Monday, February 15, 2016

How Marion Michael Morrison Became Michael Burn, Duke Morrison and, Eventually, John Wayne; Part II of Wayne’s Amazing, 1971 Playboy Interview


Marion Robert Morrison, at 11 or 12 years of age, and his little brother, Robert. John Wayne was used to identity crises, long before he headed to Hollywood. Named Marion Robert Morrison at birth, his “parents”—more likely his mother, the former Mary Brown, who took an instant dislike to her first-born—stole his middle name four years later, and gave it to her second child as his first name. The “parents” renamed Marion “Marion Michael Morrison,” but never made the change legal. The scare quotes are because father Clyde Morrison always doted on little Marion.

Re-posted by Nicholas Stix

[Previously, at WEJB/NSU Part I: “John Wayne: ‘I believe in white supremacy…’ Wayne’s Famous, Amazing, 1971 Playboy Interview, Uncut.”]


An 18-year-old John Wayne’s first picture, the silent Brown at Harvard (1926), in which the uncredited youngster played a nameless, “Yale football player”

This was before a studio executive made him change his name to “John Wayne.” Thus, assuming the year is correct, this is the 19 or 20-year-old Duke Morrison. (American Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Sciences)

Star Lois Moran, Duke Morrison (John Wayne), and Ward Bond in Words and Music (1929). Words and Music was Wayne’s 14th picture, but the first in which he appeared credited under any name, and the first in which his character had a name, Pete Donohue. Wayne would appear in yet another six pictures uncredited, with nameless roles such as “extra” and “lumberjack,” before director Raoul Walsh would pick him to star in Walsh’s Western epic, The Big Trail (1930). Alas, The Big Trail failed, but not for lack of quality. It was filmed in the first widescreen system, but one that only half-a-dozen theaters could afford to equip themselves with, during the Great Depression.

PLAYBOY: At what point in your career were you nicknamed Duke?
WAYNE: That goes back to my childhood. I was called Duke after a dog—a very good Airedale out of the Baldwin Kennels. Republic Pictures gave me a screen credit on one of the early pictures and called me Michael Burn. On another one, they called me Duke Morrison. Then they decided Duke Morrison didn't have enough prestige. My real name, Marion Michael Morrison, didn't sound American enough for them. So they came up with John Wayne. I didn't have any say in it, but I think it's a great name. It's short and strong and to the point. It took me a long time to get used to it, though. I still don't recognize it when somebody calls me John.


Marion Michael Morrison, at 11 or 12 years old, with his Airedale terrier, Duke. Local firemen became fond of the young Marion, whom they saw delivering his newspapers with his Airedale, Duke, and nicknamed them “Big Duke and Little Duke.” The firemen would give the penurious boy milk. Biographers disagree as to which one was “Big Duke.”

The Morrison family: Duke, Marion, Robert, Mary and Clyde. Note that Marion/Duke/John’s eyes would look very similar in middle-age to Clyde’s here. Note, too, the omnipresent pistol on Clyde's hip.

PLAYBOY: After giving you a new name, did the studio decide on any particular screen image for you?
WAYNE: They made me a singing cowboy. The fact that I couldn't sing—or play the guitar—became terribly embarrassing to me, especially on personal appearances. Every time I made a public appearance, the kids insisted that I sing The Desert Song or something. But I couldn't take along the fella who played the guitar out on one side of the camera and the fella who sang on the other side of the camera. So finally I went to the head of the studio and said. "Screw this, I can't handle it." And I quit doing those kind of pictures. They went out and brought the best hillbilly recording artist in the country to
Hollywood to take my place. For the first couple of pictures, they had a hard time selling him, but he finally caught on. His name was Gene Autry. It was 1939 before I made Stagecoach—the picture that really made me a star.


John Wayne, who could neither play the guitar nor sing, as Singing Sandy Saunders, saving Fay Denton, in Riders of Destiny (1933)

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