Chapter One: God, Lincoln, and the Golden Gate
It was happening again. Another slight. Another slight in a string of slights that stretched back to the time before he was John Wayne, even before he was Marion Mitchell Morrison-the name he was finally given at age five-back probably to his mother's unforgiving impatience with his father, which had transferred unerringly to him. "How children dance to the unlived lives of their parents," poet Rainer Maria Rilke once observed. John Wayne always danced to his mother, Molly's, unrealized dreams.
She made sure the dance was painful, holding tight the strings of his emotions and jerking them sharply whenever she wanted to keep him in line. He was his mother's son, so like her in his ambition and drive, his stubbornness and toughness. Unlike his father, Wayne fulfilled his mother's dreams of success, and she never forgave him for it. She refused to acknowledge his accomplishments or praise his achievements, rejecting his attempts to demonstrate his love. In Molly's eyes even his spectacular success was only a prelude to his ultimate failure. Until it came-as she was certain it would-she would continue to remind Duke, as he was later called, that he was nothing special.
The latest slight involved his most recent display of love. Each year he sent his mother and her second husband, Sidney Preen, on a spectacular vacation. Wherever they wanted to go and however long they wanted to stay, it was his treat. He was a dutiful son. He always remembered her birthday, invited her to family gatherings, and inquired about her welfare. The people in Long Beach, California, where the Preens lived, knew her and her famous son and were aware of the attention he paid her. In 1962 Wayne sent Sidney and Molly Preen on an around-the-world, all-expenses-paid vacation that took them to every major tourist attraction on the planet. They flew first class, traveled on luxury ships, rented big cars, ate in the finest restaurants, watched the most popular shows, and shopped in the best stores. Duke wanted his mother to have a good time, and he laid out thousands of dollars to ensure the success of the trip.
When the Preens returned to Long Beach, Wayne greeted them and asked if they had enjoyed themselves. Sidney Preen, who may already have been thinking about next year's vacation, thanked him profusely, talking about their wonderful experiences. But Molly, true to form, could only complain: how long the flights had been, how tired she had become, how poor the service was, how the trip had not turned out to be what she had expected, and how it would have been better if Wayne had done this or that. Duke was visibly disappointed. He had spent a lifetime trying to please his mother, and she had spent the same lifetime making him feel inadequate to the task. Mary St. John, Wayne's longtime private secretary, went up to Molly when Duke left the room and said, "Don't you think you could be a little nicer to him sometimes?" Molly curtly replied, "I don't give a damn about him.''
Molly never did give a damn. She first demonstrated that in Iowa, half a century before and half a continent away. A few days before Christmas in 1912, after a long train ride with his father from Keokuk to their home in Earlham, young Marion Morrison met his new little brother for the first time. Molly had named the baby Robert Emmett after her own father, Robert Emmett Brown. "Bobby had come into the world a few days earlier on December 18, and Molly was still in bed holding him. All the way from Keokuk, Clyde Morrison had been telling his five-year-old son about the baby and when they arrived at the house on Ohio Street, beside the railroad tracks, Marion bounded into the bedroom, rubbed his shoes on the carpet, and inadvertently touched the metal headboard of the bed, touching off a spark or two of static electricity and irritating his mother. Like a flash of lightning in the night, the sparks illuminated the new emotional landscape of Duke's life.
When Molly told him that his new brother had been named Robert after Grandpa Brown, Marion was confused. He was Marion Robert Morrison, and he knew that he had been named after both of his grandfathers-Marion Mitchell Morrison and Robert Emmett Brown. She had even taken to calling him "Bobby." But now Molly told him that they were going to change his name, giving the name Robert to his little brother. From now on, they told him, his new name would be Marion Mitchell Morrison, the same name as his paternal grandfather, and the new baby would bear the name of Robert Emmett. Baby brother would now be "Bobby." His name had been stolen. The change was neither inadvertent nor coincidental. For Molly the new baby was going to be special, and she wanted him to have her father's name. For almost sixty years Molly would shower attention on Bobby, worrying about him constantly, trying to meet his every need, and giving him undivided support. There would not be much left for anyone else, and almost none for her older son. Molly did not like Marion, and he, even in his childhood, knew it. She no doubt harbored some guilt about those feelings and perhaps even loved him, but in a strange, disinterested manner. Her chilly disdain was the great mystery of his life-unfathomable, inexplicable, and undeserved. He spent many decades trying to please her, but Molly would not be pleased.
Not surprisingly he grew up wondering what was wrong with him, what his mother did not like about him, seeking outside his own psyche and family the approval, security, and self-confidence that should have been his birthright. Molly was a capricious woman. Her moods were unpredictable, her anger petty and vicious. Marion grew up fearing and resenting this anger, and he developed a deep intolerance for pettiness. All his life he was attracted sexually to women but avoided emotional intimacy. He was always somewhat afraid of them, of their inability to hide their feelings, and of their need to talk about their pain. Even before he became John Wayne, the people closest to him were men, not women, and they were friends, not family. He preferred the company of men who accepted loyalty as a cardinal virtue, guarded their innermost feelings carefully, and kept their word.
In the 1950s John Wayne remarked to a Hollywood reporter that he was "just a Scotch-Irish little boy." In the ancient past, the Morrison clan had originated on the island of Lewis, in the Outer Hebrides, off the coast of Scotland. They moved to Northern Ireland-Ulster-with the great migration during the seventeenth century, when tens of thousands of Scots Presbyterians, at the invitation of the English, crossed the Irish Sea and crushed the Roman Catholic peasants who occupied the land. Over the next century they became known as the Scotch-Irish, and that part of the world has been embroiled in a life-and-death struggle ever since. In the serious and sometimes fatal political world of Northern Ireland, where John Wayne's Scotch-Irish ancestors had their beginnings, trust and loyalty were supreme virtues, more important than money, religion, or even family. Promises, and a man's word, were kept because unkept promises meant imprisonment or death. Unkept promises drove his great-great-grandfather Robert Morrison to America. Robert was born in County Antrim, Northern Ireland, in 1782, to John Morrison and Nancy de Scrogges. His father died when Robert was a baby, but he passed on to the infant the tenacity of his ancestors. Lord Rosebury, who owned a large tract of land in County Antrim, remarked in 1790 that the Scotch-Irish were "the toughest, the most dominant, the most irresistable race that exists in the universe at this moment." Robert Morrison embodied those qualities. Northern Ireland had been a bloody battleground for Catholics and Protestants since the early 1600s, but Morrison could not identify with either side. A Scotch-Irish Presbyterian who did not think highly of Catholics, he also despised the British government that made life so miserable for everyone. Even as a teenager he was politically active in the United Irishmen, an insurgent group opposed to British rule in Ulster. After being betrayed to the British by a "friend" in the United Irishmen and learning that a warrant had been issued for his arrest, Morrison knew he had only one option-to head across the Atlantic with hundreds of thousands of other Scotch-Irish and start over again in America.
