Nationality: American. Born: Marion Michael Morrison in Winterset, Iowa, 26 May 1907. Education: Attended Glendale High School, California; University of Southern California, Los Angeles, 1925–27. Family: Married 1) Josephine Saenz, 1933 (divorced 1945), sons: the producer Michael Wayne and the actor Patrick Wayne, two daughters; 2) Esperanza Bauer, 1946 (divorced 1954); 3) Pilar Palette, 1954, son: the actor John Ethan, daughters: Aissa, Marisa. Career: 1926—prop man for Fox studio: film debut as extra in Brown of Harvard; in early films billed as Duke Morrison; 1930—role in Men without Women directed by John Ford, who directed many of Wayne's later films; later worked for Columbia and other studios; 1939—role in Ford's Stagecoach made Wayne a leading man; 1942–43—in radio series Three Sheets to the Wind; 1944—co-founder, Motion Picture Alliance for the Preservation of American Ideals; 1947—film producer: formed Wayne-Fellows Productions and Batjac production company; 1960—directed the film The Alamo. Awards: Best Actor Academy Award, for True Grit, 1969. Died: In Los Angeles, 11 June 1979.
Films as Actor:
Brown of Harvard (Conway)
The Drop Kick (Glitter) (Webb)
Mother Machree (Ford); Hangman's House (Ford) (as spectator at horse race)
Salute (Ford and David Butler) (as football player)
(as Duke Morrison)
Words and Music (Tinling) (as Pete Donahue)
Men without Women (Ford) (bit role); A Rough Romance (Erickson) (bit role); Cheer Up and Smile (Lanfield) (bit role)
(as John Wayne)
The Big Trail (Walsh) (as Breck Coleman); Girls Demand Excitement (Felix) (as Peter Brooks); Three Girls Lost (Lanfield) (as Gordon Wales); Men Are Like That (Arizona) (Seitz) (as Lt. Bob Denton); Range Feud (Lederman) (as Clint Turner); Maker of Men (Sedgwick) (as Dusty); The Deceiver (King) (as a corpse)
Haunted Gold (Wright) (as John Mason); Shadow of the Eagle (Beebe—serial) (as Craig McCoy); The Hurricane Express (Schaefer and McGowan—serial) (as Larry Baker); Texas Cyclone (Lederman) (as Steve Pickett); Lady and Gent (The Challenger) (Roberts) (as Buzz Kinney); Two-Fisted Law (Lederman) (as Duke); Ride Him Cowboy (The Hawk) (Fred Allen) (as John Drury); The Voice of Hollywood No. 13 (D'Agostino—short) (as narrator); The Big Stampede (Wright) (as John Steele); The Hollywood Handicap (Lamont—short) (as himself); Station S-T-A-R (short)
The Telegraph Trail (Wright) (as John Trent); Central Airport (Wellman) (bit role); His Private Secretary (Whitman) (as Dick Wallace); Somewhere in Sonora (Wright) (as JohnBishop); The Life of Jimmy Dolan (The Kid's Last Fight) (Mayo) (as Smith); The Three Musketeers (Schaefer and Clark—serial) (as Tom Wayne); Baby Face (Alfred E. Green) (as Jimmy McCoy); The Man from Monterey (Wright) (as Captain John Holmes); Riders of Destiny (Bradbury) (as Sandy Saunders); College Coach (Football Coach) (Wellman) (as Kim); Sagebrush Trail (Schaefer) (as John Brant)
West of the Divide (Bradbury) (as Ted Hayden); The Lucky Texan (Bradbury) (as Jerry Mason); Blue Steel (Bradbury) (as John Carruthers); The Man from Utah (Bradbury) (as John Weston); Randy Rides Alone (Fraser) (title role); The Star Packer (Bradbury) (as John Travers); The Trail Beyond (Bradbury) (as Rod Drew); 'Neath the Arizona Skies (Fraser) (as Chris Morrell); The Lawless Frontier (Bradbury) (as John Tobin)
Texas Terror (Bradbury) (as John Higgins); Rainbow Valley (Bradbury) (as John Martin); Paradise Canyon (Pierson) (as John Wyatt); The Dawn Rider (Bradbury) (as John Mason); Westward Ho (Bradbury) (as John Wyatt); The Desert Trail (Lewis) (as John Scott); The New Frontier (Pierson) (as John Dawson); The Lawless Range (Bradbury) (as John Middleton)
