John Wayne and the USC-Hollywood Connection

In the 1920s, the USC football team was the West Coast antidote to the effete Ivy League teams at Princeton, Yale, and Harvard. (Believe it or not, there was a time in college football history when Harvard was considered a knock-'em-dead national powerhouse). Clara Bow entertained the team at her lavish Garden of Allah apartment. Producers and directors cheered on the Trojans at their home games. And the studios put out the word that they'd look kindly on any team member looking for part-time work. That's more or less how offensive tackle Marion Morrison got a job at Fox as a property assistant. The strapping lad, hired because he was big and strong, would set up furniture, move scrims, and otherwise haul in the props needed on the Fox movie sets. John Ford noticed the tall lad one day between takes and challenged him to a tackling contest--marking the beginning of one of Hollywood's best-known actor-director partnerships. In fact, soon after meeting Morrison (soon to be renamed John Wayne), Ford cast him as an extra in the 1927 Irish weeper Mother Machree. That same year, a shoulder injury sidelined Wayne from the Trojan gridiron, but it didn't matter, because by then John Wayne already had a toe hold on what would become one of the most legendary careers in American cinema.

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