Born in Winterset, Iowa, Wayne grew up in Southern California. He was president of Glendale High class of 1925. He found work at local film studios when he lost his football scholarship to the University of Southern California as a result of a bodysurfing accident. Initially working for the Fox Film Corporation, he appeared mostly in small bit parts. His first leading role came in Raoul Walsh's The Big Trail (1930), which led to leading roles in numerous B movies throughout the 1930s, many of them in the Western genre.
Wayne's other well-known Western roles include a cattleman driving his herd north on the Chisholm Trail in Red River (1948), a Civil War veteran whose young niece is abducted by a tribe of Comanches in The Searchers (1956), and a troubled rancher competing with a lawyer for a woman's hand in marriage in The Man Who Shot Liberty Valance (1962). He is also remembered for his roles in The Quiet Man (1952), Rio Bravo (1959), and The Longest Day (1962). In his final screen performance, he starred as an aging gunfighter battling cancer in The Shootist (1976). He appeared with many important Hollywood stars of his era, and his last public appearance was at the Academy Awards ceremony on April 9, 1979.
Wayne was born Marion Robert Morrison on May 26, 1907 at 224 South Second Street in Winterset, Iowa. The local paper, Winterset Madisonian, reported on page 4 of the edition of May 30, 1907 that Wayne weighed 13 pounds at birth. His middle name was soon changed from Robert to Mitchell when his parents decided to name their next son Robert. Wayne's father, Clyde Leonard Morrison (1884–1937), was the son of American Civil War veteran Marion Mitchell Morrison (1845–1915). Wayne's mother, the former Mary "Molly" Alberta Brown (1885–1970), was from Lancaster County, Nebraska. Wayne's ancestry included Scottish, Irish, Scots-Irish, and English. He was raised Presbyterian.
Wayne's family moved to Palmdale, California, and then in 1916 to Glendale, California, where his father worked as a pharmacist. A local fireman at the station on his route to school in Glendale started calling him "Little Duke" because he never went anywhere without his huge Airedale Terrier, Duke. He preferred "Duke" to "Marion", and the nickname stuck. Wayne attended Wilson Middle School in Glendale. As a teen, he worked in an ice cream shop for a man who shod horses for Hollywood studios. He was also active as a member of the Order of DeMolay, a youth organization of the Freemasons. He played football for the 1924 league champion Glendale High School team.
Wayne applied to the U.S. Naval Academy, but he was not accepted. He instead attended the University of Southern California (USC), majoring in pre-law. He was a member of the Trojan Knights and Sigma Chi fraternities. Wayne also played on the USC football team under coach Howard Jones. A broken collarbone injury curtailed his athletic career; Wayne later noted that he was too terrified of Jones' reaction to reveal the actual cause of his injury, a bodysurfing accident. He lost his athletic scholarship, and without funds, had to leave the university.
As a favor to USC football coach Howard Jones, who had given silent western film star Tom Mix tickets to USC games, director John Ford and Mix hired Wayne as a prop boy and extra. Wayne later credited his walk, talk, and persona to his acquaintance with Wyatt Earp, who was good friends with Tom Mix. Wayne soon moved to bit parts, establishing a longtime friendship with the director who provided most of those roles, John Ford. Early in this period, he had a minor, uncredited role as a guard in the 1926 film Bardelys the Magnificent. Wayne also appeared with his USC teammates playing football in Brown of Harvard (1926), The Dropkick (1927), and Salute (1929) and Columbia's Maker of Men (filmed in 1930, released in 1931).
While working for Fox Film Corporation in bit roles, Wayne was given on-screen credit as "Duke Morrison" only once, in Words and Music (1929). Director Raoul Walsh saw him moving studio furniture while working as a prop boy and cast him in his first starring role in The Big Trail (1930). For his screen name, Walsh suggested "Anthony Wayne", after Revolutionary War general "Mad" Anthony Wayne. Fox Studios chief Winfield Sheehan rejected it as sounding "too Italian". Walsh then suggested "John Wayne". Sheehan agreed, and the name was set. Wayne was not even present for the discussion. His pay was raised to $105 a week.
