Iowa History Daily: John Wayne of Winterset

Iowa History Daily: On May 26, 1907, Winterset welcomed Marion Robert Morrison, who went on to become an American icon under the stage-name John Wayne. Known to legions of fans as “The Duke,” the Oscar winning Wayne appeared in a total of 179 film and television productions including all-time classics like “True Grit” and “The Man Who Shot Liberty Valance.”

Born at 224 South 2nd Street in the seat of Madison County, Wayne lived in Iowa until his family relocated to California. A stand out jack-of-all-trades in high school, Wayne served on the school paper, excelled in athletics, and shined on the debate team. During his adolescence a local fireman started to call him “Little Duke” when Wayne would walk the neighborhood with his large Airedale Terrier. By the time he finished at Glendale High School, USC came calling with a chance to play college football after his high school team won the 1924 league championship.

A body surfing accident cost Wayne his football scholarship, and he left school to take a job as a prop boy and extra. Moving up to bit parts during the 1930s, Fox Studios executive Winfield Sheehan suggested the “John Wayne” moniker when director Raoul Walsh selected the young actor to star in the 1930 film “The Big Trail.” Although the big-budget (over $2 million in 1930!) western flopped, Wayne found himself on the trail of success and many roles followed.

A breakthrough came for Wayne with 1939’s “Stagecoach,” and the actor continued to move toward an iconic career. After the government rejected his application to serve in World War II citing his age, Wayne went on USO tour to entertain the troops in the Pacific. Many other roles followed throughout the 1940s and 1950s as Wayne moved from upstart to Hollywood star.

Awarded the Oscar for “Best Actor in a Leading Role” in 1970, Wayne’s career continued to thrive until his diagnosis with stomach cancer on June 11, 1979. A recipient of the Congressional Gold Medal and the Presidential Medal of Freedom, Wayne’s significance to American cinema in the 20th century defies easy summarization. Often considered a representation of American ideals, Wayne’s larger-than-life image continues to reverberate decades after his death. #IowaHistoryDaily #IowaOTD #IowaHistoryCalendar


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