June 11

Published in On this Day listing

  • 1979 John Wayne, Hollywood actor (72), died. The son of Clyde Robert Morrison (1884–1937), a drunken drugstore proprietor, he weighed in at an amazing 13lbs at birth. Born Marion Mitchell Morrison, Wayne made over 160 films, notably in collaboration with Irish-American director Seán Aloysius O’Feeney, a.k.a. John Ford, and Dublin-born Maureen O’Hara. Wayne himself could trace his ancestry back to a weaver from Randalstown, Co. Antrim. Suspected of involvement in the ’98 Rebellion, Robert Morrison escaped to America as a stowaway and settled in Ohio sometime in 1801. There he joined the American army and had a distinguished military career, reaching the rank of general. Later, in civilian life, he became a judge. While Wayne’s great-great-grandfather might not have been impressed by his draft-dodging during the Second World War and his behaviour during the McCarthy era, he may well have contributed to his descendant’s not-inconsiderable intellectual abilities. Marion Morrison was a very bright student who was set for a legal career before drifting into the world of film. Considerably more cultured than his screen image, his favourite recreation was chess, which he played at almost championship level. He was a connoisseur of western art and a lover of literature, particularly Dickens and Tolkien, and could quote Shakespeare and Milton at his leisure. He always saw himself as a journeyman actor, a man who played a character called John Wayne. As he famously put it, ‘That guy you see on the screen isn’t really me … I know him well. I’m one of his closest students. I have to be. I make a living out of him.’
  • 1862 Violet Florence Martin, novelist under the pen-name Martin Ross, and literary partner of Edith Somerville, born in Ross House, Co. Galway.
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