The Big Trail was to be the first big-budget outdoor spectacle of the sound era, made at a then-staggering cost of over $2 million, using hundreds of extras and wide vistas of the American southwest, still largely unpopulated at the time. To take advantage of the breathtaking scenery, it was filmed in two versions, a standard 35-mm version and another in the new 70 mm Grandeur film process, using an innovative camera and lenses. Many in the audience who saw it in Grandeur stood and cheered. However, only a handful of theaters were equipped to show the film in its widescreen process, and the effort was largely wasted. Despite being highly regarded by modern critics, the film was considered a huge box office flop at the time.
After the commercial failure of The Big Trail, Wayne was relegated to small roles in A-pictures, including Columbia Pictures's The Deceiver (1931), in which he played a corpse. He appeared in the serial The Three Musketeers (1933), an updated version of the Alexandre Dumas novel in which the protagonists were soldiers in the French Foreign Legion in then-contemporary North Africa. He played the lead, with his name over the title, in many low-budget Poverty Row Westerns, mostly at Monogram Pictures and serials for Mascot Pictures Corporation. By Wayne's own estimation, he appeared in about 80 of these horse operas from 1930 to 1939. In Riders of Destiny (1933), he became one of the first singing cowboys of film, albeit via dubbing. Wayne also appeared in some of the Three Mesquiteers Westerns, whose title was a play on the Dumas classic. He was mentored by stuntmen in riding and other Western skills. Stuntman Yakima Canutt and Wayne developed and perfected stunts and onscreen fisticuffs techniques which are still in use.
Wayne's breakthrough role came with John Ford's Stagecoach (1939). Because of Wayne's B-movie status and track record in low-budget Westerns throughout the 1930s, Ford had difficulty getting financing for what was to be an A-budget film. After rejection by all the main studios, Ford struck a deal with independent producer Walter Wanger in which Claire Trevor—a much bigger star at the time—received top billing. Stagecoach was a huge critical and financial success, and Wayne became a mainstream star. Cast member Louise Platt credited Ford as saying at the time that Wayne would become the biggest star ever because of his appeal as the archetypal "everyman".
America's entry into World War II resulted in a deluge of support for the war effort from all sectors of society, and Hollywood was no exception. Wayne was exempted from service due to his age, although actor Henry Fonda born two years earlier volunteered and served three years, (34 at the time of Pearl Harbor) and family status, classified as 3-A (family deferment). He repeatedly wrote to John Ford saying he wanted to enlist, on one occasion inquiring whether he could get into Ford's military unit, but consistently kept postponing it until after "he finished just one or two pictures". Wayne did not attempt to prevent his reclassification as 1-A (draft eligible), but Republic Studios was emphatically resistant to losing him. Herbert J. Yates, President of Republic, threatened Wayne with a lawsuit if he walked away from his contract, and Republic Pictures intervened in the Selective Service process, requesting Wayne's further deferment.
Wayne toured U.S. bases and hospitals in the South Pacific for three months in 1943 and 1944. with the USO. By many accounts, his failure to serve in the military was the most painful part of his life. His widow later suggested that his patriotism in later decades sprang from guilt, writing: "He would become a 'superpatriot' for the rest of his life trying to atone for staying home."
U.S. National Archives records indicate that Wayne had, in fact, made an application to serve in the Office of Strategic Services (OSS), that day's equivalent of the CIA, and had been accepted within the U.S. Army's allotted billet to the OSS. William J. Donovan, OSS Commander, wrote Wayne a letter informing him of his acceptance into the Field Photographic Unit, but the letter went to his estranged wife Josephine's home. She never told him about it. Donovan also issued an OSS Certificate of Service to Wayne.
Wayne's first color film was Shepherd of the Hills (1941), in which he co-starred with his longtime friend Harry Carey. The following year, he appeared in his only film directed by Cecil B. DeMille, the Technicolor epic Reap the Wild Wind (1942), in which he co-starred with Ray Milland and Paulette Goddard; it was one of the rare times he played a character with questionable values.
