My Early life
I was born Marion Robert Morrison in Winterset, Iowa. My middle name was soon changed from Robert to Mitchell when my parents decided to name their next son Robert.
My father, Clyde Leonard Morrison (1884–1937), was the son of American Civil War veteran Marion Mitchell Morrison (1845–1915). My mother, the former Mary "Molly" Alberta Brown (1885–1970), was from Lancaster County, Nebraska. I am of Scots-Irish and Scottish descent on both sides of my family, and I was brought up as a Presbyterian.
My family moved to Palmdale, California, and then in 1911 to Glendale, California, where my father worked as a pharmacist. A local fireman at the station on my route to school in Glendale started calling me "Little Duke" because I never went anywhere without my huge Airedale Terrier, Duke. I preferred "Duke" to "Marion", and the name stuck for the rest of my life.
As a teen, I worked in an ice cream shop for a man who shod horses for Hollywood studios. I was also active as a member of the Order of DeMolay, a youth organization associated with the Freemasons. I attended Wilson Middle School in Glendale. I played football for the 1924 champion Glendale High School team.
I applied to the U.S. Naval Academy, but was not accepted. I instead attended the University of Southern California (USC), majoring in pre-law. I was a member of the Trojan Knights and Sigma Chi fraternities. I also played on the USC football team under legendary coach Howard Jones. An injury curtailed my athletic career; I later noted I was too terrified of Jones's reaction to reveal the actual cause of his injury, which was bodysurfing at the "Wedge" at the tip of the Balboa Peninsula in Newport Beach. I lost my athletic scholarship and, without funds, had to leave the university.
Then I began working at the local film studios. Prolific silent western film star Tom Mix had gotten me a summer job in the prop department in exchange for football tickets. I soon moved on to bit parts, establishing a longtime friendship with the director who provided most of those roles, John Ford. Early in this period, I appeared with his USC teammates playing football in Brown of Harvard (1926), The Dropkick (1927), and Salute (1929) and Columbia's Maker of Men (filmed in 1930, released in 1931).
Swampy's early life. Stay tuned for my next chapter
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