John’s Wayne’s Birthplace

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May 12, 2009

Does any American’s name bring forth greater examples of courage and patriotism than John Wayne? On and off the screen, the swaggering movie actor never backed down from a fight, always looked you square in the eye, and never hesitated to tell you where he stood on any issue. John Wayne was, and remains, a true American hero.

John Wayne’s story began in the small central Iowa town of Winterset, where he was born Marion Robert Morrison on May 26, 1907, the son of Clyde and Mary Brown Morrison. Wayne’s father Clyde Morrison was a pharmacist who worked on the south side of Winterset’s town square. John Wayne often described his father as “the kindest, most patient man I ever knew.” The future actor’s mother, Mary, was of Irish descent, and Wayne remembered her as “a tiny, vivacious red-headed bundle of energy.”

When their first son was six years old, Clyde Morrison developed health problems that required him to move the family from Iowa to the warm, dry climate of southern California. For a time they operated a small ranch in the Mojave Desert, where Marion and his younger brother, Robert,  swam in an irrigation ditch and rode a horse to school.

The ranch failed and the family moved to Glendale, California, where young Marion delivered medicines for his father’s pharmacy and sold newspapers to earn money. The hardworking boy did well at Glendale High School and was a popular football player. He and his Airedale dog named Duke were seldom apart, and somewhere along the line the dog’s name became the boy’s nickname, one he would carry throughout his life.

After graduating from high school, Marion applied for admission to the United States Naval Academy at Annapolis but was turned down. He went to the University of Southern California on a football scholarship from 1925 to 1927, before an injury took him off the team and he had to drop out of school.

Cowboy actor Tom Mix got him a summer job as a prop man in a movie studio, where he became close friends with director John Ford. Soon Marion was acting in bit parts, sometimes under his own name and sometimes under the name John Wayne. His first featured film was 1930’s Men Without Women. After acting in more than 70 low-budget westerns and adventures, Wayne’s career was stuck in a rut until Ford cast him in 1939’s Stagecoach, the movie that made him a star. Throughout his career, Wayne was in nearly 250 movies.

Famous as a cowboy hero, John Wayne also played policemen and soldiers in many films. No matter what the role, Wayne’s character never varied. He was always the big, tough, hero who talked straight and took on the bad guys.

Wayne was a super patriot who became known for his conservative political stance, and his views were reflected in many of his movie roles. He was closely associated with many conservative political causes and counted among his friends such men as Richard Nixon, Barry Goldwater, Spiro T. Agnew, and Ronald Reagan.

Though Wayne played a soldier in many of his film roles, he never served in the military. He was declared unfit for military service during World War II due to high school football injuries. He may not have ever worn a uniform in real life, but nobody ever doubted his love for his country or his patriotism.

During his career, John Wayne was honored many times for his achievements. He received the Best Actor nomination for 1949’s Sands of Iwo Jima and won an Oscar for his role as the hard-drinking lawman Rooster Cogburn in 1969’s True Grit. A Congressional Gold Medal was struck in his honor in 1979. Posthumously Wayne was honored with a United States postage stamp in 2004.

A heavy smoker for much of his life, John Wayne had many health problems. In 1964 he had lost a lung to cancer; underwent a heart valve replacement in 1978; and in 1979 his stomach was removed. John Wayne died on June 11, 1979, at the age of 72, from cancer. He is buried at Pacific View Memorial Park in Newport Beach,

The small four-room home where Marion Morrison was born has been restored to reflect its appearance in 1907, the year of the Duke’s birth. The home displays an impressive collection of John Wayne memorabilia, including the eye patch he wore in the movie True Grit, a hat worn in Rio Lobo, and a prop suitcase used in the film Stagecoach. Also on display are guns the actor owned or used in his film roles, John Wayne toys and dolls, movie posters, and collectibles bearing the actor’s name or image. The home is furnished in period style as it was when the Morrison family lived here.

Hundreds of rare photographs of the Duke are on display as well as letters from Lucille Ball, Gene Autry, Maureen O’Hara, Jimmy Stewart, Kirk Douglas, Bob Hope, Ronald Reagan and George Burns.

showcase-webMany celebrities and dignitaries have toured the museum, including President Ronald Reagan, who visited on November 3, 1984, commenting that “the Birthplace of John Wayne is an inspiring tribute to a good friend and a great American.”

