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Brother John Wayne

By August 25, 2022No Comments
A black-and-white still frame of John Wayne as Singin’ Sandy Riders of Destiny

John stars as Singin’ Sandy in Riders of Destiny (1933)

With a career spanning three decades and nearly 200 films and television shows to his name, John Wayne became an American icon during his time atop the entertainment industry. He became a source of national pride thanks to his embodiment of patriotism, courage, and adventure at the heart of the United States of America. His accomplishments extended beyond Hollywood, reaching into healthcare, national affairs, and Freemasonry. Wayne was active in the fraternity for many years, reveling in the company of his brothers and learning from our ethical teachings. The hard work and charisma he exuded continue to inspire new generations of actors and Freemasons to this day.

A Boy from Winterset

John Wayne’s birth name was Marion Robert Morrison, and he was born in Winterset, Iowa, on May 26, 1907, to Clyde Leonard Morrison, a pharmacist, and Mary “Molly” Alberta Brown. His parents moved Marion and his younger brother Robert Emmet Morrison to Glendale, California in 1914. Marion was hardworking from a young age, helping in his father’s drugstore starting at age 12. He soon took on other odd jobs, including as a delivery boy, and working in a local ice-cream shop while attending Wilson Middle School. 

In Glendale, Marion received the nickname “Duke,” given to him by a local firefighter. The men often saw young Marion walking Duke, his Airedale Terrier, and the name stuck. He quickly preferred the moniker to his given name, and the title followed him throughout his life. During this period, Duke entered his first fraternal society, becoming an active member of the Order of DeMolay. This experience proved formative for Duke, as he would soon enter Freemasonry during adulthood.

Duke knew he wanted to apply to the U.S. Naval Academy and worked hard to make the most of his time at Glendale High School. He excelled athletically, playing for the 1924 football league champion Glendale High School team and serving as President of the Latin Society. Although rejected from the Naval Academy, Duke’s football achievements earned him a scholarship to the University of Southern California (USC).

While at USC, he majored in pre-law and joined the Trojan Knights and Sigma Chi fraternities. Unfortunately, he sustained a bodysurfing injury that broke his collarbone, making it impossible for him to continue playing football. As a result, he lost his scholarship and could no longer afford to attend college, and had to unenroll. 

The Arrival of Duke Morrison

While Duke was at USC, he played football under Coach Howard Jones. After leaving school, Duke Morrison set out to find work, his journey bringing him to Hollywood, where he secured a job with the Fox Film Corporation, thanks mainly to Coach Jones. Jones knew the film star Tom Mix and had given him tickets to USC football games. To return the favor, Mix and director John Ford hired Duke to work as a prop boy and extra on the set of their western films. 

One can’t help but be inspired by the notion that such an influential and monumental career blossomed out of these humble beginnings. Now on set, Duke worked moving props, furniture, lighting and sound equipment, and movie sets around the stage. Standing over six feet tall and with the stature of a football player, Morrison was hard to miss. Soon, filmmakers began asking him to step in front of the camera as an extra, and his first few roles were, fittingly, as a football player in the 1926 film Brown of Harvard and Drop Kick, which came out the following year. 

Before long, Duke struck up a friendship with the director who first cast him, John Ford, and the two remained close for years to come. This relationship was a pivotal moment for Duke, plugging him firmly into the Hollywood scene. Ford introduced him to director Raoul Walsh, who cast Morrison in his first starring role. Now cast as the lead in The Big Trail (1930), executives at the film studio urged Duke to pick a new, catchy name for himself. He chose “John Wayne,” and the rest is history. 

A black-and-white still frame of John Wayne in The Big Trail

John Wayne in The Big Trail

Here Comes John Wayne

Wayne’s tireless work ethic was soon on full display as he undertook new roles at an ecstatic clip. While The Big Trail wasn’t particularly successful, Wayne had a leading credit to his name and began taking minor roles in bigger budget films. By his estimation, he appeared in around 80 films during the 1930s, unabashedly accepting insignificant parts in an effort to build his resume and get more experience on the screen. 

