On may May 26, 1907, at 224 South Second Street in Winterset, Iowa, a 13th-pound baby was born, named Marion Robert Morrison. That 13-pound baby would grow into one of the hunkiest heartthrobs in Hollywood, and the icon of the western movie.
That’s right, John Wayne or the Duke’s real name was Marion, and as you might imagine, he was not so thrilled about it.
It’s a rather amusing phenomenon when some “big fella” has a cutesy name like “Daisy,” but when an iconic figure who had singlehandedly epitomized the macho-tough cowboy of the 20th Century holds a birth name equivalent t0 a French girl, well, that’s too much.
Nevertheless, Wayne (or should we say Marion) was saved from being bullied eternally by a local firefighter in California. 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. Wayne preferred “Duke” to “Marion”, and the nickname stuck.
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). In 1930, 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, but sure he was relieved.
Wayne rose beyond the typical recognition for a famous actor to that of an enduring icon, one 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.