"My main duty was to ride, fight, keep my hat on, and at the end of the shooting still have enough strength left to kiss the girl and ride off on my horse, or kiss my horse and ride off on the girl, whichever they wanted." John Wayne
Director John Ford advised him during 'Stagecoach' (1939), "Duke, you're going to get a lot of scenes during your life. They're going to seem corny to you. Play 'em. Play 'em to the hilt. If it's East Lynne, play it. You'll get by with it. But if you start trying to play it with your tongue in your cheek and getting cute, you'll lose sight of yourself … and the scene will be lost."
That'll be the day.
John Wayne was the symbol of American courage and virtue. He was shy with women, but competitive and tough with men, tough when he had to be. With his fighting spirit, standing tall and strong to defend right against wrong, the awe-inspiring John Wayne defined the quintessential patriotic American, the greatest of all true cowboy heroes. And it wasn't just an idealized role he played in movies, but rather a part he lived because this was who and what John Wayne was. The traditional western star, the man, the myth, bigger-than-life Ethan Edwards, Sean Thornton, Rooster Cogburn, The Ringo Kid, Hondo, they were all still and forever the same, really. They were men of integrity, invincible, and they always tried to do the correct thing.
Marion Robert Morrison was born of Scottish and Irish heritage, on May 26, 1907, in the little town of Winterset, Iowa. His middle name was changed to Michael when a younger brother, Robert Emmett Morrison, joined the family. Their parents were Mary A. Brown and Clyde L. Morrison, practicing Protestants. He ran a pharmacy in Winterset until a doctor prescribed the dry, desert air of far away Southern California to deal with chronic asthma and heart trouble. So it was that in 1913 the family moved to the West. They eked out a living for a couple of years on a small ranch in the Lancaster area, near the Mojave Desert, before relocating to Glendale, closer to Hollywood. California's frontier days were then past, but life was still hard for most folks. The Morrisons found it so.
As a boy, Marion Morrison was self-conscious about his 'sissy' name. He had few friends, and instead was most always seen in the company of a large Airedale dog named Duke, thus earning the moniker of 'Little Duke' for the youngster. It was given him by the friendly neighborhood fire department staff; they were nice enough to watch the dog while his master was busy in school. And doing well.
Clyde Morrison taught his young sons three lessons to live by. First, keep your word. Second, be a gentleman; do not intentionally insult anyone. Third, never look for trouble, but if you have to defend yourself, make it a fight you win. The boy learned about bravery and camaraderie too, keeping company as he did with the real-life heroes of his fire department.
With the family barely solvent, Little Duke helped out earning money by distributing handbills around town to promote the local movie theater. This enabled him to see all the new picture shows for free, where he continued his education. The youngster's favorites were westerns that starred early (silent) cowboy heroes -- Tom Mix, Hoot Gibson, and particularly Harry Carey, whose understated ways Morrison would copy. Some of these stars were appearing in westerns directed by John Ford.