He arrived with his mother in New York in 1799. The Scotch-Irish immigrants were a restless lot, strong-willed and opinionated, blessed with and cursed by a dogged sense of right and wrong. In the seventeenth century they had left the lowlands of Scotland for Northern Ireland, and in the eighteenth century they moved again, this time to America. They were accustomed, even eager, to pull up stakes again and again and head west, where land was cheaper and more plentiful. Their migration across the continent took two directions. Most initially traveled west toward the Appalachians and then south, straggling over the course of several generations down the eastern foothills across the frontiers of Maryland, Virginia, North Carolina, South Carolina, Georgia, and the Florida Panhandle. By the early 1800s their descendants were scattering throughout Alabama and Mississippi, and by the 1820s into Louisiana and Texas. They conquered the local Indian tribes, cleared land, trafficked in African slaves, and became southerners. The other wave of Scotch-Irish settlers, however, avoided the South, crossing the Appalachians in Pennsylvania and gradually settling throughout Ohio, Kentucky, Illinois, Indiana, and Iowa. They became midwesterners.
The two groups developed dramatically different cultures. Because of the presence of so many African-American slaves in the South, the Scotch-Irish there developed a strong sense of racial consciousness. When the Civil War devastated their way of life in the 1860s, the Scotch-Irish behaved like many other wealthy landowners, wallowing in a "lost cause" political separatism and developing both religious fundamentalism and a virulent racism. But the Scotch-Irish in the Midwest who won the Civil War gained a self-confidence that made for religious complacency and relative ethnic and racial harmony. It was that self-confidence, an inarrogant, healthy feeling, which became the centerpiece of midwestern values. Unfortunately for John Wayne, however, it would be possible to be raised in a midwestern culture of confidence and optimism but in a home full of insecurity and self-doubt.
Robert Morrison initially took the southern route of the Scotch-Irish migration, settling briefly in Chester County, South Carolina, before moving out to northern Kentucky. When he heard of a large colony of Morrisons across the Ohio River near Cherry Creek in Adams County, Ohio, he moved again and spent the rest of his life there. Morrison's fifth child, James, born in 1811, grew up in Cherry Fork but then pushed west, living out his life in Monmouth, Warren County, Illinois.
One of James's sons-Marion Mitchell Morrison-was just sixteen years old when the family reached Monmouth. He fought in the Union Army during the Civil War, returned to Monmouth after mustering out in 1865, and married Weltha Chase Parsons in 1869. Her family had its roots in seventeenth-century New England. Like the Morrisons they were faithful Presbyterians. Marion and Weltha Morrison lived in Monmouth, Illinois, for the next sixteen years. Then they were ready for their own odyssey, and they moved to Indianola, Iowa.
Marion built a successful life for himself, his wife, Weltha, and his children, George, Guy, Clyde, and Pearl, in Indianola. He was charming and, like his father, politically gifted, able to make small talk with farmers, railroad workers, professors at the local Simpson College, and downtown merchants. After farming for a few years, Morrison launched a real estate business in 1890 and became prosperous, at least by Indianola standards. In 1899 he was elected county treasurer, a position of trust and responsibility. An inveterate joiner, he was a deacon in the Presbyterian Church and active in the local Masonic lodge. His wife played a prominent role in several women's clubs and auxiliaries.
Their son Clyde Leonard Morrison, who was born on August 20, 1884, back in Monmouth, Illinois, had been only three years old when they arrived in Iowa. After leaving Indianola High School in 1898, Clyde enrolled in the Middle Academy, a preparatory school of Simpson College. He spent a semester playing football at Iowa State University in Ames, but then went back to Simpson College, registered as a freshman in 1901, and completed the introductory courses. As a sophomore Clyde enrolled in the local conservatory of music at Simpson. An unusually gifted student and passionate for both football and music, he was also handsome and sensitive, an artist and a jock-irresistible to many young women.
In 1903 Clyde opted for the practical. He left Simpson College and entered the pharmacy program at the Highland Park College of Pharmacy (later part of Drake University) in Des Moines. Pharmacy in the early twentieth century, like medicine and dentistry, was leaving the barber shops and patent medicine wagons. The new generation of formally trained pharmacists viewed themselves as scientists and professionals, practitioners of a respected discipline. The curriculum at Highland Park was rigorous and demanding. Clyde graduated in 1905, passed the licensing examination, and received his professional credentials as a registered pharmacist.
During his last summer at the college, Clyde met Mary Alberta Brown, a short, red-haired, green-eyed woman who worked as a telephone operator in Des Moines and attended the same Methodist church as he. Her parents called her Mary, but she was Molly to her friends. Her father, Robert Emmett Brown, had been born in Armstrong County, Pennsylvania, in 1849 to Scotch-Irish parents who moved west to Kansas when he was still a child. After mustering out of the army in 1868, Robert Brown settled in Lincoln, Nebraska, and went to work as a printer. He married a young woman of Irish descent. Margaret was born in County Cork in 1848 and came to the United States after the Civil War in the postfamine Irish migration. When she arrived in 1874, she was a spinster who had had no marriage prospects in Ireland. Maggie, as she was called, was a talented seamstress and clothing designer, a trade she continued to practice after their marriage in 1874. Mary Alberta, their third child, was born in Lincoln in 1885. Robert Brown was a Presbyterian and Maggie was a teetotaling Irish Catholic, but they raised their children as Protestants. They too moved in the early 1890s, settling in a small house on 1716 Hight Street in Des Moines, where Robert worked as a printer and Maggie ran a seamstress shop. Molly Brown grew up in a comfortable middle-class, urban world.
Molly was energetic, outspoken, and opinionated. She smoked cigarettes in private and in public, long before it was fashionable for women to do so, and she did not give a damn who knew about it. But she was not a Bohemian; she appreciated the comforts of middle-class life. She dated college boys because she found them interesting and because she wanted to marry well. Clyde was twenty and Molly nineteen when they met. She fell in love with him because he was kind, handsome, and well educated. He would, she thought, be easy to live with and a good provider. They had not dated long and did not know each other very well, but Clyde was about to take a job at a pharmacy in Waterloo, Iowa, and they decided to get married. Rather than bother with a church wedding, they eloped, traveling to Knoxville, in Marion County, where Justice of the Peace I. H. Garritson married them on September 29, 1905. They made their first home in Waterloo.
Married young and in haste, they had years to learn just how mismatched they were. John Wayne once remarked that his father and mother "were complete opposites." In Clyde's personality kindness mixed easily with dreamy optimism. Like Mark Twain's Colonel Sellers inThe Gilded Age, he was forever waiting for fortune to find him, always expecting some windfall, always hoping to make it big but not knowing quite how to do it. He had no sense of money and was not inclined to save. He was patient and gentle, and he enjoyed an occasional drink, which usually rendered him more mellow and sweet. Conventional wisdom among those who knew him in Iowa was that if "Clyde Morrison only had four bits left in his pocket, he'd give one quarter to a friend, buy a beer for himself, and sit down and talk." All too often, as far as Molly was concerned, Clyde came home emptyhanded. Adding to his domestic difficulties, Clyde attracted and was attracted to women. Women found it easy to talk to him about their problems. He was handsome, sincere, sensitive-and sexy. People noticed the earnest conversations he had with women in the store. Clyde did not cheat on Molly; his moral standards and sense of propriety would not permit it, but she became angry and jealous if he even looked twice at another woman in the drugstore.