The Lawless Nineties (Kane) (as John Tipton); King of the Pecos (Kane) (as John Clayborn); The Oregon Trail (Pembroke) (as Captain John Delmont); Winds of the Wasteland (Wright) (as John Blair); The Sea Spoilers (Strayer) (as Bob Randall); The Lonely Trail (Kane) (as John); Conflict (David Howard) (as Pat)
California Straight Ahead (Lubin) (as Biff Smith); I Cover the War (Lubin) (as Bob Adams); Idol of the Crowds (Lubin) (as Johnny Hanson); Adventure's End (Lubin) (as Duke Slade)
Born to the West (Hell Town) (Barton) (as Dare Rudd); Pals of the Saddle (Sherman) (as Stony Brooke); Overland Stage Raiders (Sherman) (as Stony Brooke); Santa Fe Stampede (Sherman) (as Stony Brooke); Red River Range (Sherman) (as Stony Brooke)
Stagecoach (Ford) (as the Ringo Kid); The Night Raiders (Sherman) (as Stony Brooke); Three Texas Steers (Danger Rides the Range) (Sherman) (as Stony Brooke); Wyoming Outlaw (Sherman) (as Stony Brooke); New Frontier (Frontier Horizon) (Sherman) (as Stony Brooke); Allegheny Uprising (The First Rebel) (Seiter) (as Jim Smith)
The Dark Command (Walsh) (as Bob Seton); Three Faces West (The Refugee) (Vorhaus) (as John Phillips); The Long Voyage Home (Ford) (as Ole Oleson); Seven Sinners (Garnett) (as Lt. Dan Brent); Melody Ranch (Santley)
A Man Betrayed (Citadel of Crime; Wheel of Fortune) (Auer) (as Lynn Hollister); Lady from Louisiana (Vorhaus) (as John Reynolds); The Shepherd of the Hills (Hathaway) (as Young Matt Mathews); Lady for a Night (Jason) (as Jack Morgan)
Reap the Wild Wind (Cecil B. DeMille) (as Captain Jack Stewart); The Spoilers (Enright) (as Roy Glennister); In Old California (McGann) (as Tom Craig); Flying Tigers (Miller) (as Jim Gordon); Reunion in France (Reunion; Mademoiselle France) (Dassin) (as Pat Talbot); Pittsburgh (Seiler) (as Charles "Pittsburgh" Markham)
A Lady Takes a Chance (The Cowboy and the Girl) (Seiter) (as Duke Hudkins); In Old Oklahoma (War of the Wildcats) (Rogell) (as Dan Somers)
The Fighting Seabees (Ludwig) (as Wedge Donovan); Tall in the Saddle (Marin) (as Rocklin)
Flame of the Barbary Coast (Kane) (as Duke Fergus); Back to Bataan (Dmytryk) (as Colonel Joseph Madden); Dakota (Kane) (as John Devlin); They Were Expendable (Ford) (as Lt. Rusty Ryan)
Without Reservations (LeRoy) (as Rusty Thomas)
Angel and the Badman (James Edward Grant) (as Quirt Evans); Tycoon (Wallace) (as Johnny Munroe)
Fort Apache (Ford) (as Captain Kirby York); Red River (Hawks) (as Tom Dunson); Three Grandfathers (Ford) (as Robert Marmaduke Hightower); Wake of the Red Witch (Ludwig) (as Captain Ralls)
She Wore a Yellow Ribbon (Ford) (as Captain Nathan Brittles); Fighting Kentuckian (Waggner) (as John Breen); Sands of Iwo Jima (Dwan) (as Sgt. John Stryker); Hollywood Rodeo (short)
Rio Grande (Ford) (as Lt. Colonel Kirby York)
Operation Pacific (Waggner) (as Duke Gifford); Flying Leathernecks (Nicholas Ray) (as Major Dan Kirby)
The Quiet Man (Ford) (as Sean Thornton); Big Jim McLain (Ludwig) (title role)
Trouble along the Way (Curtiz) (as Steve Williams); Island in the Sky (Wellman) (as Captain Dooley); Hondo (Farrow) (title role)
The High and the Mighty (Wellman) (as Dan Roman)
The Sea Chase (Farrow) (as Captain Karl Ehrlich); Rookie of the Year (Ford—for TV); Blood Alley (Wellman) (as Wilder)
The Conqueror (Powell) (as Temujin); The Searchers (Ford) (as Ethan Edwards)
The Wings of Eagles (Ford) (as Frank "Spig" Wead); Jet Pilot (von Sternberg) (as Colonel Shannon); Legend of the Lost (Hathaway) (as Joe January)
I Married a Woman (Kantor) (as himself); The Barbarian and the Geisha (Huston) (as Townsend Harris)
The Horse Soldiers (Ford) (as Colonel John Marlowe); Rio Bravo (Hawks) (as John T. Chance)
