Marion Robert Morrison
1907 - 1979
(From Old Corral collection)
Above is Wayne in a crop from a lobby card from THE DESERT TRAIL (Lone Star/Monogram, 1935).
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These webpages are simply to chronicle the cinema adventures of one Marion Morrison, AKA John Wayne, from his early screen work up to his breakthrough performance as 'the Ringo Kid' in the John Ford directed STAGECOACH (United Artists, 1939).
Prior to that landmark western, Wayne labored for about a dozen years in mostly small budget films churned out by many production companies, including several on 'Poverty Row'. And the nearly fifty sound westerns and serials that he starred in during the 1930s gave him valuable screen time and experience prior to his emergence as a major film star.
Wayne was born Marion Morrison in Winterset, Iowa in 1907, but the family moved to California around 1915. Some biographies list his real name as Marion Michael Morrison, while others refer to Marion Robert Morrison and other variations.
Bobby Copeland provided the following:
His parents called him Robert Michael and the name was duly recorded on his birth certificate. Then Mary Morrison had a sudden change of heart. Her one wealthy relative was called Marion, and, in an attempt to acquire her child a future inheritance, she renamed him Marion Michael Morrison ... She named her second, more favored son, Robert. (Source: Pilar Wayne's book, John Wayne: My Life with the Duke, McGraw Hill, New York, 1987).
Just to complicate matters further about Duke's original name, Donald Shepherd et al, in their book Duke: The Life and Times of John Wayne say that he was originally called Marion Robert but this was changed to Marion Mitchell. In later years Duke called himself 'Michael' because the 'Mitchell' member of the family that he was named after (his maternal grandfather) was diagnosed with a mental illness, and in those days this amounted to great family shame. According to these authors, Duke went to great lengths to eliminate records that recorded his name as 'Mitchell'. The authors claim this to be quite a mystery, for it seems out of character for Duke to reject the name of his maternal grandfather, who was quite a man to look up to before his illness. (Source: Donald Shepherd and Robert Slatzer, with Dave Grayson: Duke: The Life and Times of John Wayne, Doubleday & Co., New York, 1985).
The name controversy will probably continue. However, the official birth record and death certicate indicate his real name was Marion Robert Morrison.
Wayne did graduate from Glendale High School (Glendale, California) and attended USC, the University of Southern California. Click HERE and a separate window/tab will open with a 1925 Glendale High School football team photo which includes Wayne.
His first film role was a bit part (uncredited) as a football player in BROWN OF HARVARD (MGM, 1926) which starred Tom Brown as the collegiate rowing and football hero. In the late 1920s, Wayne and USC football team players were featured in the early pigskin adventure SALUTE (Fox, 1929), which was directed by John Ford and starred the muscular George O'Brien. Wayne did bits in several other John Ford silents.
He bounced around Tinseltown doing whatever supporting roles and bit parts that he could scrounge. Hollywood opinion was that his lead role in the big budget / big screen THE BIG TRAIL (Fox, 1930) for director Raoul Walsh would bring immediate stardom.
The April 20, 1930 issue of Film Daily carried an announcement on Wayne and 'The Oregon Trail', which was the working title for THE BIG TRAIL. The headline reads: "Wayne Morrison, Extra, Gets 'Oregon Trail' Lead." And an excerpt from the article: "Wayne Morrison, an extra, his name changed to John Wayne, has been chosen by Raoul Walsh for the male lead in 'The Oregon Trail', which Fox is to produce."
Not everyone was happy with Wayne getting the lead. The headline of an article in the April 26, 1930 Hollywood Filmograph read: "RAOUL WALSH SELECTS A NOVICE TO PLAY LEAD IN 'THE BIG TRAIL' - AROUSES IRE OF ARTISTS WHO HAVE GIVEN MUCH TO BUILT UP GREAT INDUSTRY"
Excerpt from the July 19, 1930 Motion Picture News: "Wayne, a former property man on the Fox lot, was selected for 'The Big Trail' by Director Raoul Walsh when the latter saw him on a set hustling props."
