John Wayne Earned First Opportunity in Hollywood As a Favor to USC Football Coach Howard Jones

by Halle Ames
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Legendary actor John Wayne earned his first role in Hollywood as part of a favor from USC football coach Howard Jones.

You know what they say. It doesn’t matter how you got started, just that you started. Boy is that true, or else they may never have found our beloved cowboy.

Although the job wasn’t much, John Wayne’s name grew to be a household one.

Marion Morrison Early Life

John Wayne was born Marion Morrison in a small town in Iowa. However, at a young age, the family packed their midwestern bags and moved to Palmdale, California.

Growing up in California, John Wayne excelled in both athletics and academics. In 1924 he accompanied his Glendale high school team to the league championship.

Although he was turned down from his first option for college, the U.S. Naval Academy, Wayne received a scholarship to play for the USC Trojans football team. It was here that John Wayne played under coach Howard Jones.

While bodysurfing, Wayne suffered a collarbone injury. Since having a stable, working collarbone is ideal for playing football, the Duke was in trouble.

He once noted that he was too intimidated by Howard Jones to reveal the actual cause of the injury. Regardless of how John Wayne sustained the broken bone, he was cut from the team.

Without any sort of scholarship, Wayne could not afford to attend the university and had to drop out.

Feeling for his misfortunate player, Howard Jones had old debts to cash in on. He has given silent western actor Tom Mix tickets to USC games in the past and asked if he could find a job for Wayne around set.

Transitioning Into John Wayne

Furthermore, John Ford and Tom Mix hired John Wayne as a prop boy and an extra. Wayne moved up to minor roles, generally, that had less than six lines. All the while, he established a close friendship with director John Ford and notable western actor Wyatt Earp.

It wasn’t until 1930 while working under director Raoul Walsh that Wayne was noticed. Walsh noticed the young, handsome prop boy moving studio furniture as cast him as the star in the movie The Big Trail.

Although the big-budget movie was a box office bust, John Wayne’s time in Hollywood was just getting started. He was demoted to more minor roles once again or low-budget leads, but it wasn’t until 1939 that the Duke had his breakout role.

John Ford cast Wayne to be the lead in the film Stagecoach. The movie was a hit both by critics and box office fans.

Prior to John Wayne’s death in 1979, he starred in at least 85 films, although taking into account his very minor roles, that number is much higher.

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