Saturday, November 27, 2010

Iowa I Opener: John Wayne's birthplace

John Wayne's birthplace
John Wayne may be the epitome of the man of the American West, but he was born in Winterset, Iowa in 1907. He wasn't born John Wayne, but as Marion Robert Morrison.

Wayne's father was Clyde Leonard Morrison, he owned a pharmacy in Winterset. But a bout with tuberculosis forced him to move to Palmdale, California while Wayne was a toddler. Wayne, his mother Mary, and his brother Robert lived in Des Moines for a few years--they joined their father at his ranch in 1914. Morrison's attempt at homesteading in the desert failed, and the family moved to Glendale in 1916. It was there he earned the nickname "Duke." Wayne's dog had that name--the two were inseparable. He became "Big Duke," then simply "Duke."

Click on any image to make it larger. Oh, that's me in front of the house.

Wayne played football at the University of Southern California. He had a knack for making connections with the right people in the motion picture business, including director John Ford and westerns star Tom Mix, which eventually led to a movie career for Duke Morrison. Studio bosses dubbed him John Wayne in 1930. He became one of the world's best known actors.

The Winsterset home is an oddly shaped four room dwelling. The John Wayne Birthplace Society acquired the house a few years after the Duke's death. It opened to the public in 1984. Adjacent to the birthplace is a small gift shop and welcome center. As I did at the Field of Dreams farm, I purchased a baseball cap. Other Wayne souvenirs are available, as are some DVDs. Wayne's Hondo was playing while I waited for the next tour of the birthplace to begin.

The guided tour of the birthplace lasts about twenty minutes--it's a small house. The interior is decorated with Wayne movie posters and letters from well-wishers commemorating the opening of the birthplace, including missives from Ronald Reagan, Lucille Ball, and George Burns. A Mexican soldier's uniform, worn by an extra in the Wayne-directed The Alamo, and one of the eyepatches the Duke wore in True Grit are also on display.

It was there that I learned about the remake of True Grit, which will be released three days before Christmas. Jeff Bridges will play the role of one-eyed Marshall Rooster Cogburn.

Wayne's birthday is May 26, and every year their is a celebration in Winterset on the closest weekend to that date. This year was noteworthy, a seven and a foot high bronze statue of the Duke gazing westward, towards John Wayne Drive, was dedicated. Wayne's daughter Aissa attended the birthday party.

Offscreen, John Wayne was an ardent conservative and a fervent anti-communist. He addressed the 1968 Republican National Convention and was a strong supporter of the political career of his fellow actor, Ronald Reagan.

Winterset is in Madison County. Why does that sound familiar?

Next: One of the bridges of Madison County

Earlier posts:

Grinnell's Louis Sullivan Jewel Box
Amana Refrigeration
Amana cemeteries
Amana Millrace and the woolen mill
Amana Colonies overview
Anamosa State Penitentiary Cemetery
More about Stone City and Grant Wood
Stone City and Grant Wood
Where North Avenue ends
Field of Dreams
Guttenberg and its pool
A final look at Effigy Mounds National Monument
More Effigy Mounds
Effigy Mounds National Monument
Freedom Rock and Veterans Day
Pikes Peak
Buffalo Bill

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1 comment:

paul mitchell said...

I love, love, love Triple M. Everything about this guy was larger than life and he is sorely missed. That little house just doesn't seem large enough to hold his awesomeness.

My favorite Waynism which might be an urban legend?

"Life is hard, it is even harder if you're stupid."