Stillwater News Press

Our World

April 11, 2014

Duke’s granddaughter visits Enid

ENID, Okla. — To his grandchildren, he was “Granddaddy.” To some, he was “Duke.” To others, he was John Wayne.

The actor behind the names has left a legacy his granddaughter, Anita Swift, works along with other family members to preserve.

Swift, the eldest of John Wayne’s grandchildren, stopped in Enid on Thursday to visit Rick and Larry Simpson and Simpson’s Old Time Museum, before heading to Oklahoma City for the Western Heritage Awards at the National Cowboy & Western Heritage Museum. Swift said she met the Simpson brothers during the nine years she has attended the Western Heritage Awards.

“I finally came in early this year and promised them I’d come out and look at the museum,” Swift said.

The Western Heritage Awards are one of the many events at which Swift represents her family.

Wayne was one of the founding members of the National Cowboy & Western Heritage Museum and served on the board of directors until his death.

“That was very important to him. In fact, he left all of his memorabilia to the museum,” Swift said. “It was really important to him that there should be a place where everybody could come to see the art of the West.”

Swift reflected on how Wayne loved to be around his grandchildren.

“It was fun. He’d take us on his boat. And then we got to be on set, so that was a lot of fun, too, just being on set with the stunt men and being able to ride horses,” she said. “Some of my best memories with him, though, are just being with him. He loved to play games, loved to play cards and chess and just liked talking to us and finding out what was going on in our lives. It was nice just being with him.”

After her birth, Swift lived in Wayne’s home for a year, while her parents built a house.

She grew up in Encino, Calif., where Wayne lived until Swift was around 12 years old. He moved to Newport Beach, Calif.

“Newport Beach in California is where everybody goes for spring break, so it was a lot of fun having him live down there, because we had a place to stay, although, he was a lot stricter with the grandkids than he was with his own kids. I think he was afraid of catching hell from my mom if anything happened to us,” Swift said.

Curfew was very strict at his house, she said.

Swift was on the film sets for “Big Jake,” “The Alamo,” “Hellfighters,” “Rio Bravo,” “The Undefeated” and “The Shootist.” Staying for about a week at a time on set, Swift could sit and watch filming, play with other children on set or ride horses with the stunt men. Sometimes she would see her grandfather in the evening and play cards or just spend time with him.

She noted John Wayne’s name was actually Marion Robert Morrison, but he would go walking with his dog, Duke, past a fire station, where the firefighters eventually named Wayne, “Big Duke.”

In college, Wayne played football until he injured his shoulder bodysurfing at the beach. He had to pay off his dues at the fraternity house, so he began working at the movie studio, Swift said.

He served as a prop master before doing bit parts. When he got a part in “The Big Trail,” he started using the name John Wayne, Swift said.

“You knew if somebody really knew him because nobody ever called him John. Some people would call him Marion that knew him from when he was young, but most everybody called him Duke,” she said.

The characters in the movies were not far from John Wayne’s personality, she said.

“What you saw on screen was pretty much what he was. He really was playing himself,” she said. “... you didn’t want to disappoint him. He was true to what he portrayed. He wouldn’t do anything on screen that he wouldn’t have done in real life.”

She said she was “one lucky girl” to be his granddaughter.

“I feel responsible to do my part as well. I feel like I was lucky and I got to do a lot of fabulous things that not a lot of other people got to do, so I feel like I get to pay back for that,” Swift said.

As president and chairman of the John Wayne Cancer Institute Auxiliary, Swift is working to fulfill one of her grandfather’s last wishes before he passed away when she was 21.

“When my grandfather was diagnosed with cancer the second time, it was pretty far along and he knew it was terminal. He basically asked us to use his name and image and likeness after he died to find a cure for cancer,” she said.

Proceeds from licensed items are used to fund the institute.

Wayne, who passed away in 1979 at the age of 72, had lung cancer in the 1960s. He recovered after having part of a lung removed.

“In those days, you didn’t tell anybody you had cancer or anything because they couldn’t insure you for your next movie but he did. He had come out and told everybody that he had cancer and that was like the first time anybody had really ever talked about having cancer,” Swift said.

He had a reoccurrence of cancer right after he filmed “The Shootist,” the last of more than 150 movies in which he appeared.

“He pretty much did every genre, but I think people probably love him most for his westerns,” she said.

Swift’s favorite John Wayne movies are “The Cowboys,” “The Searchers,” and “The Quiet Man.”

“I try to watch them with my kids or my nieces and nephews,” she said.

The Harris Poll came out last week and John Wayne was the No. 7 favorite actor, Swift said.

“He hasn’t made a movie in 40 years. He beat out Meryl Streep, Clint Eastwood, Brad Pitt. I mean, it’s amazing that he still has that power,” she said.

Acting has never been something Swift has wanted to pursue, though other family members have, she said.

“I can’t take rejection, so I just stick to raising money for cancer. That’s my job,” she said.

Her brother, Brendan Wayne, is an actor, as are her uncles, Ethan Wayne and Patrick Wayne. Swift’s cousin, Jennifer Wayne, is a country western singer who has been on the “Amazing Race All Stars” television show, Swift said.

Swift wants to be like her grandfather in other ways.

“I hope I am like him in that I am compassionate enough to help others, and that I am strong enough to do what’s right. I hope that when I get to heaven, he is there saying, ‘You did exactly what I wanted you to do,’” she said.

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