In 1949, director Robert Rossen offered the starring role of All the King's Men to Wayne. Wayne refused, believing the script to be un-American in many ways. Broderick Crawford, who eventually got the role, won the 1949 Oscar for best male actor, ironically beating out Wayne, who had been nominated for Sands of Iwo Jima.
He lost the leading role in The Gunfighter (1950) to Gregory Peck due to his refusal to work for Columbia Pictures because its chief, Harry Cohn, had mistreated him years before when he was a young contract player. Cohn had bought the project for Wayne, but Wayne's grudge was too deep, and Cohn sold the script to Twentieth Century Fox, which cast Peck in the role Wayne badly wanted but for which he refused to bend.
One of Wayne's most popular roles was in The High and the Mighty (1954), directed by William Wellman, and based on a novel by Ernest K. Gann. His portrayal of a heroic copilot won widespread acclaim. Wayne also portrayed aviators in Flying Tigers (1942), Flying Leathernecks (1951), Island in the Sky (1953), The Wings of Eagles (1957), and Jet Pilot (1957).
He appeared in nearly two dozen of John Ford's films over twenty years, including She Wore a Yellow Ribbon (1949), The Quiet Man (1952), The Wings of Eagles (1957), and The Man Who Shot Liberty Valance (1962) with James Stewart: the first movie in which he called someone "Pilgrim". Ford's The Searchers (1956), is often considered to contain Wayne's finest and most complex performance. He named his youngest son Ethan after the character.
John Wayne won a Best Actor Oscar for True Grit (1969). This came 20 years after his only other nomination. Wayne was also nominated as the producer of Best Picture for The Alamo (1960), one of two films he directed. The other was The Green Berets (1968), the only major film made during the Vietnam War to support the war. During the filming of The Green Berets, the Degar or Montagnard people of Vietnam's Central Highlands, fierce fighters against communism, bestowed on Wayne a brass bracelet that he wore in the film and all subsequent films.
Wayne took on the role of the eponymous detective in the crime drama McQ (1974). His last film was The Shootist (1976), whose main character, J. B. Books, was dying of cancer—the illness to which Wayne himself succumbed three years later.
Batjac, the production company cofounded by Wayne, was named after the fictional shipping company Batjak in Wake of the Red Witch (1948), a film based on the novel by Garland Roark. (A spelling error by Wayne's secretary was allowed to stand, accounting for the variation.) Batjac (and its predecessor, Wayne-Fellows Productions) was the arm through which Wayne produced many films for himself and other stars. Its best-known non-Wayne production was Seven Men From Now (1956), which started the classic collaboration between director Budd Boetticher and star Randolph Scott.
In the Motion Picture Herald Top Ten Money-Making Western Stars poll, Wayne was listed in 1936 and 1939. He appeared in the similar Box Office poll in 1939 and 1940. While these two polls are really an indication only of the popularity of series stars, Wayne also appeared in the Top Ten Money Makers Poll of all films from 1949 to 1957 and 1958 to 1974, taking first place in 1950, 1951, 1954, and 1971. With a total of 25 years on the list, Wayne has more appearances than any other star, surpassing Clint Eastwood (21) who is in second place.
In later years, Wayne was recognized as a sort of American natural resource, and his various critics, of his performances and his politics, viewed him with more respect. Abbie Hoffman, the radical of the 1960s, paid tribute to Wayne's singularity, saying, "I like Wayne's wholeness, his style. As for his politics, well—I suppose even cavemen felt a little admiration for the dinosaurs that were trying to gobble them up." Reviewing The Cowboys (1972), Vincent Canby of The New York Times, who did not particularly care for the film, wrote: "Wayne is, of course, marvelously indestructible, and he has become an almost perfect father figure".
