NEWPORT BEACH – Ethan Wayne, as his surname implies, is one of the seven children of John Wayne, one of Orange County’s most famous residents.
Despite that, Ethan Wayne insists that his life growing up was “not typical Hollywood at all.
“Our life was basically small-town beach life,” the 49-year-old Wayne said. “(Dad) drove a station wagon. He shopped at White Front and Sears.”
Newport Beach was a much smaller place back then, he said, admitting the routinely heavy traffic on Coast Highway tends to irritate him.
Still, he has no intention of leaving his hometown for locales elsewhere.
John Wayne left the San Fernando Valley for Newport Beach in the 1960s. Even before Wayne lived in Orange County, he frequented Newport Beach. In fact, he lost his football scholarship with USC because he injured himself surfing there.
“He had a long history himself down here. Newport was a smaller beach and fishing town,” Ethan Wayne said. “At that time, it was much more low-key.”
The Wayne family lived in a home Ethan Wayne characterized as in a regular neighborhood. One neighbor a couple of doors down was a single mother who worked as a dental hygienist.
There were no big fences, no checkpoint in the driveway … though John Wayne once joked he needed to wear a wig when he went out front to water the lawn.
“There weren’t paparazzi. We didn’t have bodyguards. (Dad) answered the phone; he answered the door,” Ethan Wayne said. “My life was pretty normal for having such an iconic, legendary father. … We did get a lot of mail.”
Ethan Wayne still lives in town, though he admits it’s grown – and a bit too much.
“I saw a paid parking lot the other day, and it annoyed me to no end.”
But he still likes it for the same reason his father did: The lapping waves of the Pacific Ocean.
After travelling with his father for most of his childhood, Ethan Wayne returned to the motion-picture industry as a stuntman, spending several years crashing cars and taking tumbles.
His first gig was working for stunt coordinator Gary McLarty doing “Blues Brothers.”
“It was a natural transition,” Wayne said. “As a kid, I grew up around the stuntmen. I had a relationship with these guys. They knew I could drive a car or motorcycle and do the fight.”
He also made appearances in “Knight Rider” and “BJ and the Bear.”
That led to guest appearances on those shows, and an eventual transition to acting.
“I liked acting better, because stunt work can escalate to where it gets pretty dangerous,” Wayne said. “You have to do it when it’s cold dark and rainy. You have to be a professional about it and doing it 10 times over.”
In the 1980s, he played attorney Storm Logan on the soap, “The Bold and the Beautiful.”
The show had been on in the U.S. for four years when it began airing in Italy and became a hit. That made Wayne an international star. At one point, he kept rental homes there, because he visited so often promoting the show.
Though he more often stays closer to home these days, Wayne is no stranger to travel.
Much of his youth was spent on the Wild Goose, John Wayne’s beloved yacht.
For Ethan Wayne, it was no luxury liner. He had to earn his keep.
“On the boat, you had chores. You mopped the deck, you wiped down the rails … hauling garbage,” Wayne said. But it was worth it, he added. “It was like being on Jacques Cousteau’s team. It was a constant adventure. …
“I didn’t know when it was winter, summer, Halloween or whatever, because I was waiting for my dad to say, ‘We’re going this way,’ or ‘We’re going that way.'”
When not on the water, Wayne travelled with his father from filming location to filming location.
Much of that time they spent in the Mexican state of Durango, where an Old West main street was built in the middle of the high desert.
“I loved it. I liked being with my dad … in Mexico – in the wilderness. You’re in John Wayne country. For me, it was like growing up on a ranch or going to camp. … I wish I could go back there.”
John Wayne loved Mexico. There, he got the same recognition, “if not more so than back home,” Ethan Wayne said. “He spent a lot of his career in Mexico. He married three Latin women.”
One of them, a Peruvian woman named Pilar Pallete, spent 27 years with John Wayne. They had three children together: Marisa; Ethan; and Aissa.
Ethan Wayne looks like his father, and has a calm demeanor. His speech carries his emotions. He isn’t idle.
He’s president of John Wayne Enterprises, the company that manages John Wayne’s image and the merchandising that goes along with it, from Wayne-inspired Western wear to small-batch Bourbon and organic beef jerky.
He also heads the John Wayne Cancer Foundation
John Wayne recovered from having lung cancer in the 1960s, but died in 1979 from stomach cancer. Before he passed, he decided to help others suffering from the disease.
The foundation funds awareness programs, support groups, cancer research, trains oncologists through the John Wayne Cancer Institute.
“In my opinion, my father’s greatest legacy is helping people who are sick,” Ethan Wayne said.
Wayne also hasn’t left Hollywood completely. He’s currently writing a screenplay.
“I am concentrating on this, though I am working,” he said. “It’s a human story about choices that we make when we’re young and how they affect us when we get older … the emotional consequences of turning right or left. It’s set around a life that’s somewhat adventurous.”
A kind of life, it seems, Wayne knows something about.