Born Marion Michael Morrison, later changing his name when he became an actor, but always known as ‘Duke’ to his friends, taken from his pet dog also named ‘Duke.’ Wayne missed getting an appointment to the United States Naval Academy at Annapolis, Maryland, 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 and the rest, as they say, is history. When Republic Pictures refused to make ‘The Alamo,’ Wayne started his own studio, Batjac, and made the film (1960). He won his only Oscar for his role as a boozy, one-eyed, over-the-hill lawman in ‘True Grit’. His acting abilities were too often underrated by the critics because he did so many westerns, yet he was always a truly professional actor who knew his lines, his mark, and was on time for shooting, being one of the most prolific, popular and bankable stars of the century. He died of lung cancer (he was a prolific smoker, but also filmed in the Las Vegas desert in a fallout area from nuclear bomb testing, many of the cast later contracting cancer). Knowing death was near, his last film ‘The Shootist’ was his goodbye, the story of an aging gunfighter with terminal cancer who plans his own funeral and demise in one last, but righteous, gunfight.
With a view to the sea, he was an avid sailor, the inscription on his headstone at Pacific View Cemetery outside Los Angeles reads, ‘Tomorrow is the most Important thing in life. Comes into us at midnight very clean. It’s perfect when it arrives and it puts itself in our hands. It hopes we’ve learned something from yesterday.’