John Wayne: American: Americanby James S. Olson, Randy Roberts
No American has been more identified with his country than John Wayne. For millions of people from the heartland to the furthest corners of the earth, he simply is America. Wayne virtually defined the role of the cowboy and the soldier, unswervingly playing the gruff man of decency, the hero who would always come through when the chips were down. On-screen -- and off … See more details below
No American has been more identified with his country than John Wayne. For millions of people from the heartland to the furthest corners of the earth, he simply is America. Wayne virtually defined the role of the cowboy and the soldier, unswervingly playing the gruff man of decency, the hero who would always come through when the chips were down. On-screen -- and off -- Wayne was larger than life. For twenty-five years he dominated at the box office. His popularity both at home and abroad remains higher than any other celebrity of his time.
So why have critics and film historians refused to grant him the central importance he deserves? Why has there never before been a serious biography? The answers to these questions reveal much about both Wayne and America. He was highly regarded in the '40s and '50s. As the Cold War progressed, however, critics gradually turned away from him. By the '60s and '70s, Wayne's politics guaranteed that movies like The Green Berets would be panned, despite consistent popular success.
Now, after the death of both Wayne and communism, it is high time for Randy Roberts and James Olson's reappraisal. Based on over five years of interview and archival research, John Wayne: American explains the appeal of Wayne's abiding Americanness. Indeed, we cannot understand America itself without understanding John Wayne. Born in a dyed-in-the-wool Republican town in Iowa, a football star and student leader, and a scholarship boy at USC, Wayne went to Hollywood because it was the truest meritocracy in America, the one place where his lack of wealth and connections could not hurt him. After spending the first decade of his career on Poverty Row, he emerged as a star in Stagecoach. But it was during World War II that Wayne -- and America -- emerged as superpowers. Wayne came to politics reluctantly, joining the mainstream of America in its confrontation with communism -- and maintaining his opposition ever since. At heart, however, Wayne was a nonideological conservative. He loved his freedom, his friends, his women, and his booze. He believed in simple justice, and common decency, and he will always be beloved as a result.
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Read an Excerpt
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 May, 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 its 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 in The 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 empty-handed. 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 difficult 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 there.
Winterset was a perfect heartland emblem for John Wayne's cradle. 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 performed Uncle 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 parry 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 Quaker. Most of the areas small Roman Catholic population lived in Lee Township, up in the northeast corner of the county. Dr. 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 clubs 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 cl
Meet the Author
Randy Roberts is professor of history at Purdue University. He is the author of Papa Jack: Jack Johnson and the Era of White Hopes (The Free Press), among other books. He lives in West Lafayette, Indiana.
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