Like most Hollywood stars, Wayne appeared as a guest on various radio programs, such as The Hedda Hopper Show and The Louella Parsons Show. He made a number of appearances in dramatic roles, mainly recreations for radio of his own films, on programs like Screen Directors Playhouse and Lux Radio Theatre. For six months in 1942, Wayne starred in his own radio adventure series, Three Sheets to the Wind, produced by film director Tay Garnett. In the series, an international spy/detective show, Wayne played Dan O'Brien, a detective who used alcoholism as a mask for his investigatory endeavors. The show was intended by Garnett to be a pilot of sorts for a film version, though the motion picture never came to fruition. No episodes of the series featuring Wayne seem to exist, though a demonstration episode with Brian Donlevy in the leading role does exist. Wayne, not Donlevy, played the role throughout the series run on NBC.
Wayne was married three times and divorced twice. He was fluent in Spanish and his three wives, one of Spanish American descent and two of Hispanic descent, were Josephine Alicia Saenz, Esperanza Baur, and Pilar Pallete. He had four children with Josephine: Michael Wayne (November 23, 1934 – April 2, 2003), Mary Antonia "Toni" Wayne LaCava (February 25, 1936 – December 6, 2000), Patrick Wayne (born July 15, 1939), and Melinda Wayne Munoz (born December 3, 1940). He had three more children with Pilar: Aissa Wayne (born March 31, 1956), John Ethan Wayne (born February 22, 1962), and Marisa Wayne (born February 22, 1966).
Several of Wayne's children entered the film and television industry; Wayne's son Ethan was billed as John Ethan Wayne in a few films, and played one of the leads in the 1990s update of the Adam-12 television series.
His stormiest divorce was from Esperanza Baur, a former Mexican actress. She believed that Wayne and co-star Gail Russell were having an affair, a claim which both Wayne and Russell denied. The night the film Angel and the Badman (1947) wrapped, there was the usual party for cast and crew, and Wayne came home very late. Esperanza was in a drunken rage by the time he arrived, and she attempted to shoot him as he walked through the front door.
Wayne had several high-profile affairs, including one with Marlene Dietrich that lasted for three years and one with Merle Oberon that lasted from 1938 to 1947. After his separation from his wife, Pilar, in 1973, Wayne became romantically involved and lived with his former secretary Pat Stacy (1941–1995) until his death in 1979. She published a biography of her life with him in 1983, titled Duke: A Love Story.
Wayne's hair began to thin in the 1940s, and he had begun to wear a hairpiece by the end of the decade. He was occasionally seen in public without the hairpiece (such as, according to Life magazine, at Gary Cooper's funeral). During a widely noted appearance at Harvard University, Wayne was asked by a student "Is it true that your toupée is real mohair?" He responded: "Well sir, that's real hair. Not mine, but real hair."
A close friend of Wayne's, California Congressman Alphonzo E. Bell, Jr., wrote of him, "Duke's personality and sense of humor were very close to what the general public saw on the big screen. It is perhaps best shown in these words he had engraved on a plaque: 'Each of us is a mixture of some good and some not so good qualities. In considering one's fellow man it's important to remember the good things ... We should refrain from making judgments just because a fella happens to be a dirty, rotten SOB.'"
Wayne biographer Michael Munn chronicled Wayne's drinking habits. According to Sam O'Steen's memoir, Cut to the Chase, studio directors knew to shoot Wayne's scenes before noon, because by afternoon he "was a mean drunk". He had been a chain smoker of cigarettes since young adulthood and was diagnosed with lung cancer in 1964. He underwent successful surgery to remove his entire left lung and four ribs. Despite efforts by his business associates to prevent him from going public with his illness for fear that it would cost him work, Wayne announced he had cancer and called on the public to get preventive examinations. Five years later, Wayne was declared cancer-free. Wayne has been credited with coining the term "The Big C" as a euphemism for cancer.
Wayne's height has been perennially described as at least 6 ft 4 in (193 cm). He was a Freemason, a Master Mason in Marion McDaniel Lodge No. 56 F&AM, in Tucson, Arizona. He became a 32nd Degree Scottish Rite Mason and later joined the Al Malaikah Shrine Temple in Los Angeles. He became a member of the York Rite. During the early 1960s, John Wayne traveled extensively to Panama, during which he purchased the island of Taborcillo off the main coast. It was sold by his estate at his death.
