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John Wayne: Get off your Horse and Drink your Milk

American actor John Wayne was a top box office draw for more than four decades, thanks to his roles in some of the top Western films of Hollywood's golden era. The Academy Award-winner starred in an amazing 142 films between 1930 and 1976, including 83 Westerns.

With his 6ft 4ins physique often sitting on horseback as he rounded up the bad guys and fought for justice, he was known for his on-screen persona as a loner, playing cowboys and cavalrymen.

John Wayne

His nickname was "The Duke" - but this was nothing to do with his commanding screen presence. Instead, it stemmed from his childhood. Legend has it that his main companion, growing up in Madison County, Iowa, was his much-loved Airedale dog, Duke.

When his family moved to Glendale, California, in 1916, Wayne, whose real name was Marion Morrison, would often walk past the local fire station with Duke. One of the firefighters thought it would be funny to call the youth "Duke" like his dog and Wayne liked the nickname, so it stuck for the rest of his life.

 

Early career

He became an actor almost by chance, as he had won a football scholarship to the University of Southern California, but was unable to take it up after injuring himself body-surfing, which is surfing without the board. He took work at local film studios to pay his way and had bit parts in a number of films at the Fox Film Corporation.

In 1930 at the age of 23, he had his first leading role in The Big Trail, playing Breck Coleman, a trapper in Missouri seeking to avenge his old friend's death. He was plucked from obscurity when the director, Raoul Walsh, spotted him working as a prop boy moving studio furniture and cast him as the leading man instead.

Walsh suggested the stage name "John Wayne" – the surname coming from the Revolutionary War general, "Mad" Anthony Wayne.

The Big Trail led to more roles for Wayne in a series of films, many of them B-movies, including Riders of Destiny in 1933, when he became an early singing cowboy. After being mentored by stuntmen and taught how to ride a horse, he did most of his own stunts.

He also spent time with real cowboys to hone his acting skills based on their lives. He developed his signature walk and also learned his familiar fist-fighting style, so that he could play a realistic cowboy onscreen.

 

Big break

His big break came in 1939, when he starred in John Ford's Stagecoach, playing the "Ringo Kid", a fugitive who has escaped from prison seeking vengeance after hearing his father and brother have been murdered. He is recaptured and is being taken back to custody by stagecoach when he helps save his fellow passengers from an Apache attack.

The movie was a massive hit and elevated Wayne's status from a B-movie star to a top Hollywood A-list actor. He went on to star in numerous movies - and for fans, the actor personified America's frontier heritage. He was also the star of many war films, such as Sands of Iwo Jima in 1949 and Operation Pacific in 1951.

 

Catchphrases

Wayne was well-known for his dry one-liners in his films, including, "Don’t say it’s a fine morning, or I’ll shoot ya,” in the 1965 war epic, In Harm’s Way, or, "Young fella, if you’re looking for trouble, I’ll accommodate ya,” in True Grit in 1969, when he played a cantankerous marshal.

Strangely, however, the Duke never actually said his most famous catchphrase: "Get off your horse and drink your milk!"

He was supposed to have said it in the 1972 Western, The Cowboys, in which he plays a rancher whose ranch hands run off to join the Gold Rush, leaving him with the massive task of driving his cattle 400 miles to avoid financial disaster.

He is forced to take on a bunch of local youths to help complete the cattle drive, despite his severe misgivings, as some of them are just school boys. This appears to be where the myth began, as being kids, they are too young to drink alcohol. Somewhere along the line, the story has developed that he tells them to drink their milk, in reference to their extreme youth.

Whether he said it or not has been subject of much debate on fans' forums, with viewers watching the film all the way through and scrutinising every scene as they search for the elusive line! Unfortunately, they're never going to find it, as it has never been said!

 

Later career

In the 1960s, Wayne made more war movies than Westerns, including an action film about the D-Day landings, The Longest Day, in 1962, the World War II drama, In Harm's Way, in 1965 and The Green Berets in 1968 - one of the few Hollywood films to support the Vietnam War.

In the 1970s, he starred in the 1974 crime drama, McQ, followed by his final film, The Shootist, in 1976, when he returned to the Western genre.

On 26th May 1979, Wayne was awarded America's highest civilian accolade, the Congressional Gold Medal, bestowed by the US Congress. It is reserved for individuals who have achieved something that "impacts on American history and culture".

After a career spanning 46 years since his first leading role, Wayne lost his battle against cancer on 11th June 1979, at the age of 72.

 

Get off your horse, and bed it down with Coruba!

Back in the Old Wild West, cowboys didn't have the benefits of modern inventions for their horses and would have bedded them down on straw.

Today, Coruba's range of horse, stable and animal matting is a massive bonus for our equine friends, as it saves on bedding costs and improves the comfort of your horse.

Give us a call on 01702 811 937 for further information.



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