Western icon John Wayne may be gone, but he’s not forgotten.
On Sunday, the Duke’s estate posted a picture to Instagram of Wayne with his mother. The photo depicts Wayne in full cowboy getup, kneeling behind his mother, smiling. His mother sits stiffly in a wooden chair in front of him.
“Happy Mother’s Day to all the great moms out there,” the Duke’s estate captioned the post.
Molly Was a Believer in Tough Love
Wayne’s mother was not one to show affection. At least, not to Wayne. According to the book “John Wayne: American,” Molly Morrison doted on Wayne’s younger brother Robert, even taking Wayne’s original middle name away from her eldest son to give to her younger son upon his birth when Wayne was 5 years old. But she never did reciprocate her firstborn’s love.
So all of his life, Wayne tried and failed to earn maternal approval from Molly. In one telling example, he sent his mother and her second husband on a lavish trip around the world in 1962. They saw all the major tourist sites around the globe. They traversed oceans on luxury ships, drove through countrysides in expensive cars and dined in top-of-the-line restaurants. Wayne picked up the tab.
When they got back, Wayne met up with them and asked if they’d had a good time. All Molly could talk about was how the trip had fallen short of her expectations, how tired she was, what terrible service they got, what Wayne should have done differently. Then Wayne looked crestfallen.
After he left the room, per “John Wayne: American,” Wayne’s longtime secretary, Mary St. John, asked Molly if she couldn’t be nicer to Wayne sometimes. The response? “I don’t give a damn about him,” Molly reportedly replied.
Perhaps understandably, Wayne grew up to prefer the company of men, finding among his male friends the loyalty his mother had never offered him. While he had three wives over the course of his life, his biographers claim the Duke never quite got over the fear and confusion that his mother instilled in him.
John Wayne Didn’t Repeat His Mother’s Mistakes
As a parent, Wayne reportedly tried to be there for his children. His youngest son, Ethan, told Fox News in 2018 that Wayne knew he probably wouldn’t be there to see his youngest grow into adulthood, so he tried to spend as much time with him as he could.
“He took with me on location,” Wayne explained. “I’d be homeschooled down on location in Mexico because he knew he wasn’t going to be around for me when I was older, and that he would probably lose me while I was [a] young, teenage man. So he took me with him when I was little. And one of my jobs was to load the car with all the personal items that he wanted with him when he would make a film somewhere remote. Or if he went on his boat, the Wild Goose.”
Ethan was 17 when Wayne died of cancer at age 72. He drove Wayne to UCLA Medical Center, from which Wayne was never to emerge. Ethan told Fox that Wayne may have been just an actor, but he was representing real people – men who headed West or went to war – and they liked him for it. And Wayne’s kids, who seem to remember him fondly, hope that will be his legacy.