North to Alaska (Hathaway) (as Sam McCord)
The Commancheros (Curtiz) (as Jake Cutter)
The Man Who Shot Liberty Valance (Ford) (as Tom Doniphon); Flashing Spikes (Ford—for TV); Hatari! (Hawks) (as Sean Mercer); The Longest Day (Annakin, Marton, Wicki, and Oswald) (as Lt. Colonel Benjamin Vandervoort)
"The Civil War" ep. of How the West Was Won (Ford) (as Gen. William Sherman); Donovan's Reef (Ford) (as Michael Donovan); McLintock (McLaglen) (title role)
Circus World (The Magnificent Showman) (Hathaway) (as Matt Masters)
The Greatest Story Ever Told (Stevens) (as the Centurion); In Harm's Way (Preminger) (as Captain Rockwell Torrey); The Sons of Katie Elder (Hathaway) (as John Elder)
Cast a Giant Shadow (Shavelson) (as General Mike Randolph)
The War Wagon (Kennedy) (as Law Jackson); El Dorado (Hawks) (as Cole Thorton)
The Hellfighters (McLaglen) (as Chance Buckman)
True Grit (Hathaway) (as "Rooster" Cogburn); The Undefeated (McLaglen) (as Colonel John Thomas)
Chisum (McLaglen) (title role); Rio Lobo (Hawks) (as Cord McNally); Chesty: A Tribute to a Legend (Ford—doc) (as narrator)
Big Jake (Sherman) (as Jacob McCandles); Directed by John Ford (Bogdanovich—doc)
The Cowboys (Rydell) (as Will Anderson); Cancel My Reservation (Bogart) (as himself)
The Train Robbers (Kennedy) (as Lane); Cahill, United States Marshal (Cahill) (McLaglen) (title role)
McQ (John Sturges) (title role)
Brannigan (Hickox) (title role); Rooster Cogburn (Rooster Cogburn and the Lady) (Miller) (title role)
The Shootist (Siegel) (as John Books)
Films as Actor and Director:
The Alamo (as Colonel David Crockett)
The Green Berets (as Colonel Mike Kirby, co-d)
By WAYNE: articles—
"Why I Turned Producer and Director," in Journal of Screen Producers Guild (Hollywood), September 1960.
"Looking Back," interview with Scott Eyman, in Focus on Film (London), Spring 1975.
On WAYNE: books—
Fenin, George, and William K. Everson, The Western, from Silents to Cinerama, New York, 1962.
Ricci, Mark, Boris Zmijewsky, and Steve Zmijewsky, The Films of John Wayne, New York, 1970.
Tomkies, Mike, The Big Man: The John Wayne Story, London, 1971; as Duke, Chicago, 1971.
Barbour, Alan, John Wayne, New York, 1974.
Zolotow, Maurice, Shooting Star: A Biography of John Wayne, New York, 1974.
Campbell, George Jr., The John Wayne Story, New Rochelle, New York, 1979.
Eyles, Allen, John Wayne, South Brunswick, New Jersey, 1979.
Pascal, François, John Wayne: Le Dernier Géant, Paris, 1979.
Scheldeman, Ivan, De films van John Wayne, Borgerhout, Belgium, 1979.
Kieskalt, Charles John, The Official John Wayne Reference Book, Secaucus, New Jersey, 1985; rev. ed., 1993.
Shepherd, Donald, and others, Duke: The Life and Times of John Wayne, London, 1985.
Lepper, David, John Wayne, London, 1987.
McDonald, Archie P., editor, Shooting Stars: Heroes and Heroines of Western Film, Bloomington, Indiana, 1987.
Levy, Emanuel, John Wayne: Prophet of the American Way of Life, Metuchen, New Jersey, 1988, 1998.
Leguege, Eric, John Wayne, le cow-boy et la mort, Paris, 1989.
Neibaur, James L., Tough Guy: The American Movie Macho, Jefferson, North Carolina, 1989.
Wayne, Pilar, with Alex Thorleifson, John Wayne: My Life with the Duke, New York, 1989.
Wayne, Aissa, John Wayne, My Father, New York, 1991.
Minshall, Bert, On Board with the Duke: John Wayne and the Wild Goose, Washington, D.C., 1992.
Riggin, Judith M., John Wayne: A Bio-Bibliography, New York, 1992.
Nardo, Don, John Wayne, New York, 1994.
Clark, Donald, John Wayne's "The Alamo": The Making of the Epic Film, Carol Publishing Group, 1995.
Marill, Alvin H., The Great John Wayne Trivia Book, Secaucus, New Jersey, 1995.
