When I think of an American cowboy in my mind I see a picture of John Wayne mounted high on his horse in a desert setting riding out into the sunset. His name is synonymous with the western film genre. John Wayne’s characters are known world-wide as American symbols that embody the true characteristics of how Americans ought to be. His characters were always so tough, courageous, and upstanding. For this and other reasons I consider the actor, John Wayne, to have had a tremendously positive impact on our and other societies around the world. To fully appreciate Wayne’s impact, it is important to closely examine where he came from and to consider the factors of his upbringing that influenced his development.
John Wayne was born Marion Michael Morrison in Winterset, Iowa on May 26, 1907. At the age of six, his father Clyde Morrison became ill and decided to move the family to southern California. The family lived for a short stint of time on a eighty acre farm, there Marion learned how to handle horses and often played cowboy. They then moved to the city of Glendale, California where Clyde opened a drugstore. In Glendale, Marion was exposed to film making for the first time. He saw outdoor scenes being shot at the Triangle Studios. As if to consequently further influence him, his family’s drugstore happened to be in the same building as a silent film theater. Marion saw movies at the theater four to five times a week for free. It was also at Glendale that Marion was given his infamous nickname of “Duke.” Despite the royal and noble connotations of the name Duke, Marion received it from his Airedale terrier also named Duke.
Marion was an “A” student, president of the Latin society, head of his senior class, and an All-State guard on his state champion high school football team. These accomplishments didn’t come easy for him. On a typical school/work day, he rose at 4 a.m. and delivered newspapers, then after school and football practice, he worked at his father’s store. There he drove a truck, picked fruit, jerked soda, and hauled ice.
After high school, Marion had wanted to attend the U.S. Naval Academy and was given alternate selection status, however the person he would alternate for choose to attend and he decided to put his football skills to work. His abilities on the football field earned him a full, football scholarship to the University of Southern California. At USC, coach Howard Jones found Duke summer work with Fox Films. He was an assistant prop boy under the direction of John Ford. During his Sophomore season a broken ankle injury ended his football career, so he decided to drop out of college, but still continued working for Fox.
Duke received his first onscreen job very similar to the way that the character Don Lockwood from “Singing in the Rain” got his start. Both were very lucky and happened to be in the right place at the right time. Duke just happened to be with Mr. Ford’s crew during the filming of a submarine film in a channel off of the Catalina Island. When the regular stuntman refused to get into the rough seas, Mr. Ford looked to Duke and asked him if he would. He immediately did and was brought on board the Ford team. Duke worked his way from prop boy to stuntman, to eventually appearing on the screen.
Early in his career he was given screen credit under the names of Michael Burn and Duke Morrison. When he was given the star role in the expensive, $2 million film “The Big Trail,” the director thought his name Marion wasn’t fit for a real cowboy, so the name “John Wayne” was born. “The Big Trail” flopped just like the cavalier movie did during its premier in “Singing in the Rain.” “The Big Trail” was filmed as a talking picture and was filmed on special and new film that many theaters at the time were unequipped to play.
During the Depression, John appeared in more than 40 grade B and grade C westerns, none of which gave him any recognition. He...