With a running time of about 125 minutes, THE BIG TRAIL cost a hefty two million dollars and was filmed simultaneously in a 70mm widescreen format called "Grandeur" as well as the traditional 35mm. The 35mm was necessary as most theaters were not equipped to show widescreen. The Grandeur version had limited showings on both coasts and Wayne was in New York City during October, 1930 on a promotion tour for the movie.
There were glowing reviews and lots of coverage in the Hollywood tradepapers. Here's a couple examples:
Excerpts from the October 11, 1930 Exhibitors Herald-World: "'THE BIG TRAIL' is an epic." "The finest part of the picture is the storm sequence." "With the Grandeur camera turned on those locations Walsh has been able to make truly sensational shots."
The review in the October 12, 1930 Film Daily included a mention that TRAIL ran two hours and five minutes (125 minutes). Excerpts: "IMPRESSIVE EPIC OF THE WEST. HAS THE ROMANCE, COLORFUL BACKGROUND, ACTION AND THRILLS FOR UNIVERSAL APPEAL. GREAT DIRECTION BY RAOUL WALSH." "Direction, marvelous." "Photography, grand."
Some reports indicate that the Grandeur version of THE BIG TRAIL had a running time of about 158 minutes (vs. the approximate 125 minute length for the 35mm). That longer run time appears to be a myth, and on a later Wayne webpage, you'll find a link to the website of Neil Roughley and his debunking of that 158 minute claim.
The studio had plans to star Wayne in WYOMING WONDER (originally titled as ALCATRAZ) and NO FAVORS ASKED, and both were mentioned in Fox's 1930-1931 film announcement/exhibitor book. The September 16, 1930 Film Daily tradepaper reported that "... Wayne is reported replacing George O'Brien in Fox's 'Wyoming Wonder.' O'Brien is leaving Fox and will free-lance, it is said." But THE BIG TRAIL proved to be a financial disaster. WYOMING WONDER and NO FAVORS ASKED were never made. And Wayne's starring career at Fox was over and his exit was mentioned in the April 5, 1931 Film Daily: "... John Wayne, star of 'Big Trail', who is leaving Fox to free lance."
(From Old Corral collection)
Left - Wayne in his early twenties and wearing buckskins for his starring role in Raoul Walsh's THE BIG TRAIL (Fox, 1930).
(Courtesy of Minard Coons)
Above - a publicity still of Wayne atop the horse that I call the "white horse with a mottled face and many names". This was definitely not Duke, the horse he rode in his six Warners westerns. And I've yet to find him riding this particular white horse in his Lone Star/Monogram series as well as his first batch of oaters for Republic Pictures. Perhaps Wayne was at a stable for some publicity stills and he just happened to sit on this particular horse for a photo.
In early 1931, Wayne signed with Columbia Pictures as the star of ARIZONA (Columbia, 1931), a melodrama about West Point. In the May 13, 1931 issue of Film Daily, there was a brief mention that his Columbia deal was a five year contract.
For the 1930-1931 release season, Columbia had Buck Jones starring in a series produced by Sol Lesser's Beverly Productions. For the 1931-1932 release period, Buck went to work directly for Columbia. Around the same time that Columbia signed Wayne, they also brought on Tim McCoy. Was Columbia grooming Wayne as a future star of a western series? Perhaps he was under consideration ... for a brief period. But once McCoy was under contract, Wayne became expendable. We do know that Columbia utilized Wayne in some films including support roles in three 1931 and 1932 Jones and McCoy oaters. We also know that Columbia opted not to renew Wayne's contract and he was released.
