John Wayne Told a Fan ‘The Duke’ Nickname Origination Story in 1976 Interview

by Joe Rutland
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It doesn’t matter if you are a young or old fan of John Wayne. People are still asking how did “The Duke” nickname start in his career?

Wayne, during a 1976 interview with talk-show host Phil Donahue, gets a similar question from an audience member.

“Because I had a dog, an airedale dog, when I was a little kid,” Wayne said. “I had an airedale dog called Duke and he’d follow me to school and stop at the fire station. The firemen knew the dog’s name so they’d call him ‘Big Duke’ and me ‘Little Duke.'”

The studio audience starts laughing, but John Wayne said, “That’s true. That’s how I got it.”

John Wayne Makes TV Appearance In Connection With ‘The Shootist’ Release

So, there you go. It all started from Wayne’s own dog and continued throughout his distinguished film career.

John Wayne, whose birth name was Marion Morrison, died on June 11, 1979, at 72 years old. He’d battled cancer in the latter part of his life.

“The Duke” made 179 film and TV appearances throughout his career. But he’s most connected with Western and military movies, along with directors like John Ford and Howard Hawks.

His appearance on “Donahue” coincided with the 1976 release of Wayne’s final film, “The Shootist.” In it, John Wayne plays an aging gunfighter battling cancer and looking for one more clash.

Film Star Said Having John Ford In Life Was ‘Best Thing That Ever Happened To Me’

Speaking of Ford, Wayne definitely had high praise for the director of one of his best films, “The Searchers.”

Wayne and Ford actually made more than 12 films together. Their working relationship continued up until Ford’s death in 1972.

But when “Duke” Wayne spoke of Ford, he only had powerful words for the director.

“He worked me like a godd–n dog,” Wayne said. “And you know something? It was the best thing that ever happened to me. It meant I got no chance to walk around looking for sympathy.”

His comments are taken from a post on the official John Wayne estate Instagram account. The words were connected with a picture of Wayne riding a horse while Ford sat in his director’s chair.

Their professional relationship and personal friendship was 50 years in length. It helped change the world of film making, too. According to PBS, Ford worked as a director for a decade before meeting the then-Marion Morrison, a USC student working as an assistant prop hand at 20th Century Fox.

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