Roberts, Randy, John Wayne: American, New York, 1995.
Fagen, Herb, Duke, We're Glad We Knew You: John Wayne's Friend's & Colleagues Remember His Remarkable Life, Carol Publishing Group, 1998.
Wills, Garry, John Wayne's America: The Politics of Celebrity, New York, 1998.
McGhee, Richard D., John Wayne: Actor, Artist, Hero, Jefferson, 1999.
On WAYNE: articles—
Gray, M., "No-Contract Star," in Films and Filming (London), March 1957.
Didion, Joan, "John Wayne," in The Saturday Evening Post (Philadelphia), 14 August 1965.
Hall, D. J., "Tall in the Saddle," in Films and Filming (London), October 1969.
Current Biography 1972, New York, 1972.
Bentley, Eric, "The Political Theatre of John Wayne," in Film Society Review (New York), March/May 1972.
Special issue of Film Heritage (New York), Summer 1975.
Suid, L., "The Making of The Green Berets," in Journal of Popular Film (Bowling Green, Ohio), v. 6, no. 2, 1977.
Beaver, J., "John Wayne," in Films in Review (New York), May 1977, see also issue for August/September 1977 and February 1978.
Obituary in New York Times, 12 June 1979.
Kroll, Jack, "John Wayne," in The Movie Star, edited by Elisabeth Weis, New York, 1981.
Norman, Barry, in The Film Greats, London, 1985.
Villien, Bruno, "John Wayne: la force tranquille d'Amérique," in Cinématographe (Paris), February 1986.
Edgerton, G., "A Reappraisal of John Wayne," in Films in Review (New York), May 1986.
McGhee, R. D., "John Wayne: Hero with a Thousand Faces," in Literature/Film Quarterly (Salisbury, Maryland), January 1988.
Barzman, Ben, "The Duke and Me," in Los Angeles Magazine, January 1989.
Tal, K., "War Looking at Film Looking at War," in Jump Cut (Berkeley), May 1991.
Bell, Joseph N., "True Wayne," in American Film, January/February 1992.
Stars (Mariembourg), no. 27, 1996.
Wills, G., "John Wayne's Body," in New Yorker, 19 August 1996.
McNulty, Thomas and Paul M. Riordan, "John Agar, Actor: Hollywood's All-purpose Hero: More John Agar Creature Features," in Filmfax (Evanston), February-March 1997.
Norman, Barry, "Was Wayne the Biggest Star of All?" in Radio Times (London), 11 October 1997.
Macnab, Geoffrey, "From Sir, With Love," in Sight & Sound (London), May 1998.
* * *
During his last years John Wayne's image hardened and became simplified: the movie star became either a national institution or an object of ridicule and vilification (depending upon one's political viewpoint). Wayne himself clearly encouraged this transformation, the potential for which was always there in his image, at least from the 1950s on. His decision to direct and star in The Green Berets marks a crucial point of transition, confirmed by his subsequent political pronouncements and the tendency to choose self-mythologizing roles. This development has had the unfortunate effect of obscuring for many people the complexities of the Wayne persona and the extremely interesting uses to which it was put by two of Hollywood's greatest directors, John Ford and Howard Hawks.
Ford is reported as saying, after seeing Red River, that he had never realized that Wayne could act. The operative criterion of acting here appears to be the hackneyed one of versatility, the ability to "become" different characters. If a limited actor, Wayne was always, from his first major role in Stagecoach, an extremely capable performer: the scenes that develop his relationship with Claire Trevor are played with considerable delicacy and sensitivity. Though the components of the Wayne persona were already clearly present there in The Long Voyage Home, Ford did not make full use of them until after World War II, when the dominant tone of his work modulated from idealism (associated with Henry Fonda) to disillusionment and retreat into stoicism. Through the three films of the "cavalry trilogy" (Fort Apache, She Wore a Yellow Ribbon, and Rio Grande) the Wayne persona reaches full expression. The makings of the later "national institution" are all there—conservatism, militarism, adherence to tradition, emphasis on patriotic duty—but they are held within a complex thematic network in which the sustaining of faith in American civilization becomes increasingly problematic, giving way to stoical resignation. Significantly, Ford also used Wayne centrally in films in which he abandons American civilization altogether, for a retreat either into the Irish past (The Quiet Man) or to a South Seas never-never land (Donovan's Reef ). Ford's ultimate use of Wayne, however, was as the incarnation of the lost values of a mythical Old West, rendered obsolete by the civilization it helped build, in The Man Who Shot Liberty Valance.
