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John Wayne

He rose beyond the typical recognition for a famous actor to that of an enduring icon who symbolized and communicated American values and ideals.


John Wayne




Brown of Harvard
Bardelys the Magnificent
The Great K & A Train Robbery



Annie Laurie
The Drop Kick



Mother Machree
Four Sons
Hangman’s House
Noah’s Ark



The Black Watch
Words and Music
The Forward Pass



Men Without Women
Born Reckless
Rough Romance
Cheer Up and Smile
The Big Trail



Girls Demand Excitement
Three Girls Lost
The Deceiver
The Range Feud
Maker of Men



The Shadow of the Eagle
Texas Cyclone
Two-Fisted Law
Lady and Gent
The Hurricane Express
Ride Him, Cowboy 
That’s My Boy
The Big Stampede
Haunted Gold



The Telegraph Trail
Central Airport
Somewhere in Sonora
His Private Secretary
The Life of Jimmy Dolan
Baby Face
The Man from Monterey
Riders of Destiny
The Sweetheart of Sigma Chi
College Coach
Sagebrush Trail
An Innocent Man



The Lucky Texan
Gold Strike River
West of the Divide
Blue Steel
Stolen Goods
The Man from Utah
Randy Rides Alone
The Star Packer
The Trail Beyond
The Lawless Frontier
Neath the Arizona Skies



Texas Terror
Rainbow Valley
The Desert Trail
The Dawn Rider 
Cold Vengence 
Paradise Canyon 
Guns Along The Trail
Westward Ho
The New Frontier
Lawless Range



The Oregon Trail
The Lawless Nineties
King of the Pecos
The Lonely Trail
Winds of the Wasteland 
Stagecoach Run 
Sea Spoilers



California Straight Ahead!
I Cover the War
Idol of the Crowds
Adventure’s End
Born to the West



Pals of the Saddle
Overland Stage Raiders
Santa Fe Stampede
Red River Range



The Night Riders
Three Texas Steers
Wyoming Outlaw
New Frontier
Allegheny Uprising



Dark Command
Three Faces West
The Long Voyage Home
Seven Sinners



A Man Betrayed
Lady from Louisiana
The Shepherd of the Hills



Lady for a Night
Reap the Wild Wind
The Spoilers
In Old California
Flying Tigers
Reunion in France



A Lady Takes a Chance
In Old Oklahoma
War of the Wildcats



The Fighting Seabees
Tall in the Saddle
Flame of Barbary Coast



Back to Bataan
They Were Expendable



Without Reservations



Angel and the Badman



Red River
Fort Apache
3 Godfathers
Wake of the Red Witch



The Fighting Kentuckian
She Wore a Yellow Ribbon
Sands of Iwo Jima



Rio Grande



Operation Pacific
Flying Leathernecks



Miracle in Motion
The Quiet Man
Big Jim McLain



Trouble Along the Way
Island in the Sky



The High and the Mighty



The Sea Chase
Blood Alley



The Conqueror
The Searchers



The Wings of Eagles
Jet Pilot
Legend of the Lost



The Barbarian and the Geisha



Rio Bravo
The Horse Soldiers



The Alamo
North to Alaska
Wagon Train



The Comancheros



The Man Who Shot Liberty Valance
The Longest Day
How the West Was Won



Donovan’s Reef



Circus World



The Greatest Story Ever Told
In Harm’s Way
The Sons of Katie Elder



Cast a Giant Shadow
El Dorado



The War Wagon



The Green Berets



True Grit
The Undefeated



No Substitute for Victory
Rio Lobo
Swing Out, Sweet Land
Harry Jacks: A Man and His Art



Big Jake



The Cowboys
Cancel My Reservation



The Train Robbers
Cahill, United States Marshal






Rooster Cogburn



The Shootist


Wayne was nominated for two Academy Awards for Best Actor in a Leading Role:  Sands of Iwo Jima (1949), True Grit (1968).  He won for his role in True Grit.

In 1961, as a producer, his film The Alamo (1960) was also nominated for Best Picture.


Courage is being scared to death… and saddling up anyway.  ~ John Wayne

Born in Winterset, Iowa, John Wayne was born Marion Robert Morrison on May 26, 1907. Wayne’s family moved to Palmdale, California, and then in 1916 to Glendale, California, where his father worked as a pharmacist. He attended Glendale Union High School where he performed well in both sport and academics. Wayne was part of his high school’s football team and its debating team. He was also the president of the Latin Society and contributed to the school’s newspaper sports column.

Wayne applied to the U.S. Naval Academy, but he was not accepted. Instead, he attended the University of Southern California (USC), majoring in pre-law. He was a member of the Trojan Knights and Sigma Chi fraternities. Wayne also played on the USC football team under coach Howard Jones. A broken collarbone injury curtailed his athletic career; Wayne later noted that he was too terrified of Jones’ reaction to reveal the actual cause of his injury, a bodysurfing accident. He found work at local film studios when he lost his football scholarship to the University of Southern California as a result of the accident.