Molly was proud and impatient, quick to anger, and easily offended. There was an icy rigidity to her, and she had a diffficult time accepting the weaknesses inherent in human nature. Her own mother had long complained that alcohol ruined Irishmen, and Molly had no respect for people who destroyed themselves and their families with drink. Clyde was not an alcoholic, and later in his life would hardly drink at all, but Molly refused to look past even a single beer bottle. She was deeply unhappy, a condition that best expressed itself in acts of meanness and inhospitality. She had a long memory, was unforgiving, and did not make friends easily. She pinched pennies and wanted to build a family nest egg. Clyde's smile had won her heart, but his easygoing nature and difficulty making a decent living just as easily lost it. Alice Miller was a little girl living across the street from the Morrisons when Marion was born. She thought the baby was a "beautiful little boy," and she would sometimes walk with Molly and push Marion in a carriage. "Molly Morrison was a stern woman," Miller recalled decades later. "You had to be real careful around her. She could fly off the handle when you least expected it." "Mrs. Morrison was as tough as nails," a former resident of Winterset, Iowa, recalled. "But Mr. Morrison was just the opposite, as soft and sweet as a marshmallow." Their marriage was doomed from the start.
The instability that stalked them for the rest of their time together appeared early. They both wanted to leave Waterloo and get closer to their parents. Molly was emotionally tied to her mother and father, as was Clyde to his family. Waterloo was more than 115 miles from Des Moines and 140 miles from Indianola, and the journey was a long, hard two-day ride by wagon. Clyde contacted the job placement office at Highland Park College, and both of them were ecstatic when they found out that the M. E. Smith Drugstore in Winterset, Iowa, was looking for a registered pharmacist. Winterset, the county seat of Madison County, was about 35 miles from Des Moines and only 20 miles from Indianola, perfect for both of them. They rented a small frame house on South Second Street in Winterset and started a new life threat. Tinterset was a perfect heartland emblem for John Wayne'scradle. The Mesquakie Indians abandoned the area several years before the first white settlers arrived in 1846. The state legislature designated Winterset as the county seat of Madison County in 1849, and construction began on a courthouse the next year. The city was incorporated in 1857. By the early 1850s it had become "town" to the surrounding farmers, who were raising corn, wheat, flax, oats, barley, cattle, horses, and hogs. The population of Madison County reached 7,339 in 1860, 17,224 in 1880, and 17,710 in 1900.
By the time Molly and Clyde arrived in Winterset, the town's charming character was well developed. Situated on rolling bluffs between two rivers, Winterset looked like the prototype for Norman Rockwell paintings and Andy Hardy movies. Its streets were straight and wide, its public square guarded by a stately courthouse made from milky white Madison limestone. Along West Jefferson and West Court Streets, the large Victorian homes recall Hardy's hometown of Carvel. WASP America's best image of itself, "a world," commented Charles Champlin of Carvel, "not as it was but as it ought to have been, with virtues intact, pieties unfeigned, commandments unbroken, good rewarded, evil foiled.''
Winterset joined its history to the nation's. The imposing courthouse was completed in 1876 and honored America's centennial birthday. One of its smaller parks announced the town's Civil War loyalties in the wording of a somber monument: "To the patriotic dead who fell during the Great Rebellion." But Winterset was also a bit like Molly herself: Both town and woman had ambitions that were never realized, and both seemed certain of a prosperity that never really materialized.
In the beginning, however, the Morrisons prospered in Winterset. Clyde had a decent job, they lived in a nice east side neighborhood, and Molly was soon pregnant with her first child. They drank fifteen-cent ice cream sodas at the Candy Kitchen on the south side of the square and attended Sunday evening band concerts down by Dabney's Lake. On Wednesday evenings church bells summoned them and the rest of the Protestants to Bible study sessions at the Baptist, Presbyterian, and Methodist churches. They attended the Chautauqua lectures at the pavilion just north of the Methodist Church and occasionally went out for dinner at the Farmers' Hotel. Clyde and Molly both liked to read, and they were frequent visitors to the public library, presided over by the dictatorial Miss Mary Cassiday, who, in the words of a former Winterset resident, "protected the reading room's decorum with the zeal of a convent nun loyal to vows of silence."
Molly got good prenatal care from Dr. Jessie Smith, one of Iowa's few female physicians, and they formed a close relationship. On May 25, 1907, when she went into labor, Molly put out a call to Dr. Smith, and the baby came the next day. It was a torturous delivery, marked by a long labor and a huge, thirteen-pound baby that, in Molly's opinion, almost killed her. Marion Robert Morrison, the future John Wayne, had come into the world.
For Madisonians patriotism was more than just a sentiment expressed on Civil War monuments. They loved their country with a reverence and passion that come only from blood sacrifice. In 1859 the population of Madison County totaled 7,071 people. Approximately 900 of them were young men between the ages of eighteen and thirty-five, and 710 of them had joined the Union Army. Of these 104 never came home, succumbing to disease, accidents, and Confederate bullets and bayonets. Another 106 were severely wounded or had spent years as Confederate prisoners-of-war. The Civil War lived on a long time in Winterset. Each spring a touring troupe performedUncle Tom's Cabin, complete with Little Eva driving her ponies in a parade around the town square. For July 4, Independence Day-the most important holiday of the year, much bigger than Christmas, Thanksgiving, or Easter-town and city fathers planned the celebration months in advance. In the 1860s, 1870s, and 1880s, so many men marched as veterans in the Winterset July 4 parades-carrying the flag of the United States, the banner of the Grand Army of the Republic, and the ensigns of their individual army units-that there were hardly any younger men left among the spectators. Even in the early 1900s several hundred of them still marched in the parades, telling anyone who would listen where they had fought during the "War of the Southern Rebellion." At Winterset High School in the late 1800s and early 1900s, William Cooper, a wounded veteran of the Civil War and a spellbinding orator, appeared annually before an assembly of all the students on Lincoln's Birthday and gave his eyewitness account of Pickett's Charge at Gettysburg.
Clyde's father had enlisted in Company B of the 83rd Illinois Infantry in February 1864; from there he transferred to Company E of the
61st Illinois Infantry. At the Battle of Pine Bluff, Tennessee, a few weeks after he put on the Union blue, Marion found himself in hand-to-hand combat with Confederate troops. He took saber wounds to the chest and neck and was hit by bullets in the nose and the top of his head. Morrison played dead for several hours, then lost consciousness for two days before crawling down to the Tennessee River, where a Union gunboat picked him up. He carried the bullet in his head, and suffered from the accompanying headaches, for the rest of his life.