Hawks never showed much interest in the established social order except as something to escape from, and Wayne is less central to his work than he is to Ford's. Red River, while in many ways impressive, suffers from Hawks's insufficient grasp of the material's moral and political implications, to which Wayne's Thomas Dunson is central. Interestingly, in relation to Wayne's later career, the character develops marked connotations of fascism which the film tries to cope with but finally evades. Hawks's finest use of Wayne is undoubtedly in Rio Bravo: here the stoicism, self-reliance, and assumption of moral infallibility at once achieve their most complete expression and are subjected to a subtle criticism that defines their limitations. The infallible Wayne is alternately juxtaposed with the all-too-fallible Dean Martin and confronted with the amorous but ironic Angie Dickinson. Both relationships are being used by Hawks to probe, question, and affectionately satirize the Wayne image, exposing its human deficiencies while reaffirming its strength.
It is with Hawks also—in El Dorado and Rio Lobo—that Wayne enters the last phase of his career, where the central concern becomes age and failing powers. The Cowboys was not, as some asserted, the first film in which Wayne died (they forget, for example, Reap the Wild Wind, Sands of Iwo Jima, and, far more reprehensibly, Liberty Valance), but it is the first of his major roles in which he was killed face-to-face by the bad guy. Even more pertinent is The Shootist, in which he plays an aging gunfighter who is dying of cancer, the disease against which he himself struggled throughout this late period. If The Cowboys (in which Wayne explicitly becomes a role model for the young of America) celebrates the "national institution," even at this stage of his career where the image is at its most petrified it still carries connotations—pain, loss, failure, stoical endurance—which makes it less simple than the popular view of "hawk" patriarch suggests.
Perhaps due to Wayne's larger-than-life iconography as the quintessential American hero, he is as popular with audiences today as he was during his lifetime. His films are never off the television screen and remain among the fastest sellers in video stores. His directorial debut, The Alamo, a personal project in which he also starred, has been restored to its original director's cut length after 30 years during which only the abbreviated version released to theaters by United Artists was available—and reissued on tape and laser disc to the lucrative collector's market in a format that retained the film's wide-screen grandeur. In the wake of its commercial success, two of Wayne's rowdiest and most popular non-Ford and non-Hawks Westerns, McLintock and Hondo, have finally found their way to television and video stores after many years of hibernation, as well.
—Robin Wood, updated by John McCarty
American actor John Wayne played characters that typically showed a heroic American "can-do" spirit in over seventy-five films, mostly Westerns and war movies. He is considered an icon in American film.
John Wayne was born Marion Mitchell Morrison, of Scotch-Irish descent, to Clyde and Mary Morrison on May 26, 1907, in Winterset, Iowa. He had one brother, Robert Emmet Morrison. He received his nickname "Duke" while still a child, because of his love for a dog of that name. His father was a pharmacist whose business ventures did not succeed. In 1914, when Duke was six, the family moved to California where his father was able to open a drugstore. In 1926 his parents were divorced.
From the age of twelve Duke helped his father at his drugstore in his spare time. He also supported himself with a variety of odd jobs, including stints as a delivery boy and as a trucker's helper. At first he aspired to attend the Naval Academy and become a naval officer but things did not work out as planned. Fortunately, he was a star football player on the Glendale High School team, and he was accepted at the University of Southern California on a football scholarship. But an accident soon ended his playing career and scholarship. Without funds to support himself, he left the university in 1927 after two years there.
In college Duke worked at the Fox studio lots in Los Angeles, California, as a laborer, prop boy, and extra. While doing so he met director John Ford (1895–1973), who took an interest in him (and would over the years have a major impact on his career). In 1928, after working at various odd jobs for some months, he was again employed at the Fox studios, mostly as a laborer but also as an extra and bit player. His efforts generally went unbilled, but he did receive his first screen credit as Duke Morrison.
Becoming "John Wayne"
Wayne's first real break came in 1929, when through the intervention of Ford he was cast as the lead in a major Fox production, the Western movie The Big Trail. According to some biographers, Fox executives found his name inappropriate and changed it to John Wayne, the last name being taken from the American Revolutionary general "Mad Anthony" Wayne.
The Big Trail was not a success and Fox soon dropped Wayne. During the 1930s he worked at various studios, mostly those on what was known as "Poverty Row." Wayne appeared in over fifty feature films and serials, mostly Westerns. He even appeared in some films as "Singing Sandy." Tall, likeable, able to do his own stunts, it appeared that he was doomed to be a leading player in low-budget films.
