John Wayne: The Duke’s Iowa Birthplace Home Was Transformed Into a Museum

by Jennifer Shea

While Hollywood legend John Wayne grew up in Southern California, he was born in Winterset, Iowa. And it is there that the John Wayne Birthplace & Museum now makes its home.

According to its website, the museum reopened to visitors on May 22, 2020. It still requires all patrons to wear face masks and use hand sanitizer while in the museum.

The Duke’s 2021 birthday celebration has been postponed, however, until May 27 and 28 of 2022. (Wayne was born on May 26, 1907.) The coronavirus continues to interfere with public gatherings.

“The situation with the pandemic is still too fluid to allow us to proceed this year, and we want to do it right and provide you with the celebration that you’ve come to expect,” the museum’s website explains.

Wayne’s Birthplace Has Seen Visitors From All 50 States and 40 Foreign Countries

Wayne’s birthplace has become a mecca of sorts for more than 1 million visitors since the John Wayne Birthplace Society formed in 1982. Those visitors have included President Ronald Reagan, actress Maureen O’Hara, Wayne’s widow and his children.

The museum houses the biggest diversified collection of John Wayne artifacts anywhere. Among them are original movie posters, scripts, film wardrobe samples, contracts, letters, artwork and sculpture and one of Wayne’s last customized cars. It also features a movie theater outfitted with seats imported from Grauman’s Chinese Theater in Hollywood.

“We are proud of the facilities and exhibits, but crucial to making the John Wayne Birthplace & Museum an enjoyable and memorable experience for our guests is our outstanding staff,” Manager Liz Hansen said, according to the museum’s website.

The John Wayne Birthplace & Museum also won the coveted 2020 Travelers’ Choice Award from Tripadvisor. That was a difficult feat in a challenging year for hospitality businesses.

John Wayne Was Born Marion Robert Morrison

Saddled with a difficult name as a child, Wayne decided not to use his birth name (Marion Robert Morrison), or the name his parents changed it to (Marion Mitchell Morrison), or his nickname when it came time to choose a stage name in Hollywood.

Wayne liked the nickname “Duke.” He reportedly acquired it from local firefighters when he was a kid; his big dog was named “Duke,” so they called him “Little Duke.” But he didn’t like the sound of “Duke Morrison.” That name “sounds like a stuntman,” Wayne said, according to biographer Scott Eyman.  

So Wayne picked a surname based on the Revolutionary War general that the head of Fox Studios liked. And, knowing the studios didn’t like “ethnic” names then, he went with “John,” which seemed to fit well with “Wayne.”

Nonetheless, offscreen, Wayne continued to ask people to call him “Duke.”