Molly's father, Robert Brown, tried to enlist in the Union Army in 1865, but he was only fifteen years old. His turn at combat came two years later when he volunteered for the 18th Kansas Cavalry and spent two years fighting Cheyenne and Arapaho warriors along the Union Pacific Railroad line in Kansas and Colorado Territory. Both Clyde and Molly were raised on a steady diet of war and love-your-country stories. When their country called, men served.
Madisonians were not just patriots; they were Republicans as well -dyed-in-the-wool Republicans who equated the Democratic party with disunion and treason. The Republican party first appeared in Madison County in 1856, the year John C. Fremont, its first candidate, ran for president. Four years later Democrats divided their votes among three candidates, giving Madison County to Abraham Lincoln and the Republicans. The county stayed Republican until the bottom of the Great Depression in 1932, when Franklin D. Roosevelt edged Herbert Hoover out by 260 votes. It quickly returned to the Grand Old Party, however. John Wayne came honestly by his Republican party credentials.
Madisonians, without knowing the term, were WASPs. In fact, Madison County, Iowa, was one of the most white, Anglo-Saxon, Protestant regions of the country. Winterset was unconcerned about immigrants or blacks or Catholics or Indians. There were simply too few to fear or hate. The 1910 census listed 2,817 people in the city. Of that number only 57 were immigrants, and of them 26 were English, Anglo-Canadians, or Anglo-Irish, and 5 were Scotch or Scotch-Irish. Only 27 people in Winterset did not speak English as their native language, and most of them were Germans, Swedes, and Danes. The WASP roots were deep as a well. Only 429 of the 2,817 people in Winterset had even one immigrant parent.
Everyone was Protestant-Presbyterian, United Brethren, Campbellite, Dutch Reformed, Baptist, Episcopalian, Methodist, Congregationalist, and Quake. Most of the area's small Roman Catholic population lived in Lee Township, up in the northeast corner of the county. Jessie Smith, one of them, was both a devout Catholic and beloved in the community. Most of the Catholics were descendants of famine Irish immigrants who reached Iowa in the late 1850s. Only two black families lived there in 1910: Charlie Moore, a hardworking black, saw his children finish high school in Winterset, while "Nigger John," who lived in a shack just off the town square, muddled through life in a perpetual state of poverty and benign neglect.
WASP values permeated every level of Winterset culture. Protestant individualism generated a particular vision of community. Society existed, they believed, to promote individual needs. Communal roots were unimportant; it was the needs of the moment, and the individual, that mattered. The United States, even more than Britain, was rootless and capitalist in that the American people were as mobile geographically as they were economically, ready to sever ties and move on to new opportunities, even if it meant leaving friends, family, and familiar places. To give themselves a temporary sense of community, they became joiners, forming dubs and associations. The people of Winterset and Madison County were moving out of the area almost as fast as, or sometimes faster than, they were moving in, always looking for new homes, new farms, new opportunities farther west. To compensate, in addition to the churches of Madison County, there were organizations-the Grand Army of the Republic, the Women's Relief Corps, the Country Club, the Chamber of Commerce, the Women's Club, Masonic Lodges, the Order of the Eastern Star, the Independent Order of Odd Fellows, the Crown Rebekah Lodge, the Knights of Pythias, the Rathbone Sisters, the Modern Woodmen of America, the Knights of the Maccabees, the Woodmen of the World, the Woodman Circle, the Highland Nobles, the Knights and Ladies Security, the Whist Club, the Phi Kappa Thetas, the Bachelor Maids Club, the Birthday Club, the Indian Club, the Jolly Owls Club, and the Sewing Club. When new settlers arrived in Madison County, they came from communities with similar groups, and when they left to head west, they transported these organizations along with their plows and household goods.
The Morrisons, like the rest of Winterset, worked hard and joined the requisite community groups. But the Morrisons were hardly the ideal American family. Though Clyde was happy enough working at the M.E. Smith Drugstore, he could not help but notice that the real money was in owning the business, not working for wages. The weekly pay never seemed to stretch far enough, especially with Clyde spending money and loaning it to friends. Molly could not pinch enough pennies and she found herself shuffling payment of the bills from month to month and all too frequently having to call on their parents for help. She was terribly unhappy. Will C. Johnson, who ran a grocery
store in Winterset and made deliveries to the Morrison home, was always wary of Molly. "When I took the groceries in the home," he remembered, "the baby was in the carriage asleep. I walked in quietly so as not to wake the baby." Years later Duke told one of his friends: "Mom was just not a happy woman. No matter what I did, or what Dad did, it was never enough."
Clyde's father knew of his son's ambitions and put the word out to friends and family that his son wanted to better himself. A Morrison cousin in Malcolm, Iowa, wrote back that there was an opening for a druggist in Brooklyn, a town about one hundred miles away. In the summer of 1909, with no real future in Winterset, Clyde pulled up stakes and moved to Brooklyn. It was another quiet, peaceful Iowa
town. Located on the main line of the Chicago, Rock Island&Pacific Railroad, 105 miles west of Davenport, Brooklyn was the "city" for thousands of farmers. There were three pharmacies in Brooklyn, and Clyde got a job at Raimsburg Drug on Front Street. He rented a tiny house for Molly and the baby, but the family only lived there for a few months before moving across town to a more spacious home on the corner of Jackson and Des Moines Streets. By that time Clyde and Molly, though married for less than four years, had already lived in three separate homes. Worse yet, the job was no different from the old one. Clyde hated working for someone else. He wanted profits, not just a salary. He wanted his own business. When his mother died soon after he settled in Brooklyn, he started worrying about his father's loneliness and got homesick.
When he learned that the Rexall Drug Store in Earlham was for sale, it seemed like a dream come true. Earlham was close to friends in Winterset and relatives in Indianola and Des Moines-or at least some of those relatives. With his wife dead, Marion Mitchell Morrison's Scotch-Irish blood was soon bubbling again, and he decided to move west to California, where he heard the opportunities in real estate were booming. Before he left he lent Clyde the money to make the down payment on the drugstore-just the business, not the property. Clyde signed the papers in December 1910, rented a house that backed onto a railroad track at 328 Ohio Street, brought Molly and the baby from Brooklyn, and opened the Rexall Store for business on Main Street. He and Molly felt at home again.
But the store did not make money. Clyde was the victim of Iowa demographics and his own good nature. With Earlham's mainline location, town boosters had high hopes for the place. But Clyde's father was not the only Iowan to pull up stakes for California. A great exodus began, and the population of Madison County actually declined between 1900 and 1910. Although Earlham itself grew from 630 to 749 people during the decade, it was hardly enough to support the drugstore. Earlham's rural population base was shrinking. And Clyde as always was an easy touch for a hard luck story. John Wayne once aid that "he [Clyde] couldn't pay his bills because he hated to press his customers to pay their bills." Creditors started showing up at the store and even at the house, demanding payment and embarrassing
Molly. She hated Clyde's inability to make a decent living. On December 30, 1911, the Morrisons declared bankruptcy. C. C. Couch, who held the mortgage, foreclosed on the business. Clyde and Molly were broke and felt like deadbeats.