However, thanks to Ford, with whom Wayne had remained friends, he was cast as the lead in the director's film Stagecoach, a 1939 Western that became a hit and a classic. This film was a turning point in Wayne's career. And although it took time for him to develop the mythic-hero image which propelled him to the top of the box office chart, he was voted by movie exhibitors as one of the Top Ten box office attractions of the year—a position he maintained for twenty-three of the next twenty-four years.
Wayne appeared in over seventy-five films between 1939 and 1976 when The Shootist, his last film, a Western, was released. In the vast majority of these films he was a man of action, be it in the American West or in U.S. wars of the twentieth century. As an actor he had a marvelous sense of timing and of his own persona, but comedy was not his specialty. Action was the essence of his films. Indeed, critics have repeatedly emphasized the manner in which he represented a particular kind of "American Spirit."
As a box-office superstar Wayne had his choice of roles and vehicles, but he chose to remain with the types of films he knew best. As the years passed his only admission to age was from the roles he played. He went from wooing leading ladies, such as Marlene Dietrich (1901–1992) (Pittsburgh, 1942), Gail Russell (Angel and the Badman, 1947), and Patricia Neal (Operation Pacific, 1951) to more mature roles as a rowdy father figure (McClintock, 1963), an older brother (The Sons of Katie Elder, 1965), and a kind marshal (Rio Lobo, 1970).
Wayne's politics were not always right-of-center, but in the latter part of his life he became known for his anticommunism (a political theory where goods and services are owned and distributed by a strong central government) activities. His conservatism began in the mid-1940s. He served as head of the anticommunist Motion Picture Alliance for the Preservation of American Ideals; supported various conservative Republican politicians, including Barry Goldwater and Richard Nixon (1913–1994); and spoke out forcefully on behalf of various causes such as American participation in the Vietnam War (1955–75; when American forces aided South Vietnam with their struggle against North Vietnam).
Wayne's politics also influenced his activities as a producer and director. Wayne's production companies made all kinds of films, but among them were Big Jim McClain (1951), in which he starred as a process server for the House Un-American Activities Committee fighting communists in Hawaii, and Blood Alley (1955), in which he played an American who helps a village to escape from the Communist Chinese mainland to Formosa. The two films that Wayne directed also are representative of his politics: The Alamo (1960) is an epic film about a heroic last stand by a group of Texans in their fight for independence against Mexico and included some preaching by the Wayne character about democracy as he saw it; and The Green Berets (1968), in which Wayne played a colonel leading troops against the North Vietnamese, which was an outspoken vehicle in support of America's role in the war.
Wayne was married three times. He had four daughters and three sons by two of his wives (Josephine Saenez, 1933–1945, and Pilar Palette Weldy, after 1954). His second wife was Esperanza Diaz Ceballos Morrison (1946–1954). Wayne was the recipient of many awards during his career, including an Oscar for his role as the hard-drinking, one-eyed, tough law man in True Grit (1969) and an Academy Award nomination for his playing of the career marine in Sands of Iwo Jima (1949). Plagued by various illnesses during the last few years of his life, he publicly announced his triumph over lung cancer in 1964. But a form of that disease eventually claimed his life on June 11, 1979.
For More Information
Davis, Ronald L. Duke: The Life and Image of John Wayne. Norman: University of Oklahoma Press, 1998.
Levy, Emanuel. John Wayne: Prophet of the American Way of Life. Metuchen, NJ: Scarecrow Press, 1988.
McGhee, Richard D. John Wayne: Actor, Artist, Hero. Jefferson, NC: McFarland, 1990.
Roberts, Randy, and James S. Olson. John Wayne: American. New York: Free Press, 1995.
Shepherd, Donald, and Robert Slatzer with Dave Grayson. Duke: The Life and Times of John Wayne. Garden City, NY: Doubleday, 1985.
(b. May 26, 1907; d. June 11, 1979) Actor.
Born Marion Michael Morrison in Winterset, Iowa, John Wayne moved to California at a young age. After an undistinguished football career at the University of Southern California, Wayne entered the movie world changing props for Fox studio before playing roles in a number of unremarkable films. It was not until the 1939 film Stagecoach that Wayne gained star status in Hollywood. Stagecoach marked the first of his many successful collaborations with director John Ford and contributed to the long association of John Wayne with Western films.
The advent of World War II transformed Wayne's career. While many of Hollywood's leading men, such as Clark Gable, Henry Fonda, and Jimmy Stewart, entered the armed forces, Wayne chose to advance his career at home. The dearth of leading men allowed Wayne's star to rise during the war. Although apologists for Wayne claim that he could not enlist due to an old football injury, family obligations, or his age, many of Hollywood's royalty in similar circumstances gave up their crowns to serve their country. It is with no small amount of irony, therefore, that the other major impact of WWII on Wayne's career was that it allowed him to cultivate an image of himself as the embodiment of the American fighting man on screen.
