2004 37¢ Legends of Hollywood: John Wayne
US #3876 – Wayne was the 10th honoree in the Legends of Hollywood Series.

John Wayne was born Marion Robert Morrison in Winterset, Iowa, on May 26, 1907.

He was named Marion Morrison after his grandfather. The Morrisons later moved to a homestead in Glendale, California, where Wayne’s father opened a pharmacy in the same building as a movie theater.  Wayne was allowed to go to the movies for free several times a week.  It was also in California that Wayne’s father taught him to ride horses, handle firearms, and to stand tall as a man.

Wayne received the nickname “Little Duke” from a fireman he saw every morning as he walked with his large Airedale Terrier dog, Duke.  The name stayed with him for the rest of his life.

In high school, Wayne was both an honor student and an excellent athlete.  He received a football scholarship to the University of Southern California, and while there, worked as a scenery mover for Fox Studios.  After suffering a bodysurfing injury and losing his scholarship, Wayne was soon cast in bit parts in movies.

Wayne earned his first spot in a movie replacing a stunt man who refused to go in the water off Catalina Island because it was too rough.  The director on the film was John Ford, who later launched Wayne’s career by starring him in the movie Stagecoach.  However, Wayne would make more than 80 grade-B films before then.

2012 45¢ John Ford
US #4668 – John Ford was reportedly “the only man who could make John Wayne cry.”

Wayne’s first starring role came in the 1930 film The Big Trail, Hollywood’s first epic Western sound motion picture.  It was at this point that he adopted his stage name.  The film’s director first suggested Anthony Wayne, after Revolutionary War General “Mad” Anthony Wayne, but Fox executives didn’t like it.  They eventually settled on “John Wayne,” though Wayne himself wasn’t even present for the discussion or decision.

1990 25¢ Classic Films: Stagecoach
US #2448 honors Wayne’s breakout film – Stagecoach.

Wayne continued to make predominantly westerns, but it wasn’t until Stagecoach in 1939, that he attained national stardom. This movie was director John Ford’s most-acclaimed film.  It was nominated for seven Academy Awards and won two.  It introduced America to a rising young star named John Wayne.

Wayne’s first color film was Shepherd of the Hills, in 1941.  One of his most popular roles was as a heroic pilot in The High and the Mighty, in 1954.  Critics and fans alike praise his portrayal of Ethan Edwards in The Searchers (1956) as one of his best and most complex performances.

Wayne became an American icon and his name and image became synonymous with the rugged Wild West.  Wayne’s film performances made him a symbol of the American cowboy, the courageous, patriotic soldier, and the fearless lawman in search of justice.  His performance in True Grit in 1969 earned him the Oscar for Best Actor.  In 1980, President Jimmy Carter awarded him America’s highest civilian honor, the Presidential Medal of Freedom.

Wayne played the male lead role in 142 of 153 films, setting an industry record.  As Hollywood’s most outspoken conservative Republican, Wayne was asked to run for president in 1968.  He declined because he didn’t believe an actor could be elected to the nation’s highest office.

2004 37¢ John Wayne Classic First Day Cover
US #3876 – Classic First Day Cover

John Wayne starred in over 200 movies during a span of 50 years.  Sadly, it was the filming of a 1955 movie, The Conqueror that many think killed the “Duke.”  The filming took place near a nuclear test site where the radioactive bombs had recently been dropped.  Although most knew about the radiation (there’s even a picture of Wayne with a Geiger counter) they obviously didn’t realize the danger they were in.

1990 25¢ Stagecoach Classic First Day Cover
US #2448 – Classic First Day Cover

Within twenty years, many of the residents of St. George, Utah, and 91 of the 200 members of the cast and crew of the film had developed cancer.  By 1979, all of the film’s stars had died of cancer, with Wayne among them, passing away on June 11, 1979.

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16 Comments

  1. For those who poo poo John Wayne as a cardboard actor, may I suggest that his movies “The Quiet Man”, “The Man Who Shot Liberty Valance”, and , his final film, “The Shootist” show his good range of acting. In these days where icons are regularly torn down, he earned his place as a true American.
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    1. Very true! People diss him because of his many B roles and his typecasting as a cowboy, but not only did he perfect his cowboy persona, he had great range, and anyone familiar with his work can tell you his place as a legend was well earned. His performances have aged remarkably well.

  2. He’s still my hero. While stationed in Thailand during the Vietnam War our idol and example was “John Wayne” We had a full size cut-out of “The Duke”. He stood in the middle of each squadron picture in front of our RF4-C. We even had a “John Wayne” patch for accomplishing a special mission. Too many of today’s idols are not worth the powder to blow them up. Long live the Duke.

  3. John Wayne a true American. Met him at Camp Pendelton, California in 1962. We do need more
    people like him. Thanks DUKE.

  4. AS he said on his special years ago GOD BLESS AMERICA. Freedom is not free many veterans
    provided this freedom and sacrificed all. As a Veteran myself a member of the VFW and AMERICAN LEGION I appreciate what you stood for and professed as an American Thank You
    Duke Your are among the best.

  5. I have low confidence in the statistic that one half of the residents of St. George Utah contracted cancer. I do know that many residents of the Intermountain West have and still have a higher incidence of cancer due to the nukes tested in NV.

  6. Did not know about the ” cause” of his big “C”–always thought it to be from years of smoking, it was lung cancer that got him.

  7. I was an still am a big fan of John Wayne and I have a letter from him, in reply to a lette I sent
    Him congratulating him on his winning the Oscar and his anniversary in the movie business, where he thanks me for my words of praise and he said it’s fans like me that make it all worthwhile. He also gave me a. autographed photo of him which I will cherish always.

    I am a cancer survivor and you, along with your family, will always be in my prayers.

    Happy Birthdsy John Wayne!

  8. I WONDER WHEN THE USN WILL GET AROUND TO NAMING A SHIP AFTER HIM ? SOMETHING THAT WOULD BE AN EQUAL TO A HEAVY=CRUISER

  9. I once had the privilege of drinking beer with John Wayne in 1966. His form of entertaining the Troops in Vietnam was to meet with small groups and chat. This took place at the Marine enlisted club near Dogpatch outside of DaNang. The club was nothing but a hooch that had a roof and half walls for sides. I and several other Marines got to meet him. We sat around drinking beer with Wayne answering questions we asked him.
    Happy Birthday Duke. Semper Fi

  10. His last movie, “The Shootist”, with Jimmy Stewart, Lauren Bacall, Ron Howard, Harry Morgan, John Carradine, Richard Boone, Hugh O’Brian and Scatman Crothers, to name a few, is, in his twilight years and dying from cancer, on a par with “True Grit” as the defining John Wayne. It really shows that he deserved the Oscar, and more. One of the best, one of a kind, and a true American icon. If you haven’t seen the movie, you’re missing one of the Duke’s best performances, not to mention the all star cast!!!!

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