On 26, May, 1907, John Wayne was born in Iowa. He would go on to become one of Hollywood’s most recognized actors.
Forced to drop out of college after an injury preventing his further participation on the football team and he lost his athletic scholarship, Wayne took odd jobs at the Hollywood studios, eventually appearing in walk on roles and tiny speaking parts. His commercial breakthrough would be made in the 1939 film, ‘Stagecoach’, followed by a series of westerns and war pictures that would make him known around the world.
Wayne became the epitome of the American cowboy, soldier, and all around reliable, tough-guy. He would play the lead in 142 films. Wayne was nominated for three Academy Awards, winning once for Best Actor in a Leading Role in 1969.
His status grew so large he became an object of interest to world leaders. Wayne spoke Spanish fluently and became a close friend of Panamanian leader Omar Torrijos. Wayne would later speak on behalf of the Panama Canal Treaty when it became a domestic political issue in the United States. When Japanese Emperor Hirohito visited the United States in 1975, he asked to meet John Wayne, the symbolic representation of his country’s former enemy.
Despite his prominent association with conservative political causes, it is reported that his acting abilities were admired by everyone from Richard Nixon to Joseph Stalin. When Wayne was nominated for a Congressional Gold Medal in 1979, liberal Democrat Robert Aldrich spoke on Wayne’s behalf, saying in part,
“Because of his courage, his dignity, his integrity, and because of his talents as an actor, his strength as a leader, his warmth as a human being throughout his illustrious career, he is entitled to a unique spot in our hearts and minds.”
Wayne was posthumously awarded the Presidential Medal of Freedom on June 9, 1980, by President Jimmy Carter.
His grave is marked with a comment he made in a 1971 interview, “Tomorrow is the most important thing in life. Comes into us at midnight very clean. It’s perfect when it arrives and it puts itself in our hands. It hopes we’ve learned something from yesterday.”