John Wayne’s family moved to California from Iowa when he was a young boy, settling in the Los Angeles area. But the Duke, nicknamed after his childhood dog, left an indelible mark on Orange County, starting with the accident that propelled him toward his half-century-long acting career to the county’s airport named in his honor.
Here are some of the legendary film icon’s local touch points:
The Balboa Pier:
Born Marion Morrison, the former tackle at Glendale High School earned a scholarship in the 1920s to play football for the University of Southern California. But one day, while bodysurfing near the Balboa Pier in Newport Beach, he broke his collarbone, cutting short his athletic career. Forced to seek out work in one of the movie studios to help pay for college, Morrison started as a prop man at Fox studios. He was discovered by director John Ford while loading furniture on a truck, and started playing bit roles. He had his first star role in a film called The Big Trail, and Marion Morrison went on to become the larger-than-life John Wayne—actor, director and producer.
After that, Wayne appeared in over 175 films, more than a dozen directed by John Ford alone. For an entire generation, he was Hollywood’s biggest box-office star. In the mid-60s, his health failed and he moved from Encino to a sprawling, ranch-style home on the shores of Newport Harbor. The waterfront house at the tip of Bayshore Drive was recently torn down.
Although Wayne starred in almost every movie genre, including his most famous role in Ford’s Stagecoach, he made his mark in the Westerns, winning an Oscar for Best Actor in 1969 for True Grit. During his retirement, Wayne loved cruising on his yacht “Wild Goose,” a former WWII minesweeper—now listed on The National Register of Historic Places and still used by Hornblower Cruises & Events in Newport Beach.
Pacific View Memorial Park:
Fifteen years after beating lung cancer, Wayne succumbed to stomach cancer at age 72. He died in 1979. Posthumously, Wayne was awarded the Congressional Gold Medal. A year later, in 1980, President Jimmy Carter awarded him the Presidential Medal of Freedom, America’s highest civilian honor. Wayne is among only a handful of individuals who have received both medals. Buried in the Pacific View Memorial Park in Corona del Mar, his grave went unmarked for 20 years—but today is marked with a quotation from a 1971 Playboy interview: “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 Airport:
To many, John Wayne represented the traditional American values and was known as a patriot. He was an ardent anti-communist and deeply regretted never serving during WWII because of his age (34 at time of Pearl Harbor). Although he was the most famous Republican star of his time, he turned down opportunities to run for political office, and instead campaigned for friends, such as Richard Nixon and Ronald Reagan.
In June 1979, the Orange County Board of Supervisors renamed the Orange County airport to John Wayne Airport, Orange County. Sculptor Robert Summers was commissioned to make a 9-foot-tall bronze statue of Wayne, which stands in the lobby of the main terminal.
John Wayne Cancer Foundation:
Founded in 1985, the John Wayne Cancer Foundation was created in honor of John Wayne after his family promised to use his name to continue his fight against cancer. The John Wayne Cancer Foundation’s mission is to bring courage, strength and grit to the fight against cancer. John Wayne Cancer Foundation funds novel and innovative programs per foundation that improve cancer patient outcomes and saves lives including research, education, awareness and support. For more information on the John Wayne Cancer Foundation, located in Newport Beach, CA, visit johnwayne.org.