After the Rexall went under, Clyde spent a few months working for the new proprietor, but that too came to an end in the spring, just when Molly learned she was pregnant with Bobby. There was no work for Clyde in Earlham, and Molly was sick and tired of moving. If she stayed in Earlham she would be able to have Dr. Jessie Smith deliver
the baby. And Earlham was close to her parents in DesMoines. Clyde went looking for work and ended up at the other end of the state, in Keokuk, where he got a job as a clerk in a downtown store and rented a house at 11 South Ninth Street.
Neighbors were not surprised when Molly sent Marion to live with his father. From Marion's infancy father and son had been inseparable. When the baby was irritable and upset, Clyde could comfort and quiet him. Before bedtime, Clyde spent an hour or so reading to Marion. When the family moved to Earlham in 1910, Marion was already headstrong. Molly would send the four-year-old to the store, where he would spend the day playing with toy pistols or with his
father's horse, Sadie, who was tied up in back. Maurice Zolotow interviewed a longtime resident of Earlham who told him: "That little boy often requested me to see if his daddy's horse was still tied back of the store." A patient man, Clyde enjoyed having his son around. Marion was his "Daddy's boy," and Molly grew jealous of their
relationship. Late in the summer of 1912, when she was five months pregnant, she told Clyde to come and get the boy. He took Marion back to Keokuk and enrolled him on September 3 as a first-grader at the George Washington Elementary School.
The Keokuk job was another dead end. Clyde was a clerk, not even a druggist; the idea of spending the rest of his life working for pennies was intolerable. There had to be a better way. Clyde had also developed heart trouble, complete with a nasty cough and shortness of breath, which three packs of Chesterfields a day did not help. A local physician suggested a drier climate; maybe California was
the answer. In 1909 his father had purchased a home at 503 South Westlake Avenue in Los Angeles. Marion Mitchell Morrison dabbled in real estate and bragged about the weather. He also came up with the harebrained idea of Clyde and Molly taking up farming. Perhaps he was just a desperate father tired of seeing his son fail, or perhaps
he was already suffering from the dementia that would eventually kill him. But both Clyde and Molly were city bred, and the nearest they had been to a farm was when they rode in their wagon between Winterset and Des Moines. Nevertheless, Marion heard that homesteaders were taking up land in Lancaster County, just outside the Los Angeles Basin. Maybe that would be a good place for his son's
family to start over. Clyde agreed. The land Marion picked for his son, daughter-in-law, and grandsons was in the middle of the Mojave Desert. It would certainly be dry enough there.
A few weeks after Bobby was born in December 1912, they had all left Earlham and moved home to Des Moines, taking a back room in Molly's childhood house. They were broke and completely dependent on Robert and Maggie Brown. Clyde was almost twenty-nine years old, a college graduate, the father of two children, and living off the generosity of his in-laws. He worked odd jobs throughout 1913, waiting for his own father to complete the arrangements on the
California homestead. Late in 1914 Marion Morrison wrote Clyde and Molly that the land still needed months of hard work, and that Clyde would have to move out there alone, unless she wanted to live in a tent with the boys. Molly declined, staying in Des Moines while Clyde headed west. The old man agreed to pay Clyde two dollars a day so he would have at least some money to send home. Molly had little to show for nearly nine years of marriage except the baby whom she adored, the unruly Marion whom she already resented, and a husband she no longer trusted or even liked. There was no home, no property, no savings account. She believed that she had married a bum, and it looked as if he was going to drag her far from home.
When Marion Mitchell Morrison had arrived in Los Angeles, California, late in 1909, everyone said the weather was perfect year round and the opportunities to make a living selling property were extraordinary. He found a job with Ryder, Munch, and Grants, a Los Angeles real estate firm, rented a house at 503 S. Westlake, and soon married Emma Johnson, a widow in his neighborhood.
Marion convinced Clyde that he a plan for the family. He would file a claim on cheap property in the Mojave Desert, invest his own capital in improving it, live on it for awhile, secure title to the land, and then leave it to Clyde in his will. At sixty-nine years of age and in poor
health, Marion might not be around much longer anyway, and in the meantime, Clyde, Molly, and the kids could live on it for free. It seemed a perfect arrangement. They would have virtually no bills to pay, and the cash from their first crop of corn or wheat would get them off to a good start for the rest of their lives. Eighty acres was a sizable farm, in Iowa at least, and any farmer worth his salt could make a living from it. Clyde had not farmed in Iowa, except as a
chore when he was a boy, but Marion was certain he could teach him if they lived, planted a crop, and harvested it together. Marion also bragged that the growing season in Southern California was almost 250 days a year, enough to bring in two crops. Respectable prosperity seemed certain.
When the Morrisons headed west in 1914, the region they entered had already assumed mythic dimensions in the national imagination. Late nineteenth century American popular culture had glorified the westward movement, making heroes out of the settlers and soldiers and villains out of the Indians. Kit Carson, Buffalo Bill Cody, and Jim Bridger were central characters in popular history and pulp novels,
and Cody's"Wild West Show"toured the country in the 1880s. Most Americans believed that the frontier had made them unique, and that the reason for social and political stability in the United States had always been the abundance of land.
But the frontier, long revered as the cradle of individualism and self-reliance, no longer existed in the early 1900s, and many prominent Americans mourned its passing. Traditional values appeared to be vanishing as well, overwhelmed from below by hordes of immigrants and urban poor, and from above by the crass commercialism of corporate capitalists. Plutocrats and the proletariat-money and the mob-seemed to have the upper hand. Owen Wister, whose novelThe Virginian(1902) would help create
the modern myth of the West, worried that "this continent does not hold a nation any longer, but is merely a strip of land on which a crowd is struggling for money."
Owen Wister went west in 1885, not because he had to-he was from a well-educated, well-to-do family-but because he hoped to discover there an answer to the national crisis, a moral alternative to the commercial decadence and cultural malaise afflicting the East. During an extended stay in Wyoming before entering Harvard Law School, he managed a large cattle ranch and observed firsthand the
range wars and Lincoln County violence of the late 1880s and early 1890s. He did not necessarily equate progress with the arrival of settlers, law, and order on the frontier, because newcomers often brought with them effete eastern values. What was to be revered out west, and what Wister immortalized inThe Virginian, was the need for armed, virile men willing to break rules and ignore social
conventions, to take the law into their own hands and resort to violence when necessary to protect decent people-civilization-from the menacing, debilitating effects of greedy capitalists, mindless mobs, and oppressive government officials.
Wister, along with people like Frank Norris, Hamlin Garland, Jack London, and Stewart White, produced a genre of "red-blooded" fiction in the early 1900s to counter what they perceived to be the emasculating effects of commercialism, bureaucracy, urban squalor, and class conflict. The frontier no longer existed as a real place,
but it could be perpetuated as a way of life, a symbolic world, through literature and education. The time was at hand for a revival of manly virtues-virility, toughness, courage, leadership, and determination. The literary mythology Wister and others invented helped entertain, and educate, a nation-highbrow readers as well as popular audiences-and spawned a set of values and expectations
that shaped real-world discourse for the next two generations.