Without exception, Wayne's WWII characters displayed bravery and patriotism. His cocksure walk and menacing aura (crafted in Western roles) combined with the values of self-sacrifice and necessary violence to sanitize his image of the American soldier. He fought the Japanese as an airman in The Flying Tigers (1942), as a construction worker in The Fighting Seabees (1944), as an Army colonel in Back to Bataan (1945), and on a PT boat in They Were Expendable (1945). However, the apogee of Wayne's idealized military character came in the 1949 film, Sands of Iwo Jima. In Sands, Wayne played the hardheaded Marine Sergeant John M. Stryker whose courage and discipline guide his men though the brutal landings at Tarawa and Iwo Jima. Though Wayne continued to play WWII roles in later films, most notably The Longest Day (1962), his Stryker character remains his most memorable depiction of the American serviceman.
Wayne's WWII characters offered a new definition of American military conduct. General Douglas A. Macarthur told Wayne, "you represent the American serviceman better than the American serviceman himself"
(Slotkin, p. 514). In 1971, the Marine Corps League hailed Wayne as "the man who best exemplifies the word 'American'" (Eyles, p.11). The attitudes of many Vietnam combatants reveal the impact of Wayne's characterizations on American perceptions of the military. Ron Kovic, in his memoir Born on the Fourth of July, recalled how the promise of glory suggested by Wayne's WWII characters influenced his decision to enlist. Cultural historian Richard Slotkin even suggests that many Vietnam servicemen suffered from a "John Wayne syndrome" that left them feeling guilty at their inability to recreate the heroics of Wayne's WWII characters (Slotkin, p. 519–520).
Wayne carried his bellicose, patriotic screen persona into the public arena with right-wing political activism. He made frequent calls for a harder line against communists at home and abroad, and backed up his rhetoric by joining the Hollywood witch-hunt against communists in the 1950s. Wayne also made hawkish statements in support of the Vietnam War. Wayne melded his political views with his heroic military persona in the 1968 film, The Green Berets. Though released after the Tet Offensive when popular support for the war was rapidly waning, the movie unashamedly regurgitates official government claims about communist barbarity and American altruism. Wayne's character, Colonel Mike Kirby, displays compassion and sympathy toward the South Vietnamese while maintaining a steely determination to vanquish the enemy, reminiscent of his John Stryker character. Despite its crude and simplistic nature, the film found a ready audience among America's "silent majority" and became one of Wayne's most commercially successful films.
By the time of his death in June 1979, Wayne's outspoken political views earned him almost as many detractors as fans. But in a 1995 Harris poll, the American people named him their all-time favorite male actor (Davis, p. xi). For many, his name remains synonymous with a set of values such as honor, duty, patriotism, and strength. Without exception, his military roles displayed these qualities. For over forty years, they offered a superlative image of the American military and in particular, had a profound impact on how America viewed the WWII serviceman. Today, WWII veterans are routinely lauded as the "greatest generation." The characters created by John Wayne contributed to this sentiment.
Davis, Ronald L. Duke: The Life and Image of John Wayne. Norman: University of Oklahoma Press, 1998.
Eyles, Allen. John Wayne and the Movies. South Brunswick: A.S. Barnes, 1976.
Levy, Emmanuel. John Wayne: Prophet of the American Way of Life. Metuchen, NJ: Scarecrow Press, 1998.
Roberts, Randy; and James S. Olsen. John Wayne: American. New York: Free Press, 1995.
Slotkin, Richard. Gunfighter Nation: The Myth of the Frontier in Twentieth-Century America. New York: Atheneum, 1992.
Wills, Garry. John Wayne's America: The Politics of Celebrity. New York: Simon & Schuster, 1997.
American actor John Wayne (1907-1979) played characters who typically exuded decisiveness, virility, and an American "can-do" spirit in over 75 films.
John Wayne was born Marion Mitchell Morrison on May 26, 1907, in Winterset, Iowa. He received his nickname "Duke" while still a child, because of his love for a dog of that name. The family's circumstances were moderate. His father was a pharmacist whose business ventures did not succeed. The family moved to California in 1914. His parents were divorced in 1926.
From the age of 12 he was forced to help support himself. He did so with a variety of odd jobs, including stints as a delivery boy and as a trucker's helper. A star football player on the Glendale High School team, he was accepted at the University of Southern California on a football scholarship. An accident ended his playing career and scholarship; without funds to support himself he left the university in 1927 after two years there.
