While family members of “The Duke” looked on, Glendale High School’s auditorium was officially renamed the John Wayne Performing Arts Center on Friday to honor the 1925 graduate of the school.
As a student of Glendale High in the 1920s, Wayne was known as Marion Morrison. He played on the Nitro’s football team, wrote for the campus newspaper and served as chairman of the senior dance committee. He was also a member of Glendale’s stage crew, performed in several theatrical productions and was voted by his classmates as senior class president.
Wayne’s son, Patrick Wayne, his daughter-in-law Gretchen Wayne, and his granddaughters — Josie Wayne and Maria King — were on hand to mark the occasion.
“I’d like to take the position that Glendale High School was more pivotal in my father’s career than most people realize…and maybe his work at the Glendale drama department here planted the seeds for him to pursue his career in film, and the rest is history,” Patrick Wayne said on Friday.
He added his father’s pride for his alma mater never faltered. He recalled one night when he was playing football for Loyola High School, and his team was matched up against the Nitros. He said John Wayne showed up to watch his son play, but also sure to sit on the same side as Glendale High’s team.
“He really never lost his allegiance for Glendale High,” he said. “I ask myself a question…Do I think he would appreciate the fact that you honor him. I think I’ve illustrated he probably has. I can assure you that my brothers and sisters, my children and grandchildren all appreciate it very much.”
Glendale Unified officials announced earlier this year they received permission from John Wayne Enterprises to name the auditorium in his honor.
It marks the first location in Glendale to offer a tribute to the movie legend who appeared in nearly 170 films, pleasing local amateur historians and former Glendale High students alike, who grew up knowing of Wayne’s local ties.
Glendale High journalism advisor and athletic director Patrick Lancaster recalled meeting Wayne when he was 15 years old at the Pasadena Tournament of Roses house when Wayne served as Grand Marshal of the 1974 Rose Parade and Lancaster’s father was a Tournament of Roses volunteer.
“We were in awe standing next to him,” he said. When Wayne met Lancaster then, he handed him a card with his signature he was known to offer to fans upon meeting them. Lancaster brought the card with him to the dedication on Friday, saying that 40 years later, the card is “still one of my prized possessions.”
Since teaching at Glendale High, he has informed students on Wayne’s life, career and impact.
“I had hoped that somewhere in Glendale, there would be a tribute to the screen giant. I am very pleased that it is here at Glendale High,” adding that Glendale residents “will no doubt ride a little taller in the saddle” with the renaming of the performing arts center.
Wayne’s daughter-in-law, Gretchen Wayne, a former high school teacher who was married to the movie star’s late son Michael, also believed Wayne would have been thrilled with the dedication.
“Because my father-in-law was such an active student…I think that because he had a real love for the high school and he really believed in education — he thought that was the most fabulous thing you could give children, I think that something like this, if he were alive, he would be flattered beyond all…” she said, trailing off. “I think this is great,” she added.
Glendale resident Foster Dennis brought one of Wayne’s cars to the high school on Friday — a 1973 Pontiac station wagon. Dennis was a former Glendale High student who befriended Wayne in 1972 when Dennis was a Glendale High student working for his father’s asphalt company that did paving work near Wayne’s Newport Beach home.
When Dennis greeted Wayne and introduced himself as a Glendale High student, he recalled that Wayne invited him into his home, offered him a sandwich and wanted to learn more about Dennis and Glendale so Wayne could compare the city to how he knew it as a younger man.
“He was quite a guy — John Wayne — he was the same off screen as he was on screen. He was a good guy. He really cared about Glendale — he really did.”
Follow Kelly Corrigan on Twitter: @kellymcorrigan.