This cult of masculinity found new expression and continuing vitality in early silent films and in the novels of Zane Grey in the second and third decades of the twentieth century; movie serials, B Westerns, and Max Brand novels in the 1930s; war movies and feature Westerns in the 1940s; and television serials and Louis L'Amour novels in
the 1950s and 1960s. By that time John Wayne's screen persona would become the ultimate symbol of "red-blooded" masculinity and the flashpoint in a cultural battle between liberals and conservatives for the heart of America.
Marion's vision for his son was part of that western mythology, and Clyde bought it whole. He had always had a hard time saying no to anybody, particularly his strong-willed father, and he had been discouraged by his run of bad luck. Besides, he had few alternatives. Maybe California was the answer. As usual, with his lack of business sense, he came to the game late. Clyde's dreams were always one step behind the times. By the early 1900s the best California farmland was taken. Huge volumes of public-domain land were still available in the arid deserts of the Far West. John Wesley Powell, who explored the"arid lands" in the early 1870s, said that four sections (about 2,500 acres) constituted a reasonable minimum size for a
farmer-stockman. The Homestead Act's limit of 160 acres was
simply not enough to make a living where water was so limited. To alleviate the problem Congress passed the Desert Land Act of 1877, which allowed settlers to acquire up to 640 acres of land for $1.25 an acre, if they worked to convert the land to agricultural purposes. But the only land available under the law was desert property incapable
of producing an agricultural crop without irrigation. The federal government wanted to encourage settlement of sparsely populated areas and create incentives for their economic development. The Desert Land Act was followed up by the Carey Act of 1894 and the Newlands Act of 1902, which gave federal land to state governments to promote irrigation. The land that Marion found for Clyde, Molly,
and the boys was desert property available for homesteading.
Clyde joined his father in California late in 1913, and they spent a good part of 1914 working the land and trying to meet the minimum requirements to secure title and get it ready for the family. Marion had selected the southern half of the northeastern quarter of Section 34, Township 7N, north of Range 12, west of the San Bernardino Meridian-a total of 80 acres. If they managed to develop the property, they could later lay claim to the surrounding 560 acres.
The property was located near the Southern Pacific Railroad tracks, about three miles south of Lancaster. Marion put nearly three thousand dollars of his own money into the land. One hundred yards from the railroad tracks they built a three-room frame house, approximately five hundred feet square, and topped it with a thin roof. John Wayne later described it as "a glorified shack." They constructed a small barn-only twelve by sixteen feet-just in case
they might acquire a horse and cow, and built a small corral behind it. And they made a shelter for the twenty horsepower Victor Horizontal gas engine and the Ingersoll-Rand air compressor that would run the water pump. They placed the outhouse about forty yards behind the house. Marion and Clyde both knew that Molly would hate the outhouse after living with indoor plumbing, but at least
for the time being they had no choice.
They contracted a drilling company to install a well. His father's health was slipping, so under Marion's supervision, Clyde dug ditches-three feet wide and eighteen inches deep-by hand all around the property and laid galvanized-iron pipe to deliver the water. He plowed ten acres, planted experimental plots of corn and wheat and irrigated them. He and Marion then filed the necessary papers with the Los Angeles office of the Bureau of Land Management, testifying to their improvements on the property and asking for title.
Ominously, the corn and wheat crops did poorly, even with the irrigation. Actually the well did not produce nearly enough water for the land. In his affidavit to the land office, Clyde attributed the poor yield to the fact that May had been too late in the season to plant corn or wheat, and that he had ended up cutting the crop early in
September for fodder and feed. But he was convinced, as always, that everything would work out just fine, that the land had potential, that he could make a new life for his family, that his father's plans and money had not just been sunk into a pipe area. Clyde wrote home at the end of 1914 that it was time for Molly and the boys to come west. "I'm sure he didn't give her any details in the letter," John
Wayne later told Mary St. John. "If he had, there's no way she would have left Iowa." When she told her parents the plan, the looks on their faces were probably not very reassuring. In the first place, it seemed as if half of Iowa was already heading there. And Robert and Maggie liked their son-in-law-as a human being.
But they shared Molly's frustration about Clyde's inability to settle down. And why way off to the Mojave Desert? The Browns had always been a close-knit family. The idea of being two thousand miles from their daughter and grandsons, and them living in a desert, was frightening. The Browns decided to sell their home in Des Moines and move with her to California.
Molly and the two boys, along with Robert and Maggie Brown, boarded the train in Des Moines. The baby was only two years old in 1914, but Marion was seven. It was a great adventure for him. For Molly and her parents, however, adventure gave way to reality after they switched trains in Sacramento, California. The Southern Pacific line ran down through the San Joaquin Valley. As they headed south, the landscape changed. Gradually, almost imperceptibly, the trees thinned out and mountains gave way to grassy hills. The land became sandier. "Dust devils"-tiny, tornado-like wind bursts-skipped across the flatlands. This valley-resting between the coastal ranges and the Sierra Nevadas-was on of nature's most powerful wind tunnels. As they chugged south, the winds blew more powerfully and the
temperature rose. "When I got off the train in Lancaster, I couldn't believe my eyes," Molly told Mary St. John years later. "My father had the grimmest look on his face." It was not only as bad as they expected, it was worse-Clyde had chosen a no-man's land.
He picked up his family in a wagon and headed toward their new home. Lancaster had the look of the Old West-a real frontier town-with five saloons, two large hotels, two banks, a real estate office, two cafes, and a dry goods store across the street from the station. A two-hundred-foot-long wooden trough for watering horses ran down Main Street. The Hannah Hotel had recently burned down, giving the downtown a somewhat depressing look, but the Lancaster Grammar School-a handsome two-story building-had just gone up on Cedar Avenue, and a new Baptist church had recently opened on Tenth Street and Herald. Only two streets were paved-Tenth Street and Antelope Avenue-but there were plans for more, and there were forty or so houses in town. There were no electric
lines anywhere in sight (Edison Electric would not come to Lancaster until 1914).
As they drove south toward the house, the wagon stirred up clouds of dust. The town abruptly ended a few blocks from the station, and there appeared to be nothing as far as the eye could see, all the way to the San Gabriel Mountains. The dirt road meandered around clumps of juniper bushes, sagebrush, and sandy soft spots, making for a twisting, bumpy ride. As they approached the Morrison property, the
Browns did not see what Clyde had described as a house and barn. All they saw was a shack and a shed. "Guess you'd have to call it a miserable little shanty," Wayne later told Maurice Zolotow. "Didn't have gas nor electricity nor water . . . Evenings we lit kerosene lamps to read by. Mother cooked on a wood burnin' stove. No telephone lines out our way, of course . . . We were cut off from the world . . . A stranger visitin' from Iowa wouldn't have believed he was in the twentieth century." There were no trees and no shrubs, not so much as a blade of grass-in fact, not a single green plant on the whole place, just sagebrush and sand. They must have known, in an instant, that Molly would despise the place. In fact their daughter was going to be absolutely, chronically miserable. Like the first generation of women to settle the Great Plains seventy years earlier, she would age before her time, growing wrinkled, sunburned, and bitter. Robert and Maggie must have been heartsick about their daughter's future and loath to leave her and go on to Los Angeles. They decided to stay in Lancaster, moving in with their daughter and son-in-law.
