was born Marion Morrison in Winterset, Iowa in 1907, but the family moved
to California around 1915. Some biographies list his real name as
Marion Michael Morrison, while others refer to Marion Robert Morrison,
and other variations.
His parents called him Robert Michael and the name was duly recorded on his birth certificate. Then Mary Morrison had a sudden change of heart. Her one wealthy relative was called Marion, and, in an attempt to acquire her child a future inheritance, she renamed him Marion Michael Morrison ... She named her second, more favored son, Robert. (Source: Pilar Wayne's book, John Wayne: My Life with the Duke, McGraw Hill, New York, 1987)
Just to complicate matters further about Duke's original name, Donald Shepherd et al, in their book Duke: the life and times of John Wayne say that he was originally called Marion Robert but this was changed to Marion Mitchell. In later years Duke called himself 'Michael' because the 'Mitchell' member of the family that he was named after (his maternal grandfather) was diagnosed with a mental illness, and in those days this amounted to great family shame. According to these authors, Duke went to great lengths to eliminate records that recorded his name as 'Mitchell'. The authors claim this to be quite a mystery, for it seems out of character for Duke to reject the name of his maternal grandfather, who was quite a man to look up to before his illness. (Source: Donald Shepherd and Robert Slatzer, with Dave Grayson: Duke: The Life and Times of John Wayne, Doubleday & Co., New York, 1985)
Wayne did go to Glendale High School (Glendale, CA) and to the University of Southern Cal. In the late 1920s, he and USC football team players were featured in an early pigskin adventure named SALUTE (Fox, 1929), starring the muscular George O'Brien and directed by John Ford. He'd do bit parts in several other John Ford silents. Ten years later, Ford and Wayne would collaborate on another film together.
around Tinseltown doing whatever supporting roles and bit parts that he
could scrounge. Hollywood opinion was that his lead role in the big
budget (and big screen) THE BIG TRAIL (Fox, 1930) for director Raoul Walsh
would bring immediate stardom. But that did not happen. He
continued working whenever
Then he connected with Warner Bros., who had surprisingly decided to bring forth a B western series (which would be chock full of stock footage from their earlier First National silents with Ken Maynard). Wayne would ride a white hoss named 'Duke' (which was necessary to match the footage of Ken Maynard on Tarzan).
Good looking and tall in the saddle, the young Wayne was well suited for his new role as a B western hero. Happy to be busy, Wayne also worked for producer Nat Levine and his Mascot serial factory in three cliffhangers, all of the non western variety. The advantage of the Mascot chapterplays was that Wayne was on the screen week after week after week. This exposure enhanced his reputation as an action star and increased his name recognition to the Saturday matinee ticket buyers.
Around this time, he met stuntman Yakima Canutt, and the two would become close friends. During these early days in Hollywood, Wayne would become lifelong buddies with several other people, including Ward Bond (of TV's WAGON TRAIN) and Paul Fix (Sheriff Micah Torrance on THE RIFLEMAN TVer).
the work at Warners and Mascot, Wayne settled in for a long series of low-budget
sagebrush yarns which were produced by Monogram's Trem Carr and Paul Malvern
via their Lone Star production unit. In the preceding years, Monogram
had tried a bunch of different cowboy heroes --- Tom Tyler, Bill Cody,
Rex Bell and Bob Steele. The Wayne and Malvern formula must have
been successful for they would work together on 22
gives a helpin' hand to a young John Wayne in
For those of you who study Wayne, remember the way he often twirls his six-shooter when he draws it? Canutt did the same and Wayne probably copied that mannerism when he and Yak were working on those Lone Star westerns.
The answer is yes ... Wayne was one of the early 'singing' cowboys. Thankfully, his time as a troubadour was brief. RIDERS OF DESTINY (Lone Star/Monogram, 1933) is Wayne's first for Carr and Malvern and he plays undercover lawman 'Singing Sandy'. Greasy Earl Dwire is Forrest Taylor's gunslingin' henchman, and in the street shootout near the end of the film, Wayne plugs Dwire through both wrists. Taylor, who has been foiled by Wayne at every turn, is nervously munching and mouthing a cigar through the entire six reels. And during the climatic chase, Taylor and his mount (Yak Canutt probably doubling for him) go over a cliff and he drowns in the river (with bubbles rising to the surface of the water). Wayne does a tune or two, dubbed of course. And the singing is really done by Bill Bradbury, the son of Robert North Bradbury, Sr. and twin brother of Bob Steele ... not by big band leader and crooner Smith Ballew. In the gunfight scene with Dwire, Wayne strolls down the street quietly mouthing "They'll be blood a runnin' in town before night ..." .
Monogram was one of the companies that was merged to form the new Republic Pictures organization in 1935. Wayne, Carr, Malvern and the Lone Star pictures came in the deal, and new films were churned out with slightly higher budgets and production values. KING OF THE PECOS (Republic, 1936) is a good adventure with a meaty role for rotund baddie Cy Kendall. The last of the group of eight, WINDS OF THE WASTELAND (Republic, 1936), has Wayne and buddy Lane Chandler in a tale about a stageline, and includes an exciting and lengthystagecoach race.
Carr and Malvern then went over to Universal Pictures, and Wayne followed along as he was offered some better low-budget films, none of them westerns. However, the pictures were not successful, nor did they elevate Wayne to higher status.
Republic's Three Mesquiteers trio series began in 1936, and was a box office success. The Republic brass liked 3M star Bob Livingston and decided to put him in some other work (such as the 1939 THE LONE RANGER RIDES AGAIN serial). So they hired Wayne to replace Livingston as 'Stony Brooke' in the Mesquiteers' adventures. He appeared in eight Mesquiteers' films released during 1938-1939, and all were typical Republic action and quality. During this period, he also had time for STAGECOACH (1939). With the success from that movie, Wayne was elevated to higher grade cinema adventures. He worked long and hard to get to this position, and we're thankful that most of Wayne's 1930s westerns and cliffhangers are available on cable TV and videotape.
There's a lot
of stories as to how Wayne acquired the nickname of 'Duke'. Among
the oft mentioned are: the nickname kinda matched his good looks;
a scrapper, he was good with his 'dukes'; and the story that seems to be
most quoted is that the Wayne family --- or Wayne himself --- had a pooch
named 'Duke', and that's where the nickname originated. (If someone
has some additional 'scoop' on this nickname business, shoot me an e-mail
A great many wonderful and memorable films lay ahead for John Wayne. And he would become one of Hollywood's most beloved stars and a role model for America and American ideals. But that's another story.