In honor of one of the most famous icons who has ever lived in the city, Glendale High School will change the name of its auditorium to the John Wayne Performing Arts Center, after the legendary actor who is not otherwise recognized in the city where he came of age.
Before he took on his stage name, Marion Morrison attended what was then Glendale’s only high school, then called Glendale Union High School.
The future western film star played on the school’s football team, served as class president during his senior year and acted in school productions before graduating in 1925.
Glendale Unified officials announced this week they have received permission from John Wayne Enterprises to use the actor’s name for the school’s performing arts center.
“This is something we’ve been talking about for years,” said Glendale school board member Greg Krikorian.
The idea was first proposed by a Glendale High student several years ago, and kicked into gear recently by educators who sought permission to use Wayne’s name.
John Wayne was born in 1907 in Winterset, Iowa, and moved with his family to Glendale in 1916. According to an online timeline maintained by John Wayne Enterprises, it was Glendale firefighters who gave Wayne his nickname, Duke, which was also the name of his family’s dog that he often took with him when visiting a firehouse in his neighborhood.
Wayne’s son, Ethan Wayne, said Glendale High was “where his path in drama really started.” John Wayne would go on to appear in more than 175 movies during his career, which spanned 50 years.
Patrick Lancaster, who teaches journalism at Glendale High and serves as the yearbook adviser, has kept a copy of the 1925 student yearbook in which Wayne is pictured five times because he was so active — playing on the football team, serving as chairperson of the senior dance and being elected class president.
“No one could have known what was in store for him,” Lancaster said.
“I think it’s really nice,” Ethan Wayne said of the school paying tribute to his father. “He liked learning, he liked sports, he liked activities,” he said, adding that his father was bound to find success whether in the movie industry or not, because of his involvement in so many activities.
Glendale High Principal Monica Makiewicz, who has actively pushed for the auditorium’s name change in recent months, has also acquired a black marble bust of Wayne that will be displayed in the performing arts center, which will be dedicated next month.
“It’s a big deal for us,” she said, adding that she hopes the dedication will further educate Glendale students of his legacy. John Wayne’s ties to Glendale High School, and even to the city, are not as apparent as perhaps they once were.
“Most of the kids don’t know who John Wayne is,” Makiewicz added.
Greg Williams, who has managed Glendale High’s auditorium for the past 30 years and who attended the high school himself in the late 1970s, said that when he attended Glendale High, students were aware that Wayne earned his high school diploma there.
Williams recalled sitting in his fifth-period English class in 1979 when then-principal Sam Harvey announced to the student body that the legendary movie star had passed away.
“It’s so vivid in my mind,” Williams said, who was a senior at the time.
But for a man who would go on to have a historic career, John Wayne is not formally recognized anywhere else in the city where he spent his adolescence.
Local amateur historian Michael Morgan, who sits on the city’s historic preservation commission and has extensively researched John Wayne’s life, said the star lived in several places while his family was in Glendale, but that many of those homes no longer exist.
“For me, I think it’s a great thing that finally, Glendale’s wising to its senses to honor one of its own,” he said.
Jay Platt, Glendale’s historic preservation planner, said he hopes the school’s dedication will spur the city to learn more about Wayne’s connection to Glendale.
“He is one of the most famous people that [has] come out of Glendale,” he said. “Naming a building at the high school he went to is definitely a worthy tribute and commemoration.”
Follow Kelly Corrigan on Twitter: @kellymcorrigan.