Museum to remember John Wayne

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Museum to remember John Wayne

WINTERSET, Iowa - A new museum is opening in the town where John Wayne was born celebrating the late actor’s life, career and local connections.

Wayne was born Marion Robert Morrison in Winterset in 1907. Although he moved to California at a young age, Winterset has been showcasing his local roots for years. In addition to the new museum, the small wooden house where he was born offers tours and there’s a large bronze statue of the actor in his signature cowboy hat.

“One of the things that keep a small town alive is to share their history,’’ said Shirley Roach, owner of a boutique in town that devotes a section to John Wayne merchandise. “John Wayne is a part of our history.’’

The new 6,100-square-foot (567-square-meter) museum officially opens Saturday on the same block as his birthplace. The museum displays his film wardrobes, a signed Andy Warhol print of the actor and his customized 1972 Pontiac Grand Safari station wagon. It’s parked inside the gallery, near decorative wooden panels from the closing barroom fight scene of Wayne’s final film, “The Shootist.’’

Visitors can also see an ashtray from his yacht, his briefcase, his personal address book - with contact information for Ronald Reagan when he was the California governor - and the eye patch Wayne wore in the movie “True Grit.’’

Brian Downes, executive director of the $2.5 million museum, said the museum was built partly because tours of his childhood home were not enough to satisfy his fans. Long lines at the house meant the tours “could only be 20 minutes long,’’ he said. “There was a frustration there .?.?. It was really time to step up.’’

The museum was funded over seven years through grants and private donations, including door-to-door pledges from residents of Winterset, population 5,000. “It was a dream for a little town to accomplish something like this,’’ Downes said.

Not all museums about 20th century celebrities remain successful. A museum dedicated to Liberace closed in 2010 near Las Vegas after more than 30 years in business.

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