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John Wayne: His Life, Career and Charity

The award-winning artists’ son, Ethan Wayne, reveals his unique perspective on his father’s films.


Content provided by INSP.

John Wayne had a 50-year film career and is recognized around the world. This May, INSP will air his films in a month-long event. Recently, we chatted with Ethan Wayne about his famous father.

“Each film brought some adventure, brought some magnificent scenery, brought you a strong character, that was also fair. He was an aspirational character. I think there were a lot of qualities in the John Wayne characters that people liked. They wanted to be like him,” Ethan says, “I remember as a young boy…that he relished where his films had ended up and the way they delivered entertainment to the public.”

Indeed, the characters John Wayne portrayed spanned the spectrum of humanity—lawmen and outlaws, soldiers and historical figures, ranchers, trailblazers, and tough men with soft hearts. He even showcased his flair for humor in films like McLintock!. “With John Wayne, it goes beyond acting…He’s representing, on screen, people who built the country,” Ethan says.

John Wayne was born Marion Morrison on May 26, 1907 in Winterset, Iowa. Before the Morrisons moved to Glendale, California in 1916, they faced many challenges, but those hardships shaped the character of the boy who would become an American icon. “I think he found solace in school and relationships in school,” Ethan says.

At Glendale Union High School, the future star excelled in academics and sports. He captained the football team in a championship season and on a football scholarship, attended the University of Southern California. When an injury cost him his scholarship, he left school to work. “You know he had setbacks. That never shut him down. He kept pivoting and moving forward,” Ethan says.

As an aspiring actor, John Wayne got a job as a prop boy, where he observed renowned director, John Ford, with whom he would later work with on Stagecoach, Fort Apache, and Rio Grande, among other movies. He learned from director Raoul Walsh, who gave him his first leading role in The Big Trail and is often credited with helping create the screen name, John Wayne.

Because he was born when John Wayne was already a 55-year-old veteran actor, Ethan has a unique perspective on his father’s films. “I get to see my father when I didn’t know him, as a younger man.”

John Wayne died of cancer on June 11, 1979 and left several legacies: His extraordinary film career, The John Wayne Cancer Foundation, and now the in-depth exhibit, “John Wayne: An American Experience”.

Ethan is about to drive to Pioneertown, California where a John Wayne Grit Series Run will be held on May 22, to benefit the John Wayne Cancer Foundation. “He was very compassionate. He just gave, and gave, and gave, and gave, financially, emotionally, with his time,” Ethan says, “Yeah, he was a special guy.”

The Duke Days of May event airs on INSP, featuring John Wayne movies Fridays, Saturdays, and Sundays in May at 8PM ET. Visit INSP.com for the full schedule and how to find INSP on your TV.

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