John Wayne: The Early Life and Career of the "King of the Westerns"

Herbie J Pilato

According to, "John Wayne was born Marion Robert Morrison on May 26, 1907, in Winterset, Iowa. (Some sources also list him as Marion Michael Morrison and Marion Mitchell Morrison.) One of the most popular film actors of the 20th century, Wayne remains an American film icon to this day."

As Biography goes on to report, Wayne was "the oldest of two children born to Clyde and Mary "Molly" Morrison, Wayne moved to Lancaster, California, around the age of seven. The family moved again a few years later after Clyde failed in his attempt to become a farmer."

"Settling in Glendale, California," Biography notes, "Wayne received his distinctive nickname 'Duke,' while living there. He had a dog by that name, and he spent so much time with his pet that the pair became known as 'Little Duke' and 'Big Duke,' according to the official John Wayne website. In high school, Wayne excelled in his classes and in many different activities, including student government and football. He also participated in numerous student theatrical productions."

"Winning a football scholarship to the University of Southern California, Wayne started college in the fall of 1925," Biography adds. "He joined the Sigma Chi fraternity and continued to be a strong student. Unfortunately, after two years, an injury took him off the football field and ended his scholarship. While in college, Wayne had done some work as a film extra, appearing as a football player in Brown of Harvard (1926) and Drop Kick (1927)."

"Out of school," Biography documents further, "...Wayne worked as an extra and a prop man in the film industry. He first met director John Ford while working as an extra on Mother Machree (1928). With The Big Trail (1930), Wayne received his first leading role, thanks to director Raoul Walsh. Walsh is often credited with helping him create his now legendary screen name, John Wayne. Unfortunately, the western was a box office dud."

As Biography concluded, "For nearly a decade, Wayne toiled in numerous B movies, mostly westerns, for different studios. He even played a singing cowboy named Sandy Saunders among his many roles. During this time period, however, Wayne started developing his man-of-action persona, which would serve as the basis of many popular characters later on. Working with Ford, he got his next big break in Stagecoach (1939)."

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Herbie J Pilato is the author of several books about pop culture including RETRO ACTIVE TELEVISION, THE 12 BEST SECRETS OF CHRISTMAS, MARY: THE MARY TYLER MOORE STORY, TWITCH UPON A STAR, GLAMOUR, GIDGETS AND THE GIRL NEXT DOOR, DASHING, DARING AND DEBONAIR, and NBC & ME: MY LIFE AS A PAGE IN A BOOK, among others. He's also a TV writer/producer, and has worked for Reelz, Bravo, E!, TLC, and hosted THEN AGAIN WITH HERBIE J PILATO, the hit classic TV talk show (which premiered on Amazon Prime in 2019).

Los Angeles, CA

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