Beloved movie icon John Wayne (1907-1979), was born Marion Robert Morrison on this day in the small Iowa town of Winterset.
About his childhood, he said, "I was called Duke after a dog--a very good Airedale out of the Baldwin Kennels."
After starring in a string of B-movies, Wayne got his big break in 1939's Stagecoach riding shotgun as the outlaw Ringo Kid, the first Western talkie of director John Ford.
Wayne made $6,000 for the role, but co-star Claire Trevor said under Ford's formidable direction, "the Duke learned eight volumes about acting." Stagecoach was the first of 13 starring roles Wayne would have with Ford.
Entertainment Weekly considered The Searchers (1956), another Ford-Wayne collaboration, the best western ever made and Wayne's illuminating portrayal of Ethan Edwards, a man on a five-year quest to find his niece (Natalie Wood), his finest performance. Other critics call Ford's The Man Who Shot Liberty Valance (1962) Wayne's greatest film.
A patriot and proud conservative who was active in Republican politics, Wayne once proclaimed, "Sure I wave the American flag. Do you know a better flag to wave? Sure I love my country with all her faults. I'm not ashamed of that, never have been and never will be."
He stayed in the box office Top 10 for 25 years. About his critics, he said, "Nobody seems to like my acting but the people."
Always bigger than life, his symbolic heroism continues. One reminder is the nine-foot-tall bronze statue at the Orange County Airport that bears his name. Another is The John Wayne Cancer Institute which is dedicated to provide leading-edge research, treatment, and education in his name.
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