(From Old Corral collection)
A young John Wayne appeared in three of the Columbia oaters of Buck Jones and Tim McCoy. Above is Susan Fleming, Wayne, Jones, and William Walling in RANGE FEUD (Columbia, 1931). Wayne can also be seen in the Tim McCoy TEXAS CYCLONE (Columbia, 1932) and TWO-FISTED LAW (Columbia, 1932).
Then came a series of six westerns for Leon Schlesinger (released by Warners) and a trio of chapterplays for Nat Levine's Mascot serial factory.
Warners decided to bring forth a new B western series which was churned out by producer Leon Schlesinger. Six films were released during 1932-1933 and Wayne rode a white hoss named 'Duke' (which was necessary to match the extensive use of stock footage of Ken Maynard on Tarzan from the earlier First National silents). Good looking and tall in the saddle, the young Wayne was well suited for his new role as a B western hero. The best of the half dozen are his first, RIDE HIM, COWBOY (Warners, 1932) as well as HAUNTED GOLD (Warners, 1932), which had a plot involving spooky goings-on in a ghost town and mine.
Happy to be busy, Wayne also labored for Mascot owner/producer Nat Levine in three serials - THE SHADOW OF THE EAGLE (Mascot, 1932; 12 chapters), THE HURRICANE EXPRESS (Mascot, 1932; 12 chapters), and THREE MUSKETEERS (Mascot, 1933; 12 chapters). None were westerns. The advantage of the Mascot cliffhangers was that Wayne was on the screen week after week and that exposure enhanced his reputation as an action star and increased his name recognition to the Saturday matinee ticket buyers.
Around this time, he met stuntman Yakima Canutt, and the two would become close friends. During those early days in Hollywood, Wayne would also become lifelong buddies with several other people including Ward Bond (of TV's WAGON TRAIN) and Paul Fix (Sheriff Micah Torrance on THE RIFLEMAN TVer).
(Courtesy of Les Adams)
Above is the title lobby card for Chapter 1 of THE SHADOW OF THE EAGLE (Mascot, 1932), the first of three serials that Wayne starred in for Nat Levine at Mascot.
After concluding the work at Warners and Mascot, Wayne settled in for a long series of low-budget sagebrush yarns which were produced by Monogram's Trem Carr and Paul Malvern via their Lone Star production unit. In the preceding years, Monogram had tried a bunch of different cowboy heroes - Tom Tyler, Bill Cody, Rex Bell and Bob Steele did series for Monogram. The Wayne and Malvern formula must have been successful for they did two dozen sagebrush adventures over a three year period - sixteen under Monogram and the last eight under the Republic Pictures brand name. All were reasonably solid quickies, with a few, such as THE TRAIL BEYOND, RANDY RIDES ALONE, THE DAWN RIDER and BLUE STEEL rising above the ordinary. Most featured Yakima Canutt doing stuntwork and/or supporting roles. George Hayes was in many, and he even played the head baddie in a couple. Robert North Bradbury, Bob Steele's father, directed thirteen and even wrote stories/scripts for some. There were blurbs in the trade papers:
And the answer is yes - Wayne was one of the earliest singing cowboys. Thankfully, his time as a troubadour was brief. RIDERS OF DESTINY (Lone Star/Monogram, 1933) is Wayne's first for Carr and Malvern and he portrays undercover lawman "Singin' Sandy Saunders". The title credits mention Wayne as "Singin' Sandy", and the film opening has John warbling a tune and playing a guitar while riding Jack Perrin's white hoss Starlight. Greasy Earl Dwire is Forrest Taylor's gunslingin' henchman "Slip Morgan", and Wayne plugs Dwire through both wrists in a street shootout. Taylor, who has been foiled by Wayne at every turn, is nervously munching and mouthing a cigar through the entire six reels. And during the climatic chase, Taylor and his mount (Yak Canutt probably doubling for him) go over a cliff and he drowns in the river (with bubbles rising to the surface of the water).