Clyde Morrison was not the first farmer to cast his lot, and lose, on Section 34, Township 7N, Range 12W, S.B. Meridian. In 1884 Edward Carlson first claimed the land, but he soon lost hope and returned it tot he Bureau of Land Management. During the next twenty-five years, fourteen other people tried their hand at making a living on the section, but they all gave up, some after a few months, others after several years.
Jackrabbits and rattlesnakes made farming hazardous, physically and financially. The Antelope Valley teemed with rabbits. To control the pests, local farmers and ranchers sponsored "jackrabbit roundups." It was a sight unlike anything in Iow-half blood sport, half picnic. Hundreds of well-dressed men and women stood outside the temporary corral, many of them from Los Angeles on a weekend outing, all gathered for the fun. The town fathers had constructed
a ring of wire and light fencing several acres in size, and far away to the east, on the horizon of the Mojave Desert, great clouds of dust rose as hundreds of horseback riders and dogs approached at breakneck speed. As the clouds and horses drew closer, thousands of terror-stricken jackrabbits ran ahead of them, racing to escape the horde. Two temporary fences formed an increasingly narrower chute
that fed the jackrabbits into the corral. The riders closed in a huge but steadily shrinking semicircle, driving the rabbits into the enclosure, where they milled about in a frenzy. Then dozens of farmers, anxious to get even with the varmints that so often destroyed their crops, systematically clubbed the animals to death. The bedlam was deafening, with the crowds outside the corral roaring their approval. The wholesale slaughter was followed by a huge beef barbecue and street dance in downtown Lancaster.
The rattlesnakes were even worse. "And I don't just mean a few," John Wayne remembered in 1973. "Seems to me like there musta' been millions. The more you killed-the more they kept on comin'." Molly was afraid to walk too far from the house, and she kept the boys close at hand as well. There were just too many snakes. Clyde took young Marion on rattlesnake hunts. years later Wayne could still remember having nightmares. "Shooting those snakes also gave me some sleepless nights-visions of thousands of slithering snakes coming after me. I used to wake up in a cold sweat in the middle of the night, but my dad, or my family, never knew it. I kept my fears to myself."
Clyde was not lazy. He struggled to make a success of the farm, working long hours, seven days a week, but he did not know the first thing about farming. Clyde had been raised as a city boy. The rest of the farmers in Antelope Valley, California, at least those who survived, raised hay and alfalfa on their land. But not Clyde. The profits on corn and wheat were higher per acre than on hay and alfalfa, so he tried corn and wheat. But grain crops also demanded
heavier volumes of water-which he did not have. Even though the experimental corn and wheat crops of 1914 had been a bust, he confidently pushed ahead. Clyde, Molly, and even little Marion worked from dawn to dusk in the spring of 1915 clearing sagebrush off the property, tilling the soil, and planting corn-lots of Iowa corn. They also put in a crop of black-eyed peas. After a couple of weeks, the
plants sprouted, but within two days jackrabbits had eaten them all. Their entire crop and four months of heavy labor was gone. Wayne remembered it as a turning point in the marriage:
We were in bad shape financially . . . The biggest disappointment of all was when we planted black-eyed peas. We had five acres of greenery going, beautiful tender young shoots. We went away for a weekend, and when we came back, they'd been completely eaten by rabbits. It was tough. Like any married couple, they were going through a rough time. But that broke them. They never made that adjustment where they could get together again.
But even after that disastrous first year, Clyde's faith was undimmed. Molly must have been miserably unhappy; they were broke; the heat was oppressive, the house drafty, and the wind unceasing. She could not keep the house clean, at least not up to her standards. There always seemed to be a film of dust on the tablecloths, dishes, glasses, floor, shelves, and pillows. During the summer the heat inside the house hit 90 degrees, and it continued throughout the summer. Clyde and Marion had built the house Iowa-style, with relatively low ceilings. Even minimum comfort in the
desert, however, required high ceilings to let the heat rise. Outside the temperature went as high as 118 degrees. They had known heat spells back in Iowa, but nothing like this. Molly also had to keep the stove on to cook and to heat water for washing and bathing, adding to the oppressiveness inside. And to get the water to cook and
wash, Molly had to carry it in five-gallon buckets from the well some distance away.
It did not take long before Molly started venting her wrath directly on Clyde and indirectly on little Marion, whom she could barely tolerate. She complained to her parents every day and just as frequently yelled and screamed at Clyde. Robert and Maggie Brown felt sorry for Molly but worried that their presence in the household was only complicating matters, making a bad situation worse. The Browns were also fed up with the desert. Life in Antelope Valley was just too different from the comforts of Des Moines. It was too hot, too dusty, and too crowded in the three-room house. They decided to move to Los Angeles and told Clyde that he should do the same. Robert got a job as a proofreader in a print shop, Maggie found work as a seamstress, and they rented a house at 812 East Fourteenth Street. A few months later they moved to a somewhat larger home on Valencia Street.
After that first crop failure in September 1914, Clyde and Molly enrolled young Marion as a second-grader in the Lancaster Grammar School. Sixty children attended. He soon earned the nickname "Skinny" because of the mare he rode to school every day. The animal had a metabolic disorder of some kind, which gave her the proverbial swayback exposed-rib-cage look. After school Marion rode the three
or so miles back home, but since there were no other children nearby, he occupied his own time or did chores for his father.
The poverty was bad enough, but Molly also had to deal with its social implications. She had grown up in a self-respecting, middle-class family known for its financial stability. The years in Iowa-despite the bad debts, bill collectors, and bankruptcy-seemed idyllic compared to life in the Mojave Desert. If it were not for both sets of parents, they would be destitute. To get into town she had to hitch up the wagon and make the three-mile journey, but the trip was always disappointing since the prosperous ladies of Lancaster showed no interest in the poverty-stricken Morrisons. Her only interaction with polite society in Lancaster and Palmdale came when several local women accused the Morrisons of neglecting the mare
that Marion rode to school each day. The animal was so skinny that they were convinced that the family was starving her. An examination by a veterinarian proved them wrong, but for Molly, the experience was still humiliating.
Lancaster and Palmdale were not without prospects, even though the local economy was somewhat depressed. Between 1907 and 1912, the construction of the Los Angeles Aqueduct, bringing water form the Sierra Nevadas through Kern County to Los Angeles, had provided the city with hundreds of construction jobs. But completion of the canal brought an end to the infusion of government money, and all of Antelope Valley went through a painful period of adjustment. Most of that adjustment was over by the time the Morrisons arrived in 1914, and new construction plans were moving forward. A public library and new high school had just opened. Saturday-night street dances were weekly affairs. There was a Methodist Church on Date Avenue near Ninth Street, and its members were engaged in a campaign to fund construction of a new chapel. Lodge 437 of the Masonic Order opened in 1915, and the Woman's Independence club rented out part of its building at the corner of Tenth Street and Cedar to a motion picture operator who opened a nickelodeon-a storefront movie theater.
