John Wayne's Heirs Suing Duke University over the Use of the Star's Nickname

Will the real Duke please stand up? The family wants to register the moniker for use in marketing bourbon and other alcoholic beverages.

John Wayne. Patch archive.
John Wayne. Patch archive.

John Wayne's heirs are suing Duke University over use of the late movie star's "Duke" nickname, which the family wants to register for use in marketing bourbon and other alcoholic beverages, according to court papers obtained today.

According to the lawsuit, filed in federal court in Santa Ana, Wayne's heirs have been fighting with Duke University over the name since 2005, when the North Carolina institution filed an objection to the family's attempt to register "Duke" in connection with restaurant services.

Wayne was known as "Duke" throughout his five-decade movie career.

Last year, the school objected once again when John Wayne Enterprises of Newport Beach tried to register "Duke" for all alcoholic beverages except beer, alleging that its use could cause confusion with Duke University's goods and services, according to the lawsuit, which was first reported by The Hollywood Reporter.

"We admire and respect John Wayne's contributions to American culture, but as The Duke himself once said, 'Words are what men live by -- words they say and mean,'" said Michael Schoenfeld, Duke University's vice president for public affairs and government relations.

The university was founded in 1838.

Wayne's family argues in the July 3 complaint that since the university is not in the business of marketing alcoholic drinks, "the actual and potential customer base of Duke University is vastly different" from the audience for Wayne bourbon.

"Duke University does not own the word 'Duke' in all contexts and purposes," according to the lawsuit.

An image of a bottle of "Duke Kentucky Straight Bourbon" depicted as Exhibit A in the suit shows Wayne's image and signature on the label.

--City News Service

Patch Editor Penny Arévalo contributed to this report.

jatkins6 July 14, 2014 at 10:52 AM
There's another great Duke: Duke Kahanamoku!
Igor July 14, 2014 at 11:29 AM
I like the "Duke of Earl"
Barbara Tahir July 14, 2014 at 12:31 PM
What about all the things named for Duke Ellington, including a deli in New York and DC? What about Duke Mayo? Should William, Duke of Cambridge give up his title? They are nuts. This man was not a hero - he was an actor. In the first flush of madness, after his death, Orange County named an airport after him - that should be enough.
Speedie B July 14, 2014 at 01:50 PM
I'm siding with Duke University on this one. The last two generations don't even know who John Wayne is let alone his nickname.
all-c-ing-eye July 14, 2014 at 04:39 PM
Anyone wanting to use the name "David DUKE"? in the 1960s there was a cigarette brand called "The Duke of Durham" [half of it was filter]. Or the term "Put up your Dukes" [as to fight]. Lets not forget Duke & Duke enterprises? [movie, trading places]? Brooklyn Dodger fans, remember the Duke of Flatbush? [Duke Snider] My point that i hope to make is, that common words or slang used in everyday life in America should not have any restrictions on use or ownership. I think i will go to the patent office this week and register the "N" word, wouldnt that be something.


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