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John Wayne Left His Real Name Behind – But It’s on His Death Certificate

Before John Wayne was one of America’s most beloved and iconic actors, he was an attractive, physically fit, ex-football player who was somewhat ashamed of his dreams of one day achieving stardom. But even though his friends and family pushed him in a different direction, he never gave up on his dreams and eventually became one of the most well-known stars of his time.

Wayne was born Marion Robert Morrison in Winterset, Iowa, on the 26th of May, 1907, weighing a whopping 13 pounds, to parents Clyde Leondard Morrison – a son of Civil War veteran named Marion Mitchell Morrison – and Mary ‘Molly’ Alberta Brown.

John would later claim that his middle name was changed to Michael after his parents decided to name their next son Robert, but there is no legal record to back up that claim. Wayne’s legal name remained Marion Robert Morrison throughout his life, and that was the name that ultimately was listed on his death certificate.

That being said, obviously the name that his fans would come to know and love was his professional one. On top of that, much of the world would eventually become quite accustomed to referring to him by his nickname ‘The Duke’ Join Facts Verse as we discover how John Wayne came to adopt his iconic stage name, how he earned his nickname, and why he chose to leave behind the name that his parents had given him at birth.

How Marion Morrison Became “The Duke”

In 1916, Waynes’ family moved to Palmdale, California. There, his father worked as a pharmacist while he attended Glendale Union High School. While enrolled in High School, John performed quite well both in sports and in academics. He was a member of his school’s debating team, Latin club, and football team.

As the story goes, a local fireman at the station along Wayne’s route to school started referring to him as ‘Little Duke’, because he never left home without his Airedale Terrier named Duke.

Wayne quickly took a liking to the name Duke and preferred it over Marion – so, it didn’t take long for the name to stick.

After graduating, John applied to the U.S. Naval Academy but didn’t get in because of his grades. Instead, he enrolled over at the University of Southern California, where he majored in pre-law. While in college, Wayne also played for the USC football team under legendary coach Howard Jones. Unfortunately, after sustaining a broken collarbone while bodysurfing, Wayne’s athletic career was quickly squashed.

He ended up losing his scholarship and had to leave the university.

From College Drop Out To Movie Star

Coach Jones once gave tickets to a USC game to silent Western film star Tom Mix. To return the favor, Mix convinced the director of that film, John Ford, to hire Wayne as a prop boy and extra.

Wayne would later say that he owed his signature walk, talk, and persona to Tom Mix’s good friend Wyatt Earp, a lawman and gambler who was well-known throughout the American West, especially in towns like Dodge City, Deadwood, and Tombstone.

Eventually, Wayne started picking up bit parts while establishing a longtime friendship and working relationship with Ford. During this early period of his acting career, John had minor uncredited roles in films like 1926s Bardelys the Magnificent.

He also appeared alongside his USC teammates playing football in films such as 1927s The Dropkick, and 1929s Salute – among others.

In 1930, Wayne was working for Fox Film Corporation in bit roles. Director Raoel Walsh, at one point, approached Fox head Winfield Sheehan regarding a western about the pioneer’s historic trek westward.

The film was going to be based on a Saturday Evening Post serial written by Hal G. Evarts titled The Shaggy Legion, which ran from November 30, 1929 to January 4, 1930.

The serial’s title was a reference to the legendary last great herd of buffalo. In Raoel’s imagination, however, it was a perfect allegory for the historic American western expansion.

Fox ended up signing Evarts to a screenwriting contract in February of 1930, offering to pay him $1,000 a week for his work.

The writing was the easy part – it was the casting that was going to be a bit trickier. Evarts wanted the male lead to be, as he put it, ‘a true replica of the pioneer type’. He envisioned the character as being somewhat reserved around women, since he had little experience being around them, but a fearless leader among the men of the plains.

Walsh was nervous about hiring an experienced actor. He was afraid that if he went that route, the actor’s sophistication would seep through and be evident to the audience. Likewise, he was concerned that an inexperienced actor would be unable to carry the role in such a big picture.