Wayne's yacht, the Wild Goose, was one of his favorite possessions. He kept it docked in Newport Harbor and it was listed on the U.S. National Register of Historic Places in 2011.
Wayne was fond of literature, his favorite authors being Charles Dickens, Arthur Conan Doyle and Agatha Christie. His favorite books were David Copperfield, and Conan Doyle's historical novels The White Company and Sir Nigel.
Throughout most of his life, Wayne was a vocally prominent conservative Republican in Hollywood, supporting anti-communist positions. Initially a self-described socialist during his college years, he voted for Democratic President Franklin D. Roosevelt in the 1936 presidential election and expressed admiration for Roosevelt's successor, fellow Democratic President Harry S. Truman. He took part in creating the Motion Picture Alliance for the Preservation of American Ideals in February 1944, and was elected president of that organization in 1949. An ardent anti-communist and vocal supporter of the House Un-American Activities Committee, he made Big Jim McLain (1952) with himself as a HUAC investigator to demonstrate his support for the cause of anti-communism. Declassified Soviet documents reveal that, despite being a fan of Wayne's movies, Soviet leader Joseph Stalin contemplated assassination of Wayne for his frequently espoused anti-communist politics.
Wayne supported Vice President Richard Nixon in the presidential election of 1960, but expressed his vision of patriotism when John F. Kennedy won the election: "I didn't vote for him but he's my president, and I hope he does a good job." He used his star power to support conservative causes, including rallying support for the Vietnam War by producing, codirecting, and starring in the financially successful, critically panned The Green Berets (1968).
Due to his status as the highest profile Republican star in Hollywood, wealthy Texas Republican Party backers asked Wayne to run for national office in 1968, as had his friend and fellow actor Senator George Murphy. He declined, joking that he did not believe the public would seriously consider an actor in the White House. Instead, he supported his friend Ronald Reagan's runs for Governor of California in 1966 and 1970. He was asked to be the running mate for Democratic Alabama Governor George Wallace in 1968, but he rejected the offer and actively campaigned for Richard Nixon; Wayne addressed the Republican National Convention on its opening day in August 1968. For a while, he was also a member of the anti-communist John Birch Society.
Wayne openly differed with the Republican Party over the issue of the Panama Canal, as he supported the Panama Canal Treaty in the mid-1970s; conservatives had wanted the U.S. to retain full control of the canal, but Wayne believed that the Panamanians had the right to the canal and sided with President Jimmy Carter and the Democrats. Wayne was a close friend of the late Panamanian leader Omar Torrijos Herrera, and Wayne's first wife, Josephine, was a native of Panama. His support of the treaty brought him hate mail for the first time in his life.
In May 1971, Playboy magazine published an interview with Wayne which resulted in a firestorm of controversy. Wayne expressed his support for the Vietnam War, and made headlines for his resolute opinions about social issues and race relations in the United States:
I believe in white supremacy, until the blacks are educated to a point of responsibility. I don't believe giving authority and positions of leadership and judgment to irresponsible people ... I don't feel we did wrong in taking this great country away from [the Native Americans] ... Our so-called stealing of this country from them was just a matter of survival. There were great numbers of people who needed new land, and the Indians were selfishly trying to keep it for themselves.
In the same Playboy interview, Wayne also responded to questions about whether social programs were good for the country:
I know all about that. In the late Twenties, when I was a sophomore at USC, I was a socialist myself—but not when I left. The average college kid idealistically wishes everybody could have ice cream and cake for every meal. But as he gets older and gives more thought to his and his fellow man's responsibilities, he finds that it can't work out that way—that some people just won't carry their load ... I believe in welfare—a welfare work program. I don't think a fella should be able to sit on his backside and receive welfare. I'd like to know why well-educated idiots keep apologizing for lazy and complaining people who think the world owes them a living. I'd like to know why they make excuses for cowards who spit in the faces of the police and then run behind the judicial sob sisters. I can't understand these people who carry placards to save the life of some criminal, yet have no thought for the innocent victim.
