Rick Jewell (USC News) — Marion Robert Morrison, born in Winterset, Iowa, reared in Palmdale and Glendale, California, didn’t contemplate a life in the movies until USC football coach Howard Jones helped him land a part-time job as a prop man and day laborer at the Fox Studios in 1927. Though only 20 years old, Morrison was no stranger to hard work, having toiled at a wide variety of jobs since he was a boy.
One director at Fox, John Ford, was especially impressed with Morrison’s strength, tenacity and willingness to take on the toughest jobs. A brilliant, autocratic filmmaker who could sometimes be mean, even sadistic, Ford loved to challenge people in order to test their character. One day he began playing a dirty trick on Morrison, who proceeded to demonstrate a Trojan tackling technique on the esteemed director. Instead of getting fired, as he probably should have been, the kid earned Ford’s respect; so began, in Morrison’s words, “the most profound relationship of my life and, I believe, my greatest friendship.” Ford and Wayne would become a magical team in Hollywood … but that came later.
Wayne (then Morrison), a good student and overachiever at Glendale High, where he was president of the senior class in 1925, came to USC on a football scholarship. Football scholarships then were not what they are now. They covered tuition ($280 a year) and one meal a day at the training table if you were on the regular squad.
“The training table was a five-days-a-week thing,” recalled Eugene C. Clarke, a former USC trustee who was a boyhood, high school and college friend of Wayne’s, in a 1979 Trojan Family article. “We sort of had to scratch around for our other meals and for all of our meals on weekends. We were always pretty hungry by Monday morning.”
One of Wayne’s campus jobs was to “sling hash” at sorority houses. He joined a fraternity, Sigma Chi, along with several of his high school friends. One of them, Ralf “Pexy” Eckles, recalled in a newspaper interview that Wayne once got out of a college fight by putting ketchup in his mouth and letting it leak out.
“The guys let him go because they thought he was bleeding. He would have got away with it, if he hadn’t started to laugh.”
After breaking his collarbone while surfing and losing his football scholarship, Wayne had to leave USC shortly after beginning his junior year. (His younger brother, Robert, later made more of a contribution to USC football as a fullback, earning a letter in 1932.)
Wayne has a bust in Heritage Hall. His daughter-in-law Gretchen, president of his production company, Batjac, said that he remained a huge USC sports fan until he died. “You didn’t want to be around him if the Trojans lost,” she recalls. usc.edu
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