The Big Trail opens, featuring John Wayne in his first leading role. Unfortunately, the film flopped, and Wayne played mediocre roles for the next 10 years.
Wayne was born Marion Michael Morrison in 1908 in Iowa. He moved as a child to Glendale, California. A football star at Glendale High School, he attended USC on a scholarship but dropped out after two years. Working at Fox Film Corp., he befriended rising director John Ford. He played bit parts under the name of Duke Morrison (taking the name Duke from his childhood pet, an Airedale). In 1930, a college buddy, Raoul Walsh, hired Wayne for $75 a week to star in his film The Big Trail.
In 1939, Wayne finally had his breakthrough when his old friend John Ford cast him in Stagecoach. Wayne went on to play larger-than-life heroes in dozens of movies. In 1969, he won an Oscar for his role in True Grit. During four decades of acting, Wayne appeared in 250 films. Ford directed many of his films, including She Wore a Yellow Ribbon (1949) and The Quiet Man (1952).
Wayne was married three times and had seven children and 16 grandchildren. He battled cancer for more than a decade. In 1963, his left lung was removed. He died of cancer in 1979.