John Wayne

On this day in history, May 26, 1907, iconic actor John Wayne is born in Iowa

'The Duke,' known for epitomizing the American West, won the Best Actor Oscar for 'True Grit'

On this day in history, May 26, 1907, John Wayne, the iconic actor who is known for epitomizing the American West, is born in Winterset, Iowa.

Named Marion Robert Morrison, Wayne at age six moved with his family to Glendale, California, according to

As a teen, he delivered newspapers in the mornings, while after school he played football and made deliveries for local stores.

It was while living in Glendale that he acquired the nickname, Duke, says John Wayne’s official site.

The family dog Duke, an Airedale, was his constant companion. Local firefighters knew the dog’s name and started calling the young man “Duke” as well.

The name stuck, says the same source.

John Wayne in a film publicity photo

John Wayne holding a rifle in a publicity photo for the movie “Shepherd of the Hills.” He was born on May 26, 1907.  (Getty Images)

Upon graduating from high school, Wayne hoped to attend the U.S. Naval Academy, but when that school rejected him, he accepted a full scholarship to play football at the University of Southern California in Los Angeles, notes

In the summer of 1926, Wayne’s football coach set him up with a job as an assistant prop man on the set of a movie directed by John Ford, recounts the same source.

“Ford started to use Wayne as an extra, and he eventually began to trust him with some larger roles. In 1930, Ford recommended Wayne for Fox’s epic Western, ‘The Big Trail.’ Wayne won the part, but the movie did poorly, and Fox let his contract lapse,” according to

Marie Windsor and John Wayne filming a scene

John Wayne and Marie Windsor on the set of “Cahill U.S. Marshal” diected by Andrew V. McLaglen on Nov. 29, 1972 in Los Angeles.  (Getty Images)

During the next eight years, he starred in more than 60 low-budget movies, mostly in roles as cowboys, soldiers and other rugged men of adventure, says Britannica.

Wayne achieved genuine “star stature” when Ford cast him as the “Ringo Kid” in the classic western “Stagecoach” in 1939, the same source points out.

“After that film his place in American cinema was established and grew with each successive year,” recounts Britannica.

“In all these films, The Duke embodied the simple, and perhaps simplistic, cowboy values of decency, honesty and integrity.”

With the release of the motion picture “Stagecoach,” Wayne’s career expanded.

Among the dozens of Westerns he appeared in — many of them directed by Ford — were memorable classics such as “Tall in the Saddle” (1944), “Red River” (1948), “Fort Apache” (1948), “She Wore a Yellow Ribbon” (1949), “Rio Bravo” (1959), and “The Man Who Shot Liberty Valance” (1962), says

John Wayne with children

American actor John Wayne (1907-1979) with two of his children, son John Ethan and daughter Aissa Wayne, photographed in an unspecified restaurant, 1967. Wayne was in costume in this photo (as Cole Thornton) for his role in “El Dorado” (directed by Howard Hawks).  ( Silver Screen Collection)

“In all these films, The Duke, as he was known, embodied the simple, and perhaps simplistic, cowboy values of decency, honesty and integrity,” the same source indicates.

In the later part of the 1960s, Wayne had both successes and failures, notes

He co-starred with Robert Mitchum in “El Dorado” (1967), which was well-received.

Wayne won his first — and only — Academy Award for Best Actor for “True Grit” (1969).

The next year, Wayne encountered mixed feedback with the pro-Vietnam War film “The Green Berets” (1968), as Wayne directed, produced and starred in the film.

“Viewed by many as a piece of propaganda, the film still did well at the box office,” recounts

Things turned in a positive direction when Wayne won his first — and only — Academy Award for Best Actor for “True Grit” (1969).

Constance Towers John Wayne

American actors John Wayne and Constance Towers on the set of “The Horse Soldiers,” directed by John Ford.  (Sunset Boulevard/Corbis via Getty Images)

His final film was “The Shootist” (1976).

Wayne was married three times to Josephine Alicia Saenz, Esperanza Baur, and Pilar Palette, says New World Encyclopedia.

He had seven children from his marriages, the first two of which ended in divorce.

He also had more than 15 grandchildren, the site says.

Wayne has been honored by the U.S. Marine Corps with the Iron Mike Award, the highest honor given to a civilian; the Veterans of Foreign Wars with the Americanism Award; and the American Legion with another Americanism Award, says the National Football Foundation.

He also won The Cecil B. DeMille Award for lifetime achievement in motion pictures by the Hollywood Foreign Press Association, the same source indicated.

Wayne passed away on June 11, 1979, at age 72 in Los Angeles, California, from stomach cancer, says Britannica.

Many public locations have been named in memory of John Wayne.

They include John Wayne Airport in Orange County, California, where his life-sized statue graces the entrance; John Wayne Elementary School (P.S. 380) in Brooklyn, New York, which features a 38-foot, mosaic-mural commission by New York artist Knox Martin entitled “John Wayne and the American Frontier”; and a 100-plus-mile trail named the John Wayne Pioneer Trail in Washington’s Iron Horse State Park, says New World Encyclopedia.

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