Wayne was born Marion Robert Morrison on May 26, 1907 at 224 South Second Street in Winterset, Iowa. The local paper, Winterset Madisonian, reported on page 4 of the edition of May 30, 1907 that Wayne weighed 13 lbs at birth. His middle name was soon changed from Robert to Mitchell when his parents decided to name their next son Robert. Wayne’s father, Clyde Leonard Morrison (1884–1937), was the son of American Civil War veteran Marion Mitchell Morrison (1845–1915). Wayne’s mother, the former Mary “Molly” Alberta Brown (1885–1970), was from Lancaster County, Nebraska. Wayne’s ancestry included Scottish, Irish, Scots-Irish, and English. He was raised Presbyterian.
Wayne’s family moved to Palmdale, California, and then in 1916 to Glendale, California, where his father worked as a pharmacist. He attended Glendale Union High School where he performed well in both sport and academics. Wayne was part of his high school’s football team and its debating team. He was also the president of the Latin Society and contributed to the school’s newspaper sports column.
A local fireman at the station on his route to school in Glendale started calling him “Little Duke” because he never went anywhere without his huge Airedale Terrier, Duke. He preferred “Duke” to “Marion”, and the nickname stuck. Wayne attended Wilson Middle School in Glendale. As a teen, he worked in an ice cream shop for a man who shod horses for Hollywood studios. He was also active as a member of the Order of DeMolay, a youth organization of the Freemasons. He played football for the 1924 league champion Glendale High School team.
Wayne applied to the U.S. Naval Academy, but he was not accepted. Instead, he attended the University of Southern California, majoring in pre-law. He was a member of the Trojan Knights and Sigma Chi fraternities. Wayne also played on the USC football team under coach Howard Jones. A broken collarbone injury curtailed his athletic career; Wayne later noted that he was too terrified of Jones’ reaction to reveal the actual cause of his injury, a bodysurfing accident. He lost his athletic scholarship, and without funds, had to leave the university.
As a favor to USC football coach Howard Jones, who had given silent western film star, Tom Mix, tickets to USC games, director John Ford and Mix hired Wayne as a prop boy and extra. Wayne later credited his walk, talk, and persona to his acquaintance with Wyatt Earp, who was good friends with Tom Mix. Wayne soon moved to bit parts, establishing a longtime friendship with the director who provided most of those roles, John Ford. (read more)