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Who Was Marion Morrison?

As so many people know, John Wayne was born Marion Morrison. He lived his childhood and teens by this name, and it was only in young adulthood when he started going by the stage name of John Wayne. But who was Marion Morrison, really? Was he the same person as John Wayne, or did he have an altogether different persona?

Marion Robert Morrison was born May 26, 1907, in Winterset, Iowa - in the back bedroom of the Morrison family home. His first and middle names came from his paternal and maternal grandfathers, respectively. Upon the birth of Marion’s brother in 1912, his middle name was changed from Robert to Mitchell.

From a young age, Marion loved sports. He was especially interested in football and was often seen playing with his father.

In 1914, Marion moved with his family to Lancaster, CA. They briefly tried farming before moving to the bustling community of Glendale in 1916. It was in Glendale that Marion first came to be known as ‘Duke;’ he was almost always accompanied by his dog named Duke, including on frequent visits to the local fire station. The firemen began calling the dog ‘Big Duke’ and the boy ‘Little Duke,’ creating a nickname that stuck.

When he reached high school, Marion was known by his peers as outgoing and smart. He served as the junior class representative, and later, president of his senior class on the student government. He also competed with the school debate team - a skillset that would later help him shine at public speaking, especially in interviews and political events. His football practice from a young age with his father also paid off; Marion excelled as a guard on the football team, and also acted as a sports contributor for the school newspaper. He served in local theater productions, and was generally the perfect example of the ‘All American Boy.’

After graduating from high school in 1925, Marion went on to earn a football scholarship to the University of Southern California. When an injury ended his football career, Marion found work as a prop man in the film industry. It was there that he met director John Ford, who would later be crucial in helping Marion form an acting career. In 1930, Marion was cast in his first lead role, as Breck Coleman in The Big Trail. It was on the set of this film that Marion came to be known as John Wayne - the moniker that would remain with him throughout the rest of his life and acting career.

Although some may say that Marion Morrison was replaced by the star John Wayne, a look at his past shows that Marion ultimately remained the same in his new identity: hard-working, courageous, resilient, personable, and popular with his peers. Simply put, the icon John Wayne couldn’t have existed without the formative years of the person Marion Morrison: the traits he gained early in life followed him throughout his career and ultimately helped make John Wayne the hero adored by millions.


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