Born Marion Morrison, "the Duke" appeared or starred in over 200 films in his fifty-year career, winning an Oscar for "True Grit," in 1969. Remembered for his definition of the American individualist of a mythical wild west, he came to represent America to several generations of movie-goers.
He is noted mostly for his military and cowboy roles, and an American Icon. Fiercely patriotic and a staunch American, he represented an American ideal of rugged individualism. Born in Winterset, Iowa, his family moved to southern California, where his father owned a ranch, and he learned to ride a horse. When the ranch failed, his family moved to Glendale, California, where he attended high school, and had an airdale dog named "Duke" (source of his later nickname). When he narrowly missed getting an appointment to the United States Naval Academy at Annapolis, Maryland, he went to the University of Southern California (USC) on a football scholarship. Actor Cowboy Tom Mix got him a summer job as a prop man, in exchange for USC football tickets. On the set, he became lifelong friends with Director John Ford, for whom he began doing bit parts. His first film, in 1930, was "Men Without Women." After bit parts in some 70 films, his breakthrough came in the 1939 film "Stagecoach," where he emerged a star. He holds the record for the actor playing the most leading parts, in 142 movies.
He stayed mostly with his best acting roles, those of strong military men or fierce independent cowboys, since that suited the audiences. He was exempt from military service in World War II due to an ear infection which left him partially deaf. In 1948, he starred in "Red River", giving a dynamic performance which made critics take notice. However, he is best remembered for his performance in the John Ford cavalry trilogy, "Fort Apache", "She Wore a Yellow Ribbon", and "Rio Grande". He had good film chemistry with Maureen O'Hara, and in 1952, he made "The Quiet Man" with her, considered by many to be Wayne's most endearing film. When
Republic Pictures refused to make "The Alamo", Wayne started his own studio, Batjac, and made the film (1960). In 1968, during the Vietnam War, he made the film "The Green Berets", considered the only pro-Vietnam War film made in that period. He won an Oscar (his only one) for his role as a boozy, one-eyed, over-the-hill lawman in "True Grit" (1969), a role he reprised in "Rooster Cogburn" (1975). His acting abilities were often underrated by the critics, yet he was always a professional actor who knew his lines, his mark, and was on time for shooting.
A Member of Glendale DeMolay Chapter during his high school days, Duke was also a Freemason, like his father before him, receiving his Craft degrees in July 1970 in Marion McDaniel Lodge No. 56, Tucson, Arizona. A Senior DeMolay, he was also awarded the DeMolay Legion of Honor in 1970. In December of that year, he joined the York Rite Bodies in California and became a Shriner in Al Malaikah Shrine Temple.