Lessons From My Father

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As told to Jenn Thornton

When Ethan Wayne was born, his father was 56 and something of a grandfatherly figure in the eyes of his youngest, but the country’s biggest box-office draw. “We had a lot of adventures together,” remembers Ethan, who has seen his share of major motion picture sets. But when it came to some things, like chores, Ethan wasn’t exactly “given a lot of rope,” as he puts it—he swept at home, untangled cables and wrangled horses on set, and squeegeed the deck of his dad’s boat. Here, Ethan Wayne remembers a few things he picked up along the way.

BE ADAPTABLE Being a child of John Wayne meant being a little bit everywhere, notes Ethan—at the beach, on the deck of a military ship, on set with cowboys in Durango. “I was exposed to many different environments and a larger volume of experiences,” he says. “That was just how it was.” Does that make it easier to adapt today? “I think so,” Ethan adds.” You learn to work with a lot of different people in a range of situations and that’s helpful.”

HAVE PASSION “I think my dad was happiest when he was exploring something new or telling a story. He’d get up early and go to work. He had passion for what he was doing. That was important.”

STAY FOCUSED “When my dad made The Alamo, he really put everything into it,” Ethan recalls. “At the same time he was also going through some tough times personally and he wasn’t in good health. His focus on work helped a lot. I noticed how in going to work—as a leading man in his sixties—my dad could solve a lot of problems.” 

LISTEN WELL “Dad expected me to listen,” Ethan says. “It was just simple to him. You pick up your clothes. You fix a mistake. You listen.”

KEEP LEARNING “My dad learned to do everything,” remembers Ethan of his father at work. “And he had some high expectations…” but if not always gently delivered, they certainly weren’t unfair. They were the expectations of a man who Ethan remembers as “a master of his craft.” 

John Wayne with his son Ethan on the set of  El Dorado , c. 1966.

John Wayne with his son Ethan on the set of El Dorado, c. 1966.