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Winterset, Iowa: The Birthplace of John Wayne

I live in Houston and have worked as a nurse. I have a lifelong passion for traveling, nature, and photography (preferably all together!).

Modest birthplace of John Wayne in Winterset, Iowa

Modest birthplace of John Wayne in Winterset, Iowa

Birthplace of John Wayne

Winterset, Iowa, is a beautiful little town and was the birthplace of the well-known film star known as John Wayne. The man who was eventually called John Wayne by millions of moviegoers was born to Clyde and Mary Brown Morrison in the little four-room cottage pictured above on May 26, 1907. He was named Marion Robert Morrison.

His dad was a pharmacist, and in 1910 he purchased his drug store in Earlham, Iowa, where he moved his little family. It was about 15 miles down the road from Winterset. When a second son (Robert Emmett Morrison) was born in 1911, Marion's parents changed his middle name to Michael.

Marion grew up absorbing turn of the century midwestern values. Primarily for the health of his father, his family moved to California. One of the many jobs he had was delivering newspapers. He was very athletic and became a football player in high school, and was also captain of his team.

Visitor Information

  • His birthplace at 224 South Second Street, Winterset, Iowa 50273, is open to the public daily from 10 AM until 5 PM. December through February, the hours are 10 AM to 4 PM.
  • Since our visit, a 6,100 square foot museum is now adjacent to the tiny home. The official opening was May 23, 2015. As of August 2021, adult tickets for the home and museum now cost $15, seniors 60+ $14, ages 8 to 12 are $8, 7 and under is free. Tour groups of 20+ cost $10 each.

Restoration of the kitchen and parlor has taken place. Authentic furnishings are there to showcase what the appearance would have been like in 1907. There are hundreds of photos of The Duke and other memorabilia to be viewed.

Nickname

Duke was a nickname that he got, which followed him all of his life. The account of just how he got the name is fascinating.

He used to walk to school but left his dog, Duke, at a nearby fire station. The firemen knew the dog's name but not the boy's name. So when the men at the fire station saw the young boy, they started calling him Duke. The name stuck, and he was lovingly nicknamed Duke for the rest of his life. If someone many years later used the term "The Duke," everyone knew who they meant.

Duke was an attractive young man with a 6 foot and 4-inch frame. He was spotted and received his first acting job in 1928 at Fox Studios, where he worked as an extra for a while. He earned a salary of $75 per week.

He was going to the University of Southern California and thought that he wanted to become a lawyer. For help with paying for his room and board, he washed dishes while in school. When the movie offers started coming, he gave up his former idea of a career.

Movies

Some of the first movies the Duke played a part in include "Salute" and "The Big Trail." One of his producers did not like Marion or even the Duke name and renamed him John Wayne, which he thought was a more American-sounding name and a better moniker for the movies. John Wayne, he became for the rest of his years, including his nickname, which also stuck.

The movie Stagecoach was his breakthrough film, and after that, he started getting starring roles.

He was in some 200 movies, many of which are still well known and loved today by fans. A partial listing reads like a history lesson of our historic western past and includes such films as follows:

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Read More from WanderWisdom

  • True Grit
  • Rio Lobo
  • Stagecoach
  • The Alamo
  • Rio Bravo
  • The Oregon Trail

These movies are a mere sampling of the films in which John Wayne played a part. He was known for his swaggered way of walking and his deep, distinctive voice.

John Wayne Tribute (with El Dorado sung by George Alexander)

Politics

Politically he was a conservative and a Republican. He supported Richard Nixon and Ronald Reagan, among others, and spurned offers to enter politics personally. He made his feelings known through his efforts on behalf of others, including his staring in some films. Some of his work was not always popularly received.

Although he did not enlist in the war effort as other actors did, he personified commitment and bravery in many war films.

His Love of America

John Wayne was known for speaking his mind about how he felt about his country. He authored a book titled America Why I Love Her. He encouraged people to concentrate on "the good things about America" and "nurture her strengths and strengthen her weaknesses…"

Sure I wave the American flag. Do you know a better flag to wave? Sure I love my country with all her faults. I'm not ashamed of that, never have been, never will be.

— John Wayne

Why John Wayne Loves America

What to Know About John Wayne

From visiting his birthplace in Winterset, Iowa, we learned the following:

  • Maureen O'Hara went before Congress to urge them to strike a medal in his honor. Many other people of note also testified as to wanting this honor bestowed upon the Duke. Congress authorized it, and President Carter approved it in 1979. The inscription reads: "John Wayne – American."
  • John Wayne had three marriages and ended up with seven children and twenty-one grandchildren during his lifetime. He ended up owning several ranch homes, a jet airplane, and a 135-foot yacht called "The Wild Goose."
  • He received several awards in his lifetime. After his death, Congress awarded him a Congressional Gold Medal, one of the highest honors bestowed upon a civilian.
  • John Wayne epitomized the spirit of patriotism and has been dubbed "The Great American" by many.

Winterset, Iowa

The town still has many buildings from the late 1800s and has a beautifully constructed courthouse that dominates the small town.

Is viewing the birthplace of this most famous film star known as John Wayne worth a visit? We thought so, and my mother, niece, and I carried away memories of this "Great American," the Duke, with a little more perspective about his humble and straightforward past and his lifetime achievements.

TRUE Courage is when you are scared to death and STILL saddle up and ride in!

— John Wayne

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.

— John Wayne

Sources:

This content is accurate and true to the best of the author’s knowledge and is not meant to substitute for formal and individualized advice from a qualified professional.

© 2009 Peggy Woods

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