Although he enrolled in a cancer vaccine study in an attempt to ward off the disease, Wayne died of stomach cancer at the age of 72 on June 11, 1979, at the UCLA Medical Center, and was buried in the Pacific View Memorial Park cemetery in Corona del Mar, Newport Beach. According to his son Patrick and his grandson Matthew Muñoz, a priest in the California Diocese of Orange, he converted to Roman Catholicism shortly before his death. He requested that his tombstone read "Feo, Fuerte y Formal", a Spanish epitaph Wayne described as meaning "ugly, strong, and dignified". The grave, which went unmarked for 20 years, is now marked with a quotation from his controversial 1971 Playboy interview: "Tomorrow is the most important thing in life. Comes into us at midnight very clean. It's perfect when it arrives and it puts itself in our hands. It hopes we've learned something from yesterday."
Among the cast and crew who filmed The Conqueror (1956) on location near St. George, Utah, 91 developed some form of cancer at various times, including stars Wayne, Susan Hayward, Agnes Moorehead, Pedro Armendáriz, and director Dick Powell. The film was shot in southwestern Utah, east of and generally downwind from the site of recent U.S. Government nuclear weapons tests in southeastern Nevada. Many contend that radioactive fallout from these tests contaminated the film location and poisoned the film crew working there. Despite the suggestion that Wayne's 1964 lung cancer and his 1979 stomach cancer resulted from nuclear contamination, he believed his lung cancer to have been a result of his six-packs-a-day cigarette habit.
Wayne's enduring status as an iconic American was formally recognized by the U.S. government in the form of the two highest civilian decorations. On May 26, 1979, he was awarded the Congressional Gold Medal. Hollywood figures and American leaders from across the political spectrum, including Maureen O'Hara, Elizabeth Taylor, Frank Sinatra, Mike Frankovich, Katharine Hepburn, General and Mrs. Omar Bradley, Gregory Peck, Robert Stack, James Arness, and Kirk Douglas, testified to Congress in support of the award. Robert Aldrich, president of the Directors Guild of America, made a particularly notable statement:
It is important for you to know that I am a registered Democrat and, to my knowledge, share none of the political views espoused by Duke. However, whether he is ill disposed or healthy, John Wayne is far beyond the normal political sharpshooting in this community. Because of his courage, his dignity, his integrity, and because of his talents as an actor, his strength as a leader, his warmth as a human being throughout his illustrious career, he is entitled to a unique spot in our hearts and minds. In this industry, we often judge people, sometimes unfairly, by asking whether they have paid their dues. John Wayne has paid his dues over and over, and I'm proud to consider him a friend and am very much in favor of my government recognizing in some important fashion the contribution that Mr. Wayne has made.
Wayne was posthumously awarded the Presidential Medal of Freedom on June 9, 1980, by President Jimmy Carter. He had attended Carter's inaugural ball "as a member of the loyal opposition", as he described it. In 1998, he was awarded the Naval Heritage Award by the US Navy Memorial Foundation for his support of the Navy and military during his film career. In 1999, the American Film Institute (AFI) named Wayne 13th among the Greatest Male Screen Legends of Classic Hollywood cinema.
Various public locations are named in honor of Wayne, including the John Wayne Airport in Orange County, California, where a nine-foot bronze statue of him stands at the entrance; the John Wayne Marina for which Wayne bequeathed the land, near Sequim, Washington; John Wayne Elementary School (P.S. 380) in Brooklyn, New York, which boasts a 38-foot mosaic mural commission by New York artist Knox Martin entitled "John Wayne and the American Frontier"; and a 100-plus-mile trail named the "John Wayne Pioneer Trail" in Washington's Iron Horse State Park. A larger than life-size bronze statue of Wayne atop a horse was erected at the corner of La Cienega Boulevard and Wilshire Boulevard in Beverly Hills, California, at the former offices of the Great Western Savings and Loan Corporation, for which Wayne had made a number of commercials. In the city of Maricopa, Arizona, part of Arizona State Route 347 is named John Wayne Parkway, which runs through the center of town.