The museum and adjacent gift shop are open seven days a week, from 10 a.m. to 4:30 p.m., except Thanksgiving Day, Christmas Day, New Year’s Day and Easter. Guided tours of the house are available daily, with the last guided tour of the day beginning at 4:30 p.m. Admission fees for a guided tour of the museum are $3 for adults, $2.50 for seniors age 55 and older, and $1 for children age 12 and under.

The Birthplace of John Wayne is located at 216 South Second Street in Winterset. The home is in a residential area, with no designated parking lot. Visitors can park on the street in the quiet neighborhood. For more information, call (515) 462-1044, or log onto the internet and go to

Nick Russell

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  334. John

    In judging John Wayne originally I deferred to Hollywood’s description and that turned out to be an exaggeration of monumental proportions. After some extensive research I’ve come to realize he fell victum to what one US President referred to as the Military Industrial Complex. In other words he feel into the military propoganda trapt. John Wayne will go down in history on the side of phoney and thankfully inconsequential. In my own terms I define him as the epitome of The Ugly American.

  335. I don’t really think this is the place for this type of debate. The topic here is RVing and RV travel folks. Let’s try to get back to that.

  336. Leo is sour grapes. Wayne was turned down by the Army., not a daft dodger. All in all he was a good guy and continues to live in the hearts of many of us. By the way I was in WW2 – Okinawa etc but I am no better citizen than the Duke.

  337. Leo

    People that think John Wayne was a hero believe in the tooth fairy. He was without question a draft dodger in WW II and never served in the military.. People with weak minds usually have weak bodies to go along with it. I fear no alley occupied by catchesthewind light or dark.. Hero’s get decorated for bravery. What war medals did John Wayne earn? None !

  338. Stanely Nelson

    What a great trip we had here. We were able to park our motorhome with toad on the street. There is also a nice park where where a scene from Bridges of Madison county was filmed. We then went and visited some of the bridges. The roads to them were gravel and very dusty when we were there, but well worth the trip.

  339. Catchesthewind

    Leo, you are an embarrasment. I invite you into a dark alley where I will personally show you the error of your opinions. Yes, the Dukes personal life was a bit rough around the edges but that is not what he was judged by. It is his on screen persona that endeared him to millions of viewers, myself included, and his love of country was second to none. My stepdad was a commisioned officer,a top 3% graduate of St Cyr the french military academy, in the French Foreign Legion. He served with the free french underground during WWII an then the American Military. I have two combat tours in viet-nam and 14 years duty with the 11th Special Forces. You better believe John Wayne is a hero in our household. So if you dont like the duke fine, eat crow, and keep it to yourself.

  340. Leo John Wayne was a hero to every small boy in America and in some other countries and a home grown hero here in Iowa,you have a right to your opinion even if it is wrong.He was a symbol of what a hero should be.The DUKE my HERO……………and I’m 62.

  341. Leo

    Mr Rose, John Wayne was a man of make believe. Nothing more, nothing less,
    But in no way was he a hero.

    Leo Hazell

  342. Jim Rose

    Where do you guys get your information? John Wayne was born Marion MICHAEL Morrison. And as you Leo Hazell, get a life.

  343. Leo

    Why are you making such a big deal out of John Wayne who was not a hero in real life. He memorized his lines and portrayed hero’s on movie screens.He was a draft dodger during World War II when real hero’s went to war. During the war he enjoyed the safety and comforts of Hollywood. He abused his body with alcohol and tobacco. He was never faithful to just one wife. He glorified firearms as a way of settling disputes. They made a big mistake by naming Orange County Airport after him, instead of Glen L. Martin.. There were movie stars that were war hero’s, but John Wayne was not one of them.

    Leo Hazell

  344. Dave Planitzer

    The Duke’s birthplace is only part of what there is to see and do in Winterset.
    They have a great little city campground with full hookups for a very low price.
    “The Bridges of Madison County” was filmed there and all of the covered bridges are there to see as well as the movie hangouts on the Town Square.
    This is a great place to visit.

  345. Vegasdan

    This little museum is well worth the visit to the town of Winterset. If you are a fan of the Duke it’s a must see.