John Wayne was born Marion Robert Morrison, in Winterset, Iowa, on May 26, 1907. Shortly after his birth, his parents changed his middle name to Robert, as they had decided to name their next child the same name. His father was Clyde Leonard Wayne, son of a Civil War veteran, whom John Wayne was named in honor of; John’s mother was Mary Alberta Brown, native to Nebraska. John’s father had developed a lung condition, and for his sake, moved south to California, to take up ranching. When that failed, the Morrison family moved over to Glendale, California. There, young John would deliver medicine to his sick father, and was a paperboy. Initially, John was interested in football, and did well in the field whilst in school. However, after attaining an injury, he was unable to gain a football scholarship. It was after this when he turned to acting, in which he would star in more than 140 motion pictures, and participate in a total of over 250.
One can get away with saying that, even from birth, John Wayne has made a dramatic appearance; the local newspaper in Winterset remarked that he weighed 13 pounds at birth. He appeared in his first motion picture in 1929 (still recognized with the Morrison surname), Words and Music. After appearing in his first starring role, The Big Trail, in 1930, it was suggested that he change his name to Anthony Wayne, after a general from the Revolutionary War, but Fox Studios chief Winfield Sheenan did not agree with the name, and John Wayne was chosen in the end. John Wayne played a total of 80 low-budget westerns in the 1930’s, but his claim to fame occurred in 1939 with the movie Stagecoach. After this, John Wayne’s name was no-doubt well known. In the 1940’s he appeared in a radio program, known as The Three Sheets to the Wind. In 1948, John appeared in another classic Western, Wake of the Red Witch. In 1950, however, he lost out to Gregory Peck in the movie The Gunfighter, due to complications with the studio. In 1960, he appeared in one of his most famous movies, The Alamo, in which he produced, directed and starred in. After making a name for himself, he met with President Nixon in 1972.
John Wayne was also well-known for his extreme patriotism. During the Second World War, in which he so desperately wanted to take part in, he had tried to enlist numerous times. However, he was rejected for numerous reasons, including factors such as his age (which was over the draft-limit at the time of the attack on Pearl Harbor) and numerous contracts he had signed with movie studios, such as Republic. In fact, the President of Republic had threatened to sue John if he had enlisted into the Army, claiming it broke their contract. However, John did receive the chance to tour the Pacific islands in 1943-1944 as part of the USO. Although seen as primarily a Western actor, he had a chance to portray his patriotic attitude, such as the 1962 movie The Longest Day, a film based off of the Allied invasion of France on June 6, 1944, better known as D-Day. Some, including his widow, have mentioned that his extreme patriotism in the years after the war came from guilt in not being able to enlist. John felt this way for the rest of his life, until he passed away at 72 on June 11, 1979, due to cancer complications in the stomach.
James Arness was an American actor, best known for his iconic role in one of the longest-running American television series, Gunsmoke, as Marshal Matt Dillon. James was born James King Aurness in Minneapolis, Minnesota, on May 26, 1923. He was of Norwegian and German descent, from his father and mother respectively. His father was a businessman by the name of Rolf Cirkler Aurness (The original family name had been Aursnes, but Rolf’s, Peter Aursnes, father dropped the first S after moving to the United States in 1887), and James’ mother was Ruth Duesler, whom later became a journalist. James had one younger brother, whom also became an actor by the name of Peter Graves. He later attended Washburn High School, then subsequently West High School. At the time, James held a job unloading freight cars, and often missed school. Nonetheless, James graduated high school in 1942.
The following year, in 1943, James was drafted into the Army. He was stationed with the 3rd Infantry Division, and was one in of the first units to land at Anzio Beach in early 1944, a successful Allied attempt to cut off the Germans in the south. In fact, due to his impressive stature of 6’7, he was ordered to jump out of the landing craft first, to check how deep the water was. Despite it being a relatively easy landing overall, James was severely injured in combat, when a German heavy machine gun shot up his leg and foot. Accordingly, he was sent back to the United States for treatment at Clinton, Iowa. Due to his excessive injury (which would cause pain for the rest of his life), he received an Honorable Discharge from military service. After being released from the Army, his younger brother Peter Graves mentioned that James take up radio broadcasting. Although performing well in his career in Minnesota, a childhood friend had recommended that he look into Hollywood as an actor, for extra pay.
Heeding his advice, James left for Hollywood via hitchhiking. He immediately started attending Bliss-Hayden Theatre School, where he manifested his skill as an actor. Soon afterwards, he appeared in his first film in 1947’s The Farmer’s Daughter, in which he dropped the U in his last name, becoming James Arness. Things weren’t smooth sailing afterward, however, and he spent his days living on the beach and surfing. After receiving fan mail, however, he began to press more into his career, appearing in plays and other forms of entertainment. This is when John Wayne’s agent, Charles K. Feldman, had first seen James, and later introduced him to Wayne, whom would groom James into a Western actor. Following his roles in a couple of science fiction films, The Thing From Another World and Them! of 1951 and 1954 respectively, he starred in the television series that would make his name immortal in Western culture, Gunsmoke. The show ran for two decades, and more than 600 episodes, making it the longest-aired live-action television show in history. James continued to act until finally retiring in 1994, at the age of 71. He died on June 3, 2011, at the age of 88 due to natural causes.
Burt Lancaster was an American actor, born Burton Stephen Lancaster, in Manhattan on November 2, 1913. His father was James Henry Lancaster, a mailman, and Burt’s mother was Elizabeth Roberts. Burt is primarily of Irish descent, as his grandparents were Irish immigrants. Burt was known as the tough kid in the streets of Manhattan, and grew to love gymnastics. Whilst attending DeWitt Clinton High School, he had joined the school’s basketball team, where he excelled. This was no doubt helped by his large stature, standing at 6’2. Before graduating from school, his mother had passed away due to a cerebral hemorrhage. After spending a brief time in New York University before dropping out, Burt continued to nourish his interest in athletics, trying out in the circus. This had led Burt to meet Nick Cravat when he was 19, and became good partners.
Burt Lancaster enjoyed work in local theaters with his colleague Nick throughout the 1930’s. After a few years as serving as an acrobat, however, he suffered an injury in 1939, forbidding him from continuing his performance. For next two or so years, he would be confined to secondary jobs, such as a salesman, and would subsequently become a singer in restaurants. After the United States entered the Second World War, however, he enlisted into the Army, and toured the frontlines as part of the USO to give free entertainment and boost the morale of soldiers entrenched on the frontline, specifically in the Fifth Army in the Italian front from 1943-1945. This is where young Burt would acquire his inspiration for acting.
This is exactly what he did immediately after the war. In 1946, he appeared in his first film, The Killers, which instantly transformed a little-known acrobat into a famed actor. Throughout the upcoming years, as Burt’s acting would gradually mature (as he was a self-taught actor), his circus comrade Nick joined him in movies such as The Flame and the Arrow and The Crimson Pirate of 1950 and 1952 respectively as a supporting co-star, re-introducing their stunts that no doubt impressed the audience. Perhaps Burt’s most famous film in his career was 1953’s From Here to Eternity, in which he starred with Deborah Kerr. At this time, Burt also took up directing and producing, co-producing The Crimson Pirate, and went on to form his own production company, Hecht-Hill-Lancaster. Despite all of these endeavors, he certainly wasn’t done with his acting career, which he had grown to love from his initial indifferent attitude towards his life-long career. In 1970, he starred with Dean Martin in the first disaster movie, the legendary Airport. His last film was in 1989, starring in Field of Dreams. Burt died right before his 81st birthday (November 2), on October 20, 1994.