Bradbury was the director and writer of the script/screenplay on RIDERS OF DESTINY. The "shoot-em through both wrists" gunfight was used by him a year earlier when he helmed and wrote THE MAN FROM HELL'S EDGES (Sono-Art/World Wide, 1932). That one starred Bob Steele, who at the end plugs baddie Julian Rivero (as "Lobo") through both wrists during a saloon duel.
In RIDERS, Wayne does several songs, dubbed of course. Some say the singing was done by Bill Bradbury, the son of Robert North Bradbury, Sr. and twin brother of Bob Steele. Others suggest that the voice was prolific B-western support player Jack Kirk or tall galoot Glenn Strange. Whomever, it was definitely not big band leader and crooner Smith Ballew.
In the gunfight scene with Dwire, Wayne strolls down the street quietly mouthing the lyrical "There'll be blood a runnin' in town before night ... tonight you'll be drinkin' your drinks with the dead". The author of that "blood and death" dirge was Robert N. Bradbury. After listening to this many times in my later years, I'm inclined to think that the deep voice was that of Jack Kirk. Earlier, and with guitar in hand, the young Duke serenades pretty blonde heroine Cecilia Parker about a "Desert Breeze". The person doing that song had a different voice, more like a tenor, and I'm guessing this was done by Steele's brother, Bill Bradbury. Or maybe it was Jack Kirk.
RIDERS OF DESTINY wasn't the last of John pretending to be a singing cowboy. He reprises "Desert Breeze" in THE MAN FROM UTAH (Lone Star/Monogram, 1934). And he's dubbed again in LAWLESS RANGE (Republic, 1935) and WESTWARD HO (Republic, 1935), both of which were filmed simultaneously in mid 1935, and both included Jack Kirk and Glenn Strange among the cast. Wayne reprised that ... tonight you'll be drinkin' your drinks with the dead" in LAWLESS RANGE, and a good reason was because Robert N. Bradbury was directing. In this one, Wayne's singing voice is much deeper than RIDERS OF DESTINY, and sounds like Jack Kirk.
Les Adams spent time chatting with Bob Steele and Smith Ballew, and one of the subjects was who was the singing voice for John Wayne in RIDERS OF DESTINY and some other Wayne oaters. Les has a detailed writeup - including some comments from Wayne - and that info is on a later webpage.
(Courtesy of the Motion Picture & Television Fund)
|Left is producer Paul Malvern at the 1989 Golden Boot ceremony where he was presented with a Golden Boot award. He passed away in 1993.|
Malvern's Lone Star production unit did all sixteen Wayne 1933-1935 oaters which were released by Monogram. There were eight more westerns at Republic for the 1935-1936 release period. In 1936-1937 at Universal, Malvern was in charge of Wayne's six non-westerns.
(Courtesy of Les Adams)
Above is the title lobby card from THE LUCKY TEXAN (Lone Star/Monogram, 1933) which is memorable for the scene of Wayne (doubled by Yakima Canutt) riding a stick down a water drainage chute into a river. The direction and story was handled by Robert North Bradbury, Bob Steele's father. Bradbury must have liked this "ridin' a board or tree limb down a water chute" as he also used it in Wayne's THE LAWLESS FRONTIER (Lone Star/Monogram, 1934). And again when he directed and authored the story for his son Bob Steele in TRAIL OF TERROR (Hackel/Supreme, 1935), filming it at medium range so you can clearly see that Steele was doing the log ridin'.
(Courtesy of Les Adams)
Above are Wayne and Yakima Canutt in a crop from a lobby card from RANDY RIDES ALONE (Lone Star/Monogram, 1934). The player on the left may be Tommy Coats.
(Courtesy of Les Adams)
Left to right are John Wayne, Al Ferguson and Paul Fix in THE DESERT TRAIL (Lone Star/Monogram, 1935). Fix and Wayne became close friends and over a thirty five year period, he appeared in about thirty Wayne films. Paul Fix is best remembered as lawman 'Micah Torrance' on THE RIFLEMAN TV program.