John Wayne in The Big Trail (1930)

John Wayne in The Big Trail (1930)

While working for Fox Film Corporation in bit roles, Wayne was given on-screen credit as “Duke Morrison” only once, in Words and Music (1929). Director Raoul Walsh saw him moving studio furniture while working as a prop boy and cast him in his first starring role in The Big Trail (1930). For his screen name, Walsh suggested “Anthony Wayne”, after Revolutionary War general “Mad” Anthony Wayne. Fox Studios chief Winfield Sheehan rejected it as sounding “too Italian”. Walsh then suggested “John Wayne”. Sheehan agreed, and the name was set. Wayne was not even present for the discussion. His pay was raised to $105 a week.

The Big Trail was to be the first big-budget outdoor spectacle of the sound era, made at a then-staggering cost of over $2 million, using hundreds of extras and wide vistas of the American southwest, still largely unpopulated at the time. To take advantage of the breathtaking scenery, it was filmed in two versions, a standard 35-mm version and another in the new 70 mm Grandeur film process, using an innovative camera and lenses. Many in the audience who saw it in Grandeur stood and cheered. However, only a handful of theaters were equipped to show the film in its widescreen process, and the effort was largely wasted. Despite being highly regarded by modern critics, the film was considered a huge box office flop at the time.

After the commercial failure of The Big Trail, Wayne was relegated to small roles in A-pictures, including Columbia’s The Deceiver (1931), in which he played a corpse. He appeared in the serial The Three Musketeers (1933), an updated version of the Alexandre Dumas novel in which the protagonists were soldiers in the French Foreign Legion in then-contemporary North Africa. He played the lead, with his name over the title, in many low-budget Poverty Row Westerns, mostly at Monogram Pictures and serials for Mascot Pictures Corporation. By Wayne’s own estimation, he appeared in about 80 of these horse operas from 1930 to 1939. In Riders of Destiny (1933), he became one of the first singing cowboys of film, albeit via dubbing. Wayne also appeared in some of the Three Mesquiteers Westerns, whose title was a play on the Dumas classic. He was mentored by stuntmen in riding and other Western skills. Stuntman Yakima Canutt and Wayne developed and perfected stunts and onscreen fisticuffs techniques which are still in use.

(L to R) John Carradine, Louise Platt, and John Wayne in Stagecoach

(L to R) John Carradine, Louise Platt, and John Wayne in Stagecoach

Wayne’s breakthrough role came with John Ford’s Stagecoach (1939). Because of Wayne’s B-movie status and track record in low-budget Westerns throughout the 1930s, Ford had difficulty getting financing for what was to be an A-budget film. After rejection by all the main studios, Ford struck a deal with independent producer Walter Wanger in which Claire Trevor—a much bigger star at the time—received top billing. Stagecoach was a huge critical and financial success, and Wayne became a mainstream star. Cast member Louise Platt credited Ford as saying at the time that Wayne would become the biggest star ever because of his appeal as the archetypal “everyman”.

America’s entry into World War II resulted in a deluge of support for the war effort from all sectors of society, and Hollywood was no exception. Wayne was exempted from service due to his age (34 at the time of Pearl Harbor) and family status (classified as 3-A – family deferment) although actor Henry Fonda, born two years earlier, volunteered and served three years. Wayne repeatedly wrote to John Ford saying he wanted to enlist, on one occasion inquiring whether he could get into Ford’s military unit, but consistently kept postponing it until after “he finished just one or two pictures”. Wayne did not attempt to prevent his reclassification as 1-A (draft eligible), but Republic Studios was emphatically resistant to losing him since he was their only A-list actor under contract. Herbert J. Yates, President of Republic, threatened Wayne with a lawsuit if he walked away from his contract, and Republic Pictures intervened in the Selective Service process, requesting Wayne’s further deferment.

Wayne toured U.S. bases and hospitals in the South Pacific for three months in 1943 and 1944. with the USO. By many accounts, his failure to serve in the military was the most painful part of his life. His widow later suggested that his patriotism in later decades sprang from guilt, writing: “He would become a ‘superpatriot’ for the rest of his life trying to atone for staying home.”

U.S. National Archives records indicate that Wayne had, in fact, made an application to serve in the Office of Strategic Services (OSS), precursor to the modern CIA, and had been accepted within the U.S. Army’s allotted billet to the OSS. William J. Donovan, OSS Commander, wrote Wayne a letter informing him of his acceptance into the Field Photographic Unit, but the letter went to his estranged wife Josephine’s home. She never told him about it. Donovan also issued an OSS Certificate of Service to Wayne.

Betty Field and John Wayne in The Shepherd of the Hills

Betty Field and John Wayne in The Shepherd of the Hills

Wayne’s first color film was Shepherd of the Hills (1941), in which he co-starred with his longtime friend Harry Carey. The following year, he appeared in his only film directed by Cecil B. DeMille, the Technicolor epic Reap the Wild Wind (1942), in which he co-starred with Ray Milland and Paulette Goddard; it was one of the rare times he played a character with questionable values.

In 1949, director Robert Rossen offered the starring role of All the King’s Men to Wayne. Wayne refused, believing the script to be unAmerican in many ways. Broderick Crawford, who eventually got the role, won the 1949 Oscar for best male actor, ironically beating out Wayne, who had been nominated for Sands of Iwo Jima.

