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Did you know, Pilgrim?


by: Natchez Shooting Supplies

Tom Mix was by all account Hollywood’s first western Mega Star appearing in some 291 films, mostly in the silent film era. His trademark 10-gallon hat was instantly recognizable.

Around 1926 USC head football coach Howard Jones approached Mix for a favor. Jones had a football player named Marion Morrison who had recently lost his football scholarship due to a broken collarbone from a surfing accident. In trade for USC tickets, Mix agreed to help the young man and subsequently introduced him to director John Ford. Young Morrison quickly found work as an extra and a prop man. Because Tom Mix had taken a shine to the young man, Morrison was soon included in the weekly poker games attended by other members of Hollywood royalty like Henry Fonda, William S. Hart and living legend Wyatt Earp.

In the 1920s Wyatt Earp enjoyed his wild west celebrity and often worked as an advisor on movie sets. Many famous actors were star struck by Earp and it’s said that Charlie Chaplin was speechless in Earp’s presence. The former law man, horse thief and entrepreneur indeed had a imposing presence few men before or since had managed. Even as an elderly man, there was a sense that Earp was dangerous.

In 1929 Wyatt Earp died, just as young Morrison was landing a leading role in ‘The Big Trail’ for which he received a new screen name. Fox studio chief Winfield Sheehan came up with the name ‘John Wayne’ without even consulting Morrison. As it turned out the name stuck and became synonymous with the old west and grit. By the 1950’s John Wayne admitted that his whole persona as a cowboy tough guy was simply an act of imitating his hero Wyatt Earp. From the slow deep voice and deliberate annunciation to the swagger and even the walk, Wayne copied Earp because Earp was the toughest dude any of them had ever met. Earp was the real deal and copying Earp in turn made John Wayne the real deal.

– Andy Merciers


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