In 2006, friends of Wayne and his former Arizona business partner, Louis Johnson, inaugurated the "Louie and the Duke Classics" events benefiting the John Wayne Cancer Foundation and the American Cancer Society. The weekend-long event each fall in Casa Grande, Arizona, includes a golf tournament, an auction of John Wayne memorabilia, and a team roping competition.
Several celebrations took place on May 26, 2007, the centennial of Wayne's birth. A celebration at the John Wayne birthplace in Winterset, Iowa, included chuck-wagon suppers, concerts by Michael Martin Murphey and Riders in the Sky, a Wild West Revue in the style of Buffalo Bill's Wild West show, and a Cowboy Symposium with Wayne's costars, producers, and costumers. Wayne's films ran repetitively at the local theater. Ground was broken for the New John Wayne Birthplace Museum and Learning Center at a ceremony consisting of over 30 of Wayne's family members, including Melinda Wayne Muñoz, Aissa, Ethan, and Marisa Wayne. Later that year, California Governor Arnold Schwarzenegger and First Lady Maria Shriver inducted Wayne into the California Hall of Fame, located at The California Museum for History, Women and the Arts.
In 2016 Republican assemblyman Matthew Harper proposed marking May 26 as "John Wayne Day" in California. This resolution was struck down by a vote of 35 to 20, due to Wayne's views on race and his support of controversial organizations such as the John Birch Society and the House Un-American Activities Committee.
Wayne rose beyond the typical recognition for a famous actor to that of an enduring icon who symbolized and communicated American values and ideals. By the middle of his career, Wayne had developed a larger-than-life image, and as his career progressed, he selected roles that would not compromise his off-screen image. At a party in 1957, Wayne confronted actor Kirk Douglas about the latter's decision to play the role of Vincent van Gogh in the film Lust for Life, saying: "Christ, Kirk, how can you play a part like that? There's so goddamn few of us left. We got to play strong, tough characters. Not these weak queers."
Wayne's rise to being the quintessential movie war hero began to take shape four years after World War II, when Sands of Iwo Jima (1949) was released. His footprints at Grauman's Chinese theater in Hollywood were laid in concrete that contained sand from Iwo Jima. His status grew so large and legendary that when Japanese Emperor Hirohito visited the United States in 1975, he asked to meet John Wayne, the symbolic representation of his country's former enemy. Likewise when Soviet leader Nikita Khrushchev visited the United States in 1959, he made two requests: to visit Disneyland and meet Wayne.
Wayne is the only actor to appear in every edition of the annual Harris Poll of Most Popular Film Actors, and the only actor to appear on the list after his death. Wayne has been in the top ten in this poll for 19 consecutive years, starting in 1994, 15 years after his death.
The John Wayne Cancer Foundation was founded in 1985 in honor of John Wayne, after his family granted the use of his name for the continued fight against cancer. The foundation's mission is to "bring courage, strength, and grit to the fight against cancer". The foundation provides funds for innovative programs that improve cancer patient care, including research, education, awareness, and support.
Newport Beach, California-based John Wayne Enterprises sells products such as Kentucky straight bourbon using Wayne's picture. When the company tried to trademark the image appearing on one of the bottles, Duke University in Durham, North Carolina, filed a notice of opposition. According to court documents, Duke has tried three times since 2005 to stop the company from trademarking the name. The company wants a federal judge in Orange County, California, to declare that both brands can be allowed. The company's complaint filed in federal court says the university "does not own the word 'Duke' in all contexts for all purposes." The university's official position is not to object if Wayne's image is used, but if the company wants to use the Duke name without Wayne, the university says, "we are also committed to protecting the integrity of Duke University's trademarks." Richard Howell, an attorney for John Wayne Enterprises, said the company supports a co-use agreement, though he believed the name "Duke" would be more likely associated with Wayne than with the university.
On September 30, 2014, federal judge David Carter dismissed the suit against Duke University, saying the jurisdiction was incorrect.