Then one day, Walsh came upon young Wayne, who was going by Duke Morrison at the time, lugging some furniture across a soundstage during the production of John Ford’s Born Reckless. Wayne was in his early 20s, and when Walsh saw him, he was laughing with a warm expression on his face. Walsh found him to be so wholesome looking and magnetic that he couldn’t help but stop and observe him.

He further noticed that Wayne had a nice physique and was strong and graceful. Honestly, it sounds like he developed a bit of a crush on the guy – at least on a professional filmmaking level.

Walsh walked over to Wayne and asked his name.

John looked at Walsh and immediately recognized him as the director of ‘What Price Glory’. He then introduced himself as Morrison and explained that he always wanted to be in pictures, but this was as close as he had gotten to achieving that goal.

Walsh asked him what else he could do besides handling props – to which Wayne replied by saying that he could also play football.

Walsh then told John that he wanted to see just how much he wanted to be an actor, instructing him to let his hair grow and come see him in two weeks.

After showing up to the screen test two weeks later, Walsh cast Wayne in his first starring role in 1930s The Big Trail.

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Walsh Changed His Name

While Duke Morrison had a bit of ring to it, Walsh felt that the young star needed a better screen name. He first suggested the name Anthony Wayne after Revolutionary War General “Mad’ Anthony Wayne.

Winfield Sheehan rejected that name, however, as he thought that it sounded ‘too Italian’.

Walsh then suggested the name John Wayne. After Sheehan gave it his seal of approval, the name was set in stone.

Throughout all of these discussions, Wayne wasn’t even present for the discussion, but back then, stars rarely ever got to have any input on their screen names.

The Big Trail was supposed to be the first big-budget outdoor spectacle of the sound era of film. It cost over $2 million dollars – equivalent to about $33 million today – which was unprecedented at the time.

The film was filmed in two versions, a standard 35 mm version as well as in a new format called 70 mm Grandeur film, which used an innovative camera and lens system.

Reportedly those that saw the film in Grendeur applauded and cheered after the credits rolled, but unfortunately, very few theaters were equipped to show the film in it’s unique widescreen format. As such, the film ended up becoming a huge box-office flop.

While that could have spelled the end of Wayne’s budding acting career, he pressed on and kept his dream of becoming a star alive. For several years, he was relegated to minor roles in major films but he also headlined dozens of low-budget Poverty Row Westerns.

In 1939, Wayne appeared in John Ford’s Stagecoach. The role proved to be Wayne’s big breakthrough and made him a mainstream star.

He went on to star in a total of 142 films. Some of his most significant roles were in films like 1948s Chisholm Trail in Red River, 1962s The Man Who Shot Liberty Valance, 1952s The Quiet Man, 1969s True Girt, and 1976s The Shootist – the latter of which was his final screen role.

John Wayne’s Cancer Diagnose And Death

Throughout the years, John Wayne was plagued with numerous health problems. Much of this, however, was likely because he was a lifelong heavy smoker.

In September 1964, he had to have a cancerous left lung removed. In 1978, he underwent heart valve replacement surgery.

Although he enrolled in an experimental cancer vaccine study in an attempt to fight the disease, Wayne died of stomach cancer on 11th of June, 1979, at the UCLA Medical Center.

He was laid to rest at the Pacific View Memorial Park Cemetery in Corona Del Mar, California.

According to John’s son Patrick and his grandson Matthew who was a Catholic priest at the California Diocese of Orange, Wayne converted to Roman Catholicism on his death bed.

It’s also reported that he requested that his tombstone read ‘Feo, Fuerte, y Formal, a Spanish saying that he interpreted as meaning ‘ugly, strong, and dignified’.

For 20 years, John’s grave remained unmarked, but in 1999 it was finally marked with the addition of one of his favorite quotes about the beauty of life and the lessons it teaches us.

We’re just about out of time for this video, but we’d love to hear from you.

Did you know that John Wayne’s real name was Marion and that he earned his nickname, ‘The Duke’, from a local Glendale, California, firefighter who always saw him walking around town with his dog Duke?

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