John Wayne: Why the Duke’s Son ‘Found a Home’ for His Dad’s Precious Memorabilia in Forth Worth Stockyards

by Josh Lanier

Ethan Wayne said he was overwhelmed when he realized how much memorabilia his dad John Wayne had collected over his career. The Duke had kept some icon props, wardrobes, and a host of personal items from several of his famous films. So much of it, in fact, that Ethan Wayne decided to turn it into a museum.

The John Wayne: An American Experience opened in December at the Fort Worth Stockyards. The 10,000-square-foot museum was an outgrowth of a pop-up exhibit Ethan Wayne tried earlier in Las Vegas to gauge interest.

Ethan received John Wayne’s items after his half-brother, who ran the family business, died in 2003, leaving him in charge.

“I thought, ‘My gosh, we have a lot of really significant memorabilia here,” he told Culture Map Fort Worth. “I don’t think the rest of the family really knew. From that moment we started thinking about how we were going to find a home for it.”

A developer who saw his Las Vegas exhibit persuaded him to bring the exhibit to Fort Worth. They overhauled and redesigned the stockyards to better suit their needs. And also create enough space for all of the items and John Wayne exhibits they have planned.

Some of the more special items are the original script for True Grit and the Academy Award Wayne won for his role in it. His Medal of Freedom from President Jimmy Carter, his Congressional Gold Medal, and his Grammy-nominated original poems are also on display.

But there are also glimpses into The Duke’s private life, with letters and telegrams from Carol Burnett and Jerry Lewis among others, Culture Map said.

John Wayne died of cancer in 1979. Wednesday, May 26, would have been his birthday, but it is now “John Wayne Day” in Texas. The museum is throwing a party to celebrate.

John Wayne Enjoyed Giving Back to His Fans

Ethan Wayne said he learned a lot about his dad since he started curating the collection. Mostly, that his father enjoyed speaking with his fans and learning from their perspectives.

“He was a great listener. He had very strong opinions, but that didn’t mean he didn’t want to hear yours if you had a different opinion,” he said.

John Wayne’s granddaughter Anita La Cava Swift told American Cowboy in 2014 that Wayne knew the importance of being kind to his fans.

“One thing I never understood is why stars are horrible to their fans — why they don’t take time to give an autograph or say hello. My grandfather always knew that his fans were responsible for him being where he was, and he appreciated them tremendously. He was always polite — there’s no reason not to be.”