John Wayne was a brilliant actor best remembered for his embodiment of a strong cowboy. The actor’s off-screen life was equally defining of his existence.
John Wayne was born Marion Robert Morrison on May 26, 1907, in Winterset, Iowa. He attended the University of Southern California in 1925. During summers, he worked at the Fox Film Corporation as a propman.
Despite his humble beginnings, Wayne would become one of the most popular actors of the 20th century, with his legacy in American film still remembered today. It was when he met director John Ford while working as an extra that he got his big break.
Publicity portrait of John Wayne. Frank Driggs Collection | Photo: Wikimedia Commons Images, Public Domain
HIS HUMBLE BEGINNINGS
Wayne’s first leading role came two years later in the movie “The Big Trail.” The next eight years were full of roles in over 60 low-budget motion pictures, and the audience mostly saw Wayne as a cowboy, a soldier, or other notorious rugged men with a taste for adventure.
His real star stature came in 1939 when director Ford cast him as the Ringo Kid in “Stagecoach.” A year later, Wayne’s role in “The Long Voyage Home” earned him a solid place in Hollywood, all thanks to his compelling performance.
John Wayne and Marsha Hunt in "Born to the West," 1937 | Photo: Wikimedia Commons Images, Public Domain
BECOMING A HOLLYWOOD ICON
Although he was a brilliant actor, Wayne was often criticized throughout his career by those who questioned his versatility. Nonetheless, he persisted as a cinematic icon in the land of Hollywood.
John married his first wife, Josephine Saenz, on June 24, 1933. The couple had four kids together: Michael, Toni, Melinda, and Patrick.
HIS PUBLIC AFFAIR
Their marriage was troublesome, with Wayne's affair to lusty German film star Marlene Dietrich no secret. They starred in the 1940 film "Seven Sinners," and the man had fallen madly in love with his co-star.
Their affair lasted for three years, and it was reported that he did not care who knew about it. They were seen kissing over dinner at restaurants and nightclubs before Deitrich left him for actor George Raft and France's biggest movie star, Jean Gabin.
John Wayne and his wife, Esperanza Baur arrive at the "Sands of Iwo Jima" premiere. | Source: Wikimedia Commons By USMC Archives, CC BY 2.0
HIS SECOND MARRIAGE
Wayne and Saenz officially parted ways in 1944 after he was unable to make enough time for his family. After the divorce, the actor met his second wife, Esperanza Baur Diza, aka Chata, while he was vacationing in Mexico.
The couple got married on January 17, 1946, in California. Although their chemistry was quite strong, Wayne and Chata had a difficult marriage from the very start.
John Wayne filming the movie "Legend of the Lost", Tripoli, circa 1956. | Source: Getty Images
THEIR ROCKY RELATIONSHIP
Wayne was always dedicated to work and tried to spend time with his four children with Saenz. He and Chata did not have any children.
After years of a tumultuous relationship full of alcohol-fueled arguments, the couple separated in May 1952. By spring of 1953, Chata requested a restraining order to be placed against Wayne for alleged violence, also demanding $9,000 as monthly alimony as opposed to Wayne’s $900 offer.
"I never at any time during our marriage struck my wife . . . I will add that many times I had to protect myself from her temper--I call it 'womanhandling.'"
After their separation, he got married to his third wife, Pilar Palette, and the pair had three more children – Ethan, Aissa, and Marisa. During his later years, he focused his work on his advocacy, particularly on finding a cure for cancer.
On June 11, 1979, Wayne died of stomach cancer in Los Angeles, California. Previously, he successfully battled lung cancer in 1964 by having a lung and several ribs removed.
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