He had spent some time while at college working at the Fox studio lots in Los Angeles as a laborer, prop boy, and extra. While doing so he had met John Ford, the director, who took a shine to him (and would over the years have a major impact on his career). In 1928, after working at various odd jobs for some months, he was again employed at the Fox studios, mostly as a laborer but also as an extra and bit player. His efforts in the main went unbilled, but he did attain his first screen credits as Duke Morrison.
His first real break came in 1929, when through the intervention of Ford he was cast as the lead in a major Fox production, the Western movie The Big Trail. According to some biographers Fox executives found his name inappropriate and changed it to John Wayne, the surname being derived from the American Revolutionary general "Mad Anthony" Wayne.
The Big Trail was not a success, and Fox soon dropped him. During the 1930s he worked at various studios, mostly those on what was known as "Poverty Row." Wayne appeared in over 50 feature films and serials, mostly Westerns. He even appeared in some films as "Singing Sandy." Tall, personable, able to do his own stunts, it appeared that he was doomed to be a leading player in low-budget films.
However, thanks to Ford, with whom he had remained friends, Wayne was cast as the lead in that director's film Stagecoach, a 1939 Western that became a hit and a classic. This film was a turning point in Wayne's career. And although it took time for him to develop the mythic hero image which propelled him to the top of the box office charts, within a decade he was voted by movie exhibitors one of the top ten box office attractions of the year, a position he maintained for 23 of the next 24 years.
Wayne appeared in over 75 films between 1939 and 1976 when The Shootist, his last film (and appropriately enough a Western), was released. In the vast majority of these films he was a man of action, be it in the post Civil War American West or in contemporary U.S. wars. As an actor he had a marvelous sense of timing and of his own persona, but comedy was not his forte. Action was the essence of his films. His characters exuded decisiveness, confidence, virility, strength, and an American "can-do" spirit. Indeed, critics have emphasized over and over again the manner in which he represented a particular kind of "American Spirit."
As a box-office superstar he had his choice of roles and vehicles, but he chose to remain with the genre he knew best. As the years passed his only concession to age was the gradual elimination of romance from the roles he played. He went from wooing leading ladies such as Marlene Dietrich (Pittsburgh, 1942), Gail Russell (Angel and the Badman, 1947), and Patricia Neal (Operation Pacific, 1951) to more mature roles as a rowdy pater familias (McClintock, 1963), an older brother (The Sons of Katie Elder, 1965), and an avuncular marshal (Rio Lobo, 1970).
Wayne's politics were not always right-of-center, but in the latter part of his life he became known for his active anti-Communism. His ultra conservatism began in the mid-1940s. He served as head of the extremist anti-Communist Motion Picture Alliance for the Preservation of American Ideals; supported various conservative Republican politicians, including Barry Goldwater and Richard Nixon; and spoke out forcefully on behalf of various causes such as American participation in the Vietnam War.
His politics also influenced his activities as a producer and director. Wayne's production companies made all kinds of films, but among them were Big Jim McClain (1951), in which he starred as a process server for the House Un-American Activities Committee fighting Communists in Hawaii, and Blood Alley (1955), in which he played an American who helps a village to escape from the Communist Chinese mainland to Formosa. The two films that Wayne directed also are representative of his politics: The Alamo (1960) is an epic film about a heroic last stand by a group of Texans in their fight for independence against Mexico and included some sermonizing by the Wayne character about democracy as he saw it; The Green Berets (1968), in which Wayne played a colonel leading troops against the North Vietnamese, was an outspoken vehicle in support of America's role in the war.
Wayne was married three times. He had four daughters and three sons by two of his wives (Josephine Saenez, 1933-1945, and Pilar Palette Weldy, after 1954). His second wife was Esperanza Diaz Ceballos Morrison (1946-1954). Wayne was the recipient of many awards during his career, including an Oscar for his role as the hard-drinking, one-eyed, tough law man in True Grit (1969) and an Academy Award nomination for his playing of the career marine noncom in Sands of Iwo Jima (1949). Plagued by various illnesses during the last few years of his life, he publicly announced his triumph over lung cancer in 1964. But a form of that disease claimed him on June 11, 1979.
For additional information, see the biographies by Maurice Zolotow (1974), Mike Tomkies (1971), and Donald Shepherd and Robert Saltzer with David Grayson (1985).
Riggin, Judith M., John Wayne: a bio-bibliography, New York: Greenwood Press, 1992.
Levy, Emanuel, John Wayne: prophet of the American way of life, Metuchen, N.J.: Scarecrow Press, 1988.
Roberts, Randy, John Wayne: American, New York: Free Press, 1995. □