8 Fun Facts You May Not Know About John Wayne

Porfle Popnecker / YouTube, Paramount Movies / YouTube

John Wayne was a legendary American actor known for his iconic roles in Western films. With his commanding presence, rugged masculinity, and distinctive voice, Wayne became one of Hollywood’s most enduring and beloved stars, leaving a lasting legacy in the world of cinema.

You may think you know Wayne and his movies–but we guarantee there’s a ton you don’t know about the Western star. Let’s take a look at some little-known trivia about the actor’s life.

1. John Wayne Wasn’t His Real Name

His name wasn’t John Wayne at all–the actor was actually born Marion Robert Morrison in 1907. He changed it because he felt it was too feminine.

The name “John Wayne” was chosen to sound strong, masculine, and all-American, which was in line with the image he portrayed in many of his iconic Western films.

2. He Was A Fan of Chess

John Wayne had a passion for chess and was an avid player. He was known to have played chess with friends, family, and fellow actors during his free time on movie sets or at home.

The star regularly put a sign outside of his trailer that said, “Who wants to play chess with John Wayne?” in an attempt to invite fans to join him for his favorite game.

3. How John Wayne Got His First Lead Role

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Director Raoul Walsh saw Wayne working as a propman and decided to cast him in a feature film, The Big Trail, as the lead. He caught Walsh’s attention since he was looking for a fresh face to cast as the lead in his upcoming film “The Big Trail.” Walsh was impressed with Wayne’s imposing stature (he stood at 6’4″ with a commanding presence), his ability to ride a horse, and his overall screen presence.

4. He Only Won One Academy Award In His Career

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John Wayne only won one Academy Award over the course of his career–the award was for the Western film True Grit.

5. John Wayne Was A College Football Star

The actor was also a football star and went to the University of Southern California on a football scholarship.

6. He Wasn’t A Quitter

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While filming The Undefeated in 1969, Wayne broke three ribs. He refused to stop working and completed the film.

7. John Wayne Was Awarded The Congressional Gold Medal and Presidential Medal of Freedom

President Jimmy Carter received legislation from Congress on his birthday, May 26th, 1979, to authorize the striking of a special gold medal in honor of John Wayne. Wayne was posthumously awarded the Congressional Gold Medal. In 1980, President Jimmy Carter himself presented John Wayne with the Presidential Medal of Freedom, the highest civilian honor in the United States. John Wayne is one of only a few individuals to have received both the Presidential Medal of Freedom and the Congressional Gold Medal.

8. John Wayne Was Married Three Times

Wayne was married three times with two of those marriages ending in divorced. His wives were Josephine Alicia Saenz, Esperanza Baur, and Pilar Pallete. He fathered four children with Josephine and three more children with Pilar.

Several of Wayne’s offspring have followed his footsteps into the film and television industry.

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