cancer-free.


John Wayne was declared cancer-free, but then he still died of stomach cancer on June 11, 1979. His remains were buried in the Pacific View Memorial Park found in Newport Beach. According to Patrick Wayne and his priest grandson Matthew Munoz, Wayne converted to Roman Catholicism before he died.

Strangely, many cast and crew from the film The Conqueror in 1956 developed different forms of cancer at various times, including the stars like John Wayne, Agnes Moorehead, Susan Hayward, Pedro Armendariz, and director Dick Powell. It was shot in southwest Utah, to the east and downwind of recent US government nuclear weapons tests in southeastern Nevada.

John Wayne is an American actor who may have the ups and downs in life, but he’s still a Cowboy icon of Western films, no doubt.

John Wayne

Here Are the American Film Institute’s Top 10 Westerns of All Time

The American Film Institute decided the top 10 Westerns of all time and we’ve got the 411 on the ones that ranked. People have always loved Westerns, and we’ve listed 8 of the most popular according to AFI.

First up, Cat Ballou, the 1965 Western comedy from Elliot Silverstein. It starred Jane Fonda as Cat and Lee Marvin in a dual role as both the man who killed Cat’s father and the gunslinger who helps her get revenge. Narrated through song by Nat King Cole and Stubby Kaye, what made “Cat Ballou” so special was the female lead, which was rare for a Western.

Next, John Ford’s turning-point 1939 film, Stagecoach. It starred John Wayne and Claire Trevor. The film follows a group of interesting characters as they travel in a stagecoach together, which paved the way for the road trip trope. The passengers have to contend with the Ringo Kid, an outlaw, and the threat of Apache attack as they travel to New Mexico in the 1880s.

McCabe & Mrs. Miller, Robert Altman’s 1971 film, was a Revisionist Western piece starring Warren Beatty and Julie Christie. The film follows gambler John McCabe as he upstarts a successful brothel in a Washington town with Constance Miller’s help. The two strike up a romance, but when a mining company offers to buy his property, McCabe refuses.

No list of Westerns would be complete without Butch Cassidy and the Sundance Kid. The 1969 film from George Roy Hill starred Paul Newman as Butch Cassidy and Robert Redford as the Sundance Kid. The two got into all sorts of trouble, fleeing from the law after train robbing. The pair escape to Bolivia, but find they must fight the urge to commit crimes.

AFI’s Top Ten Westerns: Stagecoaches, Shoot-Outs, and Searchers

Sam Peckinpah’s The Wild Bunch comes up next. The 1969 Western starred William Holden, with Ernest Borgnine, Warren Oates, and Ben Johnson as his gang. The outlaws prepare to go through with a heist, only to find out the whole thing is a setup. The film is full of gratuitous violence and bloody shootouts; sure to satisfy fans of more gory Westerns.

Up next on the list, Red River. This 1948 Howard Hawks film follows John Wayne as Thomas Dunson, who aims to drive his cattle to Missouri for a better price. Montgomery Clift stars as Matt Garth, an orphaned youth whom Thomas takes under his wing. The film was shot on a grand scale, with sweeping landscapes and plenty of cattle. This is a must-watch for those who love big Westerns.

Then, Western star Clint Eastwood took a stab at directing his own with 1992’s Unforgiven. Starring Eastwood and co-starring Gene Hackman, Morgan Freeman, and Richard Harris, the film follows Eastwood’s William Munny as he comes to town to catch a group of bandits. Harris’ English Bob comes to town as well, for the same reason, and the two outlaws clash with the local sheriff.

Additionally, the 1953 film Shane takes the American cowboy and turns him on his head; the cowboy retires to a ranch in Wyoming, but while working there falls in love with the ranch owner’s wife. He realizes that to save the ranch he has to fight the big cattle baron threatening to take the land. There’s something about watching a kid shout “Shane! Come back!” over an echoing, barren wasteland that tugs on the heartstrings.

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John Wayne

John Wayne: Which of the Duke’s Films Made the Most Money?

During his iconic Hollywood career, John Wayne made many popular films. These filmed are remembered for their drama, action, locations, scenes of heroism, and of course, for the Duke himself.

His films were usually Westerns or were about war. Wayne’s was a career that pretty much anyone hoping to make it in the movie business would envy.

Here’s an interesting question: Out of all of those popular movies, which of the Duke’s films was the most successful financially? Let’s find out.

