Winterset offers fitting place to survey career of The Duke

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The photo that welcomes you into the museum is of Wayne in the 1940s.

“Don’t say it’s a fine morning, or I’ll shoot ya.”

That’s John Wayne’s character, George Washington McLintock, in his 1963 movie “McLintock,” with Maureen O’Hara. Who knew I have been quoting John Wayne all my life at all those awful early morning meetings I’ve attended?

There’s a lot to quote from the characters John Wayne played — and even Wayne himself. As his website says, over his 50-year career, Wayne was the lead in more than 140 films — a record yet to be broken. Many of the posters from his movies and much more memorabilia can be seen at the new John Wayne Birthplace and Museum in Winterset.

The birthplace of Marion Robert Morrison, better known as John Wayne, is in Winterset.
The birthplace of Marion Robert Morrison, better known as John Wayne, is in Winterset.

According to the timeline, Marion Robert Morrison was born in Winterset on the morning of May 26, 1907. Marion was the first child of pharmacist Clyde Leonard “Doc” Morrison and telephone operator Mary “Molly” Brown.

Born in the back bedroom of the family home, his first name, Marion, was from Clyde’s father (Marion Mitchell Morrison), and his middle name, Robert, from Molly’s father (Robert Emmett Brown).

He got the nickname “Duke” from his dog. While living in Glendale, Calif., the Morrisons’ dog, Duke, was Wayne’s constant companion. The firefighters at the local fire station knew the dog’s name but not the little boy’s, so they started calling him Duke and the name stuck.

The John Wayne Birthplace and Museum has much to offer, including a brief documentary on Wayne that can be watched while sitting in seats originally from Grauman’s Chinese Theater in Hollywood, a gift shop, the birthplace home and a new museum space, with everything from costumes and posters to a car.

For those so inclined, you may even don a hat and some Western wear and have a photo taken with “The Duke.”

There’s a picture of Wayne winning his only Oscar 40 years into his career for the 1969 western “True Grit.” According to the museum, when Wayne reached the podium, he leaned over to presenter Barbra Streisand and whispered, “Beginner’s luck.”

There are quotes and memorabilia from his frequent co-star and leading lady Maureen O’Hara and letters from luminaries such as Bob Hope, Lucille Ball and Jimmy Stewart. There are pictures of his family, his personal calendar listing an appearance on the Johnny Carson show among other dates, a car customized for his 6’4” frame, and all sorts of items to thrill fans of Wayne.

John Wayne's yacht, the Wild Goose, is pictured at the John Wayne Museum in Winterset.
John Wayne’s yacht, the Wild Goose, is pictured at the John Wayne Museum in Winterset.

Accompanying the exhibits are video displays providing more candid shots and a peek into Wayne’s life, not only in the movies but also in his private life, such as time he spent on his beloved yacht, the Wild Goose.

Considering Wayne’s long-standing presence on Harris’s “American’s Favorite Movie Star” poll, the new museum should be a bucket list item for many Americans.

His popularity remains high. The January 2015 Harris poll reported, “Riding all the way from number seven last year to a second-place finish is the only star who has appeared on this list since it first began in 1994 (at which time his most recent film was nearly two decades old), John Wayne.”

Denzel Washington is the Harris poll’s most popular actor, and rounding out the top five are Brad Pitt, Johnny Depp and Tom Hanks.

The John Wayne Birthplace and Museum claims to be the “museum featuring the largest diversified exhibit of John Wayne artifacts in existence.” Its hours are 10 a.m. to 5 p.m. daily, and visitors should allow about one hour for the tour.

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