One of Wayne’s most popular roles was in The High and the Mighty (1954), directed by William Wellman, and based on a novel by Ernest K. Gann. His portrayal of a heroic copilot won widespread acclaim. Wayne also portrayed aviators in Flying Tigers (1942), Flying Leathernecks (1951), Island in the Sky (1953), The Wings of Eagles (1957), and Jet Pilot (1957).

He appeared in nearly two dozen of John Ford’s films over twenty years, including She Wore a Yellow Ribbon (1949), The Quiet Man (1952), The Wings of Eagles (1957), and The Man Who Shot Liberty Valance (1962) with James Stewart: the first movie in which he called someone “Pilgrim”. Ford’s The Searchers (1956), is often considered to contain Wayne’s finest and most complex performance.

John Wayne won a Best Actor Oscar for True Grit (1969). This came 20 years after his only other nomination. Wayne was also nominated as the producer of Best Picture for The Alamo (1960), one of two films he directed. The other was The Green Berets (1968), the only major film made during the Vietnam War to support the war. During the filming of The Green Berets, the Degar or Montagnard people of Vietnam’s Central Highlands, fierce fighters against communism, bestowed on Wayne a brass bracelet that he wore in the film and all subsequent films.

Lauren Bacall, John Wayne, and Ron Howard in The Shootist (1976)

Lauren Bacall, John Wayne, and Ron Howard in The Shootist (1976)

Wayne took on the role of the eponymous detective in the crime drama McQ (1974). His last film was The Shootist (1976), whose main character, J. B. Books, was dying of cancer—the illness to which Wayne himself succumbed three years later.

Batjac, the production company cofounded by Wayne, was named after the fictional shipping company Batjak in Wake of the Red Witch (1948), a film based on the novel by Garland Roark. (A spelling error by Wayne’s secretary was allowed to stand, accounting for the variation.) Batjac (and its predecessor, Wayne-Fellows Productions) was the arm through which Wayne produced many films for himself and other stars. Its best-known non-Wayne productions were Seven Men From Now (1956), which started the classic collaboration between director Budd Boetticher and star Randolph Scott, and Gun the Man Down (1956) with contract player James Arness as an outlaw.

In the Motion Picture Herald Top Ten Money-Making Western Stars poll, Wayne was listed in 1936 and 1939. He appeared in the similar Box Office poll in 1939 and 1940. While these two polls are really an indication only of the popularity of series stars, Wayne also appeared in the Top Ten Money Makers Poll of all films from 1949 to 1957 and 1958 to 1974, taking first place in 1950, 1951, 1954, and 1971. With a total of 25 years on the list, Wayne has more appearances than any other star, surpassing Clint Eastwood (21) who is in second place.

In later years, Wayne was recognized as a sort of American natural resource, and his various critics, of his performances and his politics, viewed him with more respect. Abbie Hoffman, the radical of the 1960s, paid tribute to Wayne’s singularity, saying, “I like Wayne’s wholeness, his style. As for his politics, well—I suppose even cavemen felt a little admiration for the dinosaurs that were trying to gobble them up.” Reviewing The Cowboys (1972), Vincent Canby of The New York Times, who did not particularly care for the film, wrote: “Wayne is, of course, marvelously indestructible, and he has become an almost perfect father figure”.

He appeared with many important Hollywood stars of his era, and his last public appearance was at the Academy Awards ceremony on April 9, 1979.

Wayne was married three times and divorced twice. His three wives, one of Spanish American descent and two of Hispanic descent, were Josephine Alicia Saenz, Esperanza Baur, and Pilar Pallete. He had four children with Josephine: Michael Wayne (November 23, 1934 – April 2, 2003), Mary Antonia “Toni” Wayne LaCava (February 25, 1936 – December 6, 2000), Patrick Wayne (born July 15, 1939), and Melinda Wayne Munoz (born December 3, 1940). He had three more children with Pilar: Aissa Wayne (born March 31, 1956), John Ethan Wayne (born February 22, 1962), and Marisa Wayne (born February 22, 1966).

He had been a chain smoker of cigarettes since young adulthood and was diagnosed with lung cancer in 1964. He underwent successful surgery to remove his entire left lung and four ribs. Despite efforts by his business associates to prevent him from going public with his illness for fear that it would cost him work, Wayne announced he had cancer and called on the public to get preventive examinations. Five years later, Wayne was declared cancer-free. Wayne has been credited with coining the term “The Big C” as a euphemism for cancer.

Although he enrolled in a cancer vaccine study in an attempt to ward off the disease, Wayne died of stomach cancer at the age of 72 on June 11, 1979, at the UCLA Medical Center, and was buried in the Pacific View Memorial Park cemetery in Corona del Mar, Newport Beach.

Wayne rose beyond the typical recognition for a famous actor to that of an enduring icon who symbolized and communicated American values and ideals. By the middle of his career, Wayne had developed a larger-than-life image, and as his career progressed, he selected roles that would not compromise his off-screen image.

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