There were more than twenty thousand nickelodeons operating
around the country, catering to a working-class clientele, who would go to the small theaters and watch a vitascope project a film on a wall or screen. The movie industry also came to Lancaster in a more tangible way. Antelope Valley was only an hour by train from the growing number of film studios in Los Angeles, and the valley's desert landscape was perfect for Westerns, which were nickelodeon staples.
Film production companies arrived at the railroad station every week to make movies, and film stars roared over the San Gabriel mountains and down into the valley in their Stutz Bearcats, Crosley tourers, luxury Locomobiles, Cadillacs, and Houpt-Rockwell tourers. At night the film crews met in the Lancaster Grammar School on Cedar Avenue and reviewed the day's shooting. Townsfolk gathered outside
the building to peer through the windows.
Most of the Western films of the time employed the basic themes of Zane Grey'sRiders of the Purple Sage(1912), which sold an astonishing one million hard cover copies and was followed up with annual bestsellers until 1925. Taking up where Owen Wister andThe Virginianleft off, Grey created a mythical West in which strong men see to justice. But while Wister made sure the heroes were well-bred, well-to-do men capable of governing a society, the hero of
Riders of the Purple Sageis Lassiter, a mysterious gunman without a past who rescues the heroine, Jane Withersteen, from the clutches of a greedy Mormon land baron and a mob of rustlers. Withersteen, if she is going to survive in a red-blooded world, must learn to accept, even revere, the legitimate violence existing in "true men." Lassiter is a hero capable of any amount of violence and cruelty to protect the innocent; he is perfectly comfortable with the demands of revenge and retribution. In him the cowboy-gunslinger became the new icon of Western literature.
When the good people of Lancaster and Palmdale peeped through the window of the schoolhouse to view the rushes, they saw formula Westerns. The Edison Company had made a Western-Cripple Creek Barroom-in1898, but the first real Western movie was Edwin S. Porter'sThe Great Train Robbery(1903), from which G. M. "Bronco Billy" Anderson emerged as the first Western star. Dozens of other Westerns followed, all of them melodramas, such asIn the Badlands,
Boots and Saddles, Stampede, On the Border,andPine Ridge Feud.D. W. Griffith turned his talents to Westerns in 1911, makingThe Last Drop of WaterandFighting Blood.William S. Hart soon succeeded Bronco Billy as the premier Western star in the 1910s. The formula was clear-cut and morally unambiguous: Heroic cowboy-gunslingers save women and children from hostile Indians, acquisitive land barons,
lecherous villains, and greedy capitalists. The Western film would eventually make young Marion Morrison one of the most famous men in the world.
But in 1915 Molly was sick of the heat, the wind, the dust, and the smelly outhouse. She badgered Clyde to do something-anything-to get them away from what was fast becoming a domestic catastrophe. More than once she threatened divorce. John Wayne remembered a warning she gave to Clyde: "One of these days, mark my words, I'm just going to pack and go back to Des Moines." As usual Clyde saw a sliver of hope. In September 1915, he came up with what he thought was the answer to their problems. Another piece of land-the 320-acre tract in Section 26, Township 11 North-was available, and Clyde decided to lay claim to it. If he could get those 320 acres and then purchase or inherit from his father the 640 acres they were already living on, the family would own nearly one thousand acres of land.
Molly would have none of it. The marriage, already weak by the time they arrived in California, was approaching the breaking point. Their arguments increased in frequency and intensity. She shouted and screamed at him every night, demanding that Clyde relieve her of her misery. Clyde refused to shout back, tried to calm her down, and gave the children the distinct impression that their mother was
unreasonable, that the problems in the marriage rested with her, not him. Eight-year-old Marion would lie in bed at night and cover his ears with a pillow to muffle the shrill sounds of his mother's complaints, wondering what was wrong, why she was so upset, and why she hated his dad. Early in 1916 Molly had had enough. She gave Clyde an
ultimatum-either move across the San Gabriel Mountains and get a job, or get a lawyer, because she was going to file for a divorce.
Her demands came as no surprise to Clyde. By the end of 1915 they were not only out of luck but out of money. Clyde did not have the funds to make the necessary improvements to the larger plot, and he could not sell the existing property because he had not lived on it long enough to satisfy the federal title requirements. Nor was his father in any position to help. Marion was far becoming senile and
suffering from tuberculosis, and early in 1915 he became so mentally incompetent and physically incontinent that his wife, Emma, could no longer take care of him. Clyde committed him to the Thornycraft Sanitarium in Glendale for three weeks, but they soon had him transferred across town to Patton Veterans Hospital.
Clyde, along with Molly and the boys, visited his father a few times at the sanitarium and the VA hospital. They took the railroad through the San Gabriel Mountains and then rode a taxi out to the hospital. The taxi took them through downtown Glendale and then north to the Verdurgo foothills. The visits only intensified Molly's unhappiness with the farm. Compared to Lancaster, Glendale seemed like paradise.
The city sat up against the foothills, where the temperature averaged about seventy degrees. Even in the summers, when the heat was most intense, the evening breezes from the Pacific Ocean cooled the late afternoons and nights. Many of the streets were paved, and automobiles were everywhere. It was a beautiful community full of Protestant churches, Masonic lodges, schools, houses, apartments, drugstores, parks, theaters, electricity, and
best of all, plumbing. It was like Des Moines, only with mountains and a better climate. The Morrisons had read about the beauties of Glendale in thePalmdale PostandAntelope Valley Press:"Good roads, prosperous appearance of the homes, the hospitable residents and the thriving towns." But it was the visits to Marion Morrison's hospital that convinced Molly that she wanted to relocate there. The
old man's illness and death later that year removed one more barrier to moving out of the desert. John Wayne described the decision quite simply: "Mother convinced [Clyde] after many bitter discussions that almost broke up the marriage, that he was not fit for agriculture."
After his father's funeral, Clyde began taking the Southern Pacific train into Los Angeles to look for work. He stayed with the in-laws on Valencia Avenue and studied the classified ads in theLos Angeles Timesand theLos Angeles Evening Herald.But 1915 Los Angeles was a busy place, a city in the midst of an unprecedented boom. Clyde Morrison knew that they could not live any longer in Lancaster, but
he was still a small-town person, and Los Angeles was just too big and chaotic. Molly had really like Glendale when they came in for the hospital visits, and he was anxious to try to please her. So he looked there as well, searching the classifieds of theGlendale Evening News.The Glendale Pharmacy on West Broadway was looking for a registered pharmacist, and Clyde charmed them, as he always did, in
the interview. They offered him the job, and he went to work early in 1916. They abandoned the farm in Lancaster, sold off what little equipment they had, and came over the mountains on the Southern Pacific Railroad to start, once again, a new life together.
Back to the top