John Wayne Became an Actor Because of a Body Surfing Accident: Here’s Why

by Matthew Wilson
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Cowboys may not cry, but they certainly surf. Western fans have a bodysurfing injury to thank for putting John Wayne on the path to becoming an actor.

Back then, John Wayne wasn’t even John Wayne. He was Marion Morrison, a college student with dreams of becoming a football star. The Duke attended the University of Southern California on a football scholarship. In his spare time, Wayne, like many college students, enjoyed the beach and bodysurfing.

But one fateful afternoon would change his life. While bodysurfing at Huntingdon Beach, a strong wave knocked Wayne off his board and forced him under. The force of the water dislocated Wayne’s right shoulder. Not wanting to admit he was injured in a surfing accident, Wayne tried to soldier through the pain.

At the time, Wayne played for the USC football team as a lineman. According to “The Young Duke: The Early Life of John Wayne,” the constant movement during training proved to be excruciating for the future actor. He struggled to keep up, and due to his poor performance, the football team cut Wayne during his sophomore year.

John Wayne Heads to Hollywood

Unfortunately, Wayne was also on a football scholarship. When he was cut from the team, he lost it all in a matter of speaking. The Duke was unable to pay for his room at his fraternity, much less the school’s tuition. Afterward, he faced an uncertain future of small jobs. For a time, Wayne worked at a phone company and washed dishes, trying to pay for school. But he was unable to make enough to get by.

Quitting school, Wayne left for San Francisco searching for new opportunities. During this time, he decided to run away from his troubles by hitching a ride to Hawaii on a steamship. But authorities soon found him stowed-away on the ship and sent him back to Los Angeles.

In 1927, Wayne got a job as a prop guy at Fox Studios with a little help from his former coach. The Duke had finally found his way to Hollywood. For the next three years, Wayne worked closely behind the scenes where he rubbed shoulders with directors and learned the ins and outs of the business.

Then in 1930, Wayne finally got his big break. He was cast in the leading role for “The Big Trail,” kickstarting his path to becoming one of the most iconic actors of his generation.

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