This stretch of acting was kicked off when Wayne portrayed a corpse in a film by Columbia:  The Deceiver in 1931. The subsequent years were formative for Duke, as he took on starring roles in many a low-budget western, primarily for Monogram Pictures and Masonic Pictures Corporation. Wayne used this time to soak in all the knowledge he possibly could glean from his environment. He studied riding, fighting, and other valuable skills pertaining to the westerns from the stunt performers acting alongside him. All this contributed to Duke developing his style of acting, weaving in signature characteristics that added authenticity to the characters he portrayed. 

After nine years grinding away on low-budget films and minor roles, everything changed in 1939 when John Ford cast Wayne as the Ringo Kidd in Stagecoach, an instant classic. Thanks to the success of Stagecoach, John Wayne became a household name, ultimately becoming the biggest star in Hollywood thanks to his broad appeal as an “everyman.” Even after nearly a decade of working to earn his place on the screen, this breakout moment was only the beginning of what was to become an unmatchable career. 

Duke was unflagging in the decades to come – both on the screen and off. He became such a celebrated actor that his western and war movies, usually on the fringe of pop culture, became mainstream hits. Before long, John Wayne became synonymous with the ruggedness and independence of American culture. He supported the United States Armed forces with regular tours through the USO and traveled the world, making one classic film after the other. All this and more while building a family and raising four children, Michael, Toni, Patrick, and Melinda.

A photograph of John Wayne in his Shriner’s cap
John Wayne in his Shriner’s cap. He was a member of several Masonic bodies throughout his life.

Brother John Wayne

As previously mentioned, John Wayne’s first membership in a fraternity began in his teens. He joined the Glendale chapter of DeMolay in his youth and joined fraternities during his brief tenure at USC. After 30 years as an A-list actor, Wayne craved camaraderie away from the limelight and found it in Freemasonry in 1970. He knew of the craft from his father, who was a Mason before him, and likely from his time in DeMolay. 

Duke’s time in lodge with his brethren became a sort of sanctuary, recalling that he felt his fame melted away. His Masonic lodge was Marion McDaniel Lodge No. 56 in Tucson, Arizona. After being raised a Master Mason, he soon completed the degrees of the York Rite, became a member of the Al Malaikah Shrine Temple in Los Angeles, and joined the 32nd-degree Scottish Rite Freemasonry.

Death and legacy

Over the years, John Wayne’s roles began to reflect his age and maturity, expanding into romantic comedies and historical films during the 1960s. Perhaps his most famous performance came in 1969 when he starred as Rooster Cogburn in the classic movie, True Grit. The film earned Wayne several Academy Award nominations, including for best actor, which he won. 

However, Brother Wayne’s accomplishments were not limited to the silver screen and television. He fearlessly used his platform to bring awareness to several national issues, including lung cancer. In a battle with the disease in the mid-1960s, he lost a lung and several ribs, motivating him to become a national advocate for preventative exams. 

For his part in international affairs, Wayne played an integral role in working alongside the United States Senate in ratifying the Panama Canal Treaties in 1977. Within two years, he passed away at 72 from stomach cancer, but not before he asked his family to take up his fight and use their resources for cancer education and prevention efforts. In 1985, they established the John Wayne Cancer Foundation (JWCF) to promote research and create education programs, awareness initiatives, and support groups for those battling cancer.

A photograph of Wayne sitting with President Nixon and Henry Kissinger
Wayne meeting with President Nixon and Henry Kissinger, July 1972

There are countless ways in which John Wayne left his mark on American society and humanity at large. None seemed to exemplify his strength of character and generosity as his desire to help those who have cancer. Brother Wayne exuded the spirit of a Freemason at every turn. Fighting for causes he believed in and supporting others in their most dire moments. Although he has been gone for nearly 50 years, few actors remain as identifiable and celebrated as John Wayne.Want to learn about other famous Masons?

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