Between 1926 and 1976, Wayne appeared in over 170 motion pictures, and became one of America's biggest box office stars. Only Clark Gable sold more tickets than Wayne, although the ticket prices were not commensurate since, although both actors started their careers at the same time, Gable's career height preceded Wayne's by approximately fifteen years.In 1947, Wayne was offered the role of Jimmy Ringo in The Gunfighter, a script that Columbia Pictures had purchased specifically for him. Wayne turned it down, despite having expressed a strong desire to play the part, because of his longstanding feud with Columbia's president, Harry Cohn. Columbia sold the rights to Twentieth Century Fox, and the role went to Gregory Peck. Wayne's final film, The Shootist (1976), is often compared to The Gunfighter and contains numerous plot similarities.
Wayne rebuffed the lead role in the 1952 film High Noon because he felt the film's story was an allegory against blacklisting, which he actively supported. In a 1971 interview, Wayne said he considered High Noon "the most un-American thing I've ever seen in my whole life", and that he would "never regret having helped run screenwriter Carl Foreman, [who was later blacklisted] out of the country".
An urban legend has it that in 1955, Wayne turned down the role of Matt Dillon in the long-running television series Gunsmoke and recommended James Arness instead. While he did suggest Arness for the part, and introduced him in a prologue to the first episode, no film star of Wayne's stature would have considered a television role at the time.
Terry Southern's biographer Lee Hill wrote that the role of Major T. J. "King" Kong in Dr. Strangelove (1964) was originally written with Wayne in mind, and that Stanley Kubrick offered him the part after Peter Sellers injured his ankle during filming; he immediately turned it down.
In 1966, Wayne accepted the role of Major Reisman in The Dirty Dozen (1967), and asked Metro-Goldwyn-Mayer for some script changes, but eventually withdrew from the project to make The Green Berets. He was replaced by Lee Marvin.
Though Wayne actively campaigned for the title role in Dirty Harry (1971), Warner Bros. decided that at 63 he was too old, and cast the 41-year-old Clint Eastwood.
Mel Brooks offered Wayne the role of the Waco Kid (eventually played by Gene Wilder) in Blazing Saddles (1974). After reading the script Wayne declined, fearing the dialogue was "too dirty" for his family image, but told Brooks that he would be "first in line" to see the movie.
Wayne turned down the role of the Colonel leading the Cavalry charge in Michael Todd's Around the World in 80 Days (1956).
As shown below, Wayne was nominated for three Academy Awards, winning once for Best Actor in a Leading Role in 1969.
The category's nominees for each year in which Wayne was nominated are shown, with that year's winner highlighted in yellow.
The Golden Globe Awards are presented annually by the Hollywood Foreign Press Association (HFPA) to recognize outstanding achievements in the entertainment industry, both domestic and foreign, and to focus wide public attention upon the best in motion pictures and television. In 1953, Wayne was awarded the Henrietta Award (a now retired award) for being World Film Favorite: Male.
The Cecil B. DeMille Award for lifetime achievement in motion pictures is an annual award given by the Hollywood Foreign Press Association at the Golden Globe Award ceremonies in Hollywood. It was named in honor of Cecil B. DeMille (1881–1959), one of the industry's most successful filmmakers; John Wayne won the award in 1966.
In 1970, Wayne won a Golden Globe Award for his performance in True Grit.
In 1973, The Harvard Lampoon, a satirical paper run by Harvard University students, invited Wayne to receive The Brass Balls Award, created in his "honor", after calling him "the biggest fraud in history". Harvard Square had become known for leftist intellectualism and protest throughout the 1960s and 1970s. Wayne accepted the invitation as a chance to promote the recently released film McQ, and a Fort Devens Army convoy offered to drive him into the square on an armored personnel carrier. The ceremony was held on January 15, 1974, at the Harvard Square Theater and the award was officially presented in honor of Wayne's "outstanding machismo and penchant for punching people". Although the convoy was met with protests by members of the American Indian Movement and others, some of whom threw snowballs, Wayne received a standing ovation from the audience when he walked onto the stage. An internal investigation was launched into the Army's involvement in the day.