According to, that title goes to the 1962 film, “How the West Was Won.” This film also starred James Stewart, Henry Fonda, and Gregory Peck in this movie about the expansion into the American West. It made $440 million. (The website has adjusted the earnings of each of these films. The figures presented here are the films’ domestic grosses.)

Interestingly, the second most financially successful film of Wayne’s career was also released in 1962. It was “The Longest Day” and made $382 million. This film told stories from D-Day during World War II. The cast also included Fonda, Richard Burton, Sean Connery, Eddie Albert, and Richard Beymer.

Bringing in the third-highest gross of the Duke’s career was “Reap the Wild Wind.” It was released in 1942 and made $361 million. It also starred Paulette Goddard and Ray Milland and followed the events that took place after a shipwreck in Key West.

The 1954 film “The High and the Mighty” comes in fourth place on the list of John Wayne’s highest-grossing films. It made $347 million. In fifth place is the 1955 film “The Sea Chase.” It also starred Lana Turner and “Gunsmoke” star James Arness.

List of John Wayne’s Most Financially Successful Films Also Includes One That Won Him an Oscar

The top 10 list of John Wayne’s highest-grossing films includes some of his most popular, as well as the film that won him an Academy Award.

Rounding out the top 10 highest-grossing John Wayne movies include “The Alamo” from 1960 in sixth place with $300 million. “The Sands of Iwo Jima” from 1949 comes in seventh place with almost $296 million. “Red River,” which was released in 1948 is in eighth place with almost $270 million.

The 1969 film “True Grit” is in ninth place with $262 million. It was his role as Rooster Cogburn that won John Wayne an Academy Award. The movie also starred Glen Campbell, Robert Duvall, Dennis Hopper, and Kim Darby.

Rounding out the top 10 was the Duke’s 1959 film “Rio Bravo” with almost $251 million.

Now we know which John Wayne’s movies were his biggest financial successes in the United States. So, which film came in last on that list? This title goes to the 1929 film “Words and Music.” It reportedly grossed $13.6 million.

Interestingly, the list of John Wayne’s highest-grossing films worldwide is different from the domestic list shared above. The top five films on this list, from No. 1 to No. 5, are: “How the West Was Won”; “The Alamo”; “The High and the Mighty”; “Rio Bravo”; and “The Sea Chase.”

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John Wayne

John Wayne Turned Down ‘Waco Kid’ Role in 1974’s ‘Blazing Saddles’: Here’s Why

“Blazing Saddles” fans, you almost had John Wayne playing the “Waco Kid” in Mel Brooks’ classic film. But “The Duke” said no.

Mel Brooks, who directed and co-wrote the script for “Blazing Saddles,” was asked about Wayne turning down the role in a 2016 interview with Philly Metro.

“He did,” Brooks said in confirming Wayne turned down the role. “I wanted him to play the Waco Kid, because the Duke was such a good actor. His reality is that he is the cowboy Western.

“We were in the commissary at Warners, I gave him the script and he promised he’d read it overnight,” Brooks said. “The next morning I saw him and he says that he loves it — every beat, every line — but that it’s too blue, that it would disappoint his fans. He said, though, that he would be the first one in line to see it.”

Gene Wilder Takes Over Role In ‘Blazing Saddles’

When Wayne passed on it, Brooks initially looked to actor Gig Young to play the “Waco Kid.” Young, who battled alcoholism, showed up for the first day of filming. It did not go well. He collapsed during his first scene while dealing with withdrawal symptoms.

So, who did Brooks eventually turn to for this role? It just took one phone call to Gene Wilder, who flew out to Los Angeles and started filming.

Brooks and Wilder had worked together on an earlier Brooks film, “The Producers.” Wilder actually turned down another role in the film, that of Hedley Lamarr. Comedian Harvey Korman, who made a name for himself on “The Carol Burnett Show,” eventually was cast in that role.

Cleavon Little Role Originally Set For Richard Pryor

Of course, Cleavon Little plays Sheriff Bart in the movie. It was a role that Brooks wanted to give to Richard Pryor, who was a co-writer of the movie script. Warner Bros., though, was reportedly scared off by his drug arrests.

They wouldn’t insure Pryor for the movie, so the part went to Little. Other cast members include Madeline Kahn, Slim Pickens, and former National Football League star Alex Karras.

The studio gave Brooks a $2.6 million budget for his 1974 release. As of 2012, “Blazing Saddles” had earned $119.6 million in the United States and Canada combined.

One could say that Warner Bros. earned back what it put out, and then some, from the witty, wild mind of Mel Brooks.

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