We called him DUKE, and he was every bit the giant off screen he was on.
Everything about him-his stature, his style, his convictions-conveyed enduring strength, and no one who observed his struggle in those final days could doubt that strength was real.
Yet there was more. To my wife, Nancy, “Duke Wayne was the most gentle, tender person I ever knew.”In 1960, as president of the Screen Actors’ Guild, I was deeply embroiled in a bitter labor dispute between the Guild and the motion picture industry.
When we called a strike, the film industry unleashed a series of stinging personal attacks on me – criticism my wife found difficult to take.At 7:30 one morning the phone rang and Nancy heard Duke’s booming voice: “I’ve been readin’ what these damn columnists are saying about Ron. He can take care of himself, but I’ve been worrying about how all this is affecting you.”
Virtually every morning until the strike was settled several weeks later, he phoned her. When a mass meeting was called to discuss settlement terms, he left a dinner party so that he could escort Nancy and sit at her side. It was, she said, like being next to a force bigger than life.Countless others were also touched by his strength. Although it would take the critics 40 years to recognize what John Wayne was, the movie going public knew all along.
In this country and around the world, Duke was the most popular box-office star of all time. For an incredible 25 years he was rated at or around the top in box-office appeal. His films grossed $700 million-a record no performer in Hollywood has come close to matching. Yet John Wayne was more than an actor; he was a force around which films were made. As Elizabeth Taylor Warner stated last May when testifying in favor of the special gold medal Congress struck for him: “He gave the whole world the image of what an American should be.”Stagecoach to StardomHe was born Marion Michael Morrison in Winterset, Iowa.
When Marion was six, the family moved to California. There he picked up the nickname Duke – after his Airedale. He rose at 4 a.m. to deliver newspapers, and after school and football practice he made deliveries for local stores. He was an A student, president of the Latin Society, head of his senior class and an all-state guard on a championship football team.
Duke had hoped to attend the U.S. Naval Academy and was named as an alternate selection to Annapolis, but the first choice took the appointment. Instead, he accepted a full scholarship to play football at the University of Southern California. There coach Howard Jones, who often found summer jobs in the movie industry for his players, got Duke work in the summer of 1926 as an assistant prop man on the set of a movie directed by John Ford.
One day, Ford, a notorious taskmaster with a rough-and-ready sense of humor, spotted the tall USC guard on his set and asked Duke to bend over and demonstrate his ball stance. With a deft kick, knocked Duke’s……………….