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Local Man Puts John Wayne on the Money

Bill Atkins' John Wayne Museum is getting more interest with the revamp of Hilltop Plaza.

If you run into Bill Atkins at the 7-Eleven near his office in Hilltop Plaza, he just might give you a dollar.

If you are a fan of the Duke, that is.

Atkins turns regular dollar bills—by covering George Washington’s image with a picture of the iconic actor—into John Wayne dollars.

“When I give people these dollar bills, you’d think I gave them $100. I spend my money doing this,” said Atkins, .  “But it’s really a labor of love.”

Atkins has transformed his two-room wood-paneled office into a miniature John Wayne museum, full of the legendary actor’s movie posters and memorabilia. He has purchased much of his collection on internet sites like eBay.

But the Sherwood Manor resident is more than just a movie buff, he was an extra in a John Wayne film more than 50 years ago.

As a young marine in 1950, the Dundalk native was assigned to the set of the 1951 movie “The Flying Leathernecks,” starring Wayne. While other members of his battalion were shipped out to Korea, Atkins spent seven days a week for two months in the fall of 1950 playing a marine in the film.

After the movie wrapped, Atkins had only 11 months to serve. He was not sent overseas.

It was a role, it turned out, that may have saved his life.  A number of the men he served with—in the 11th Engineer Batallion—were killed in action.

Thanks to his museum, Atkins had a chance encounter with John Wayne impersonator and former Bowie resident Dan Hornak, who uses the stage name Jake Thorne. The two met when both were waiting to snag a life-sized John Wayne display from a Hilltop plaza liquor store, after the store was finished with it.

Atkins got there first and ended up with the promotional item. When Hornak asked the store clerk who took it, he decided to walk over to Atkins’ office to meet the man the clerk said beat him to it, an act Hornak called “serendipity.”

The two forged a friendship based on their mutual interest in all things John Wayne and remain in contact. Hornak, who bears an uncanny resemblance to the actor, recently staged a three-act play about John Wayne in North Carolina, which Atkins attended.

Making the dollar bills, Atkins said, was just an idea that popped into his head one day. When his wife of 54 years died in 2009,  he had a lot more time to devote to the museum.

“Since I’ve lost my wife, I’ve taken this to a whole new level. She wasn’t much of a John Wayne fan,” he said.

While eating at a Chinese restaurant with his daughter, Atkins got to talking with their waiter who told him that his father learned English from watching John Wayne movies.

“Out popped a John Wayne dollar bill,” said Atkins, with a smile.

People will ask him, he said, if he worries about getting into trouble for defacing the dollar bill.

“Let the Secret Service come and hound an old Marine over a dollar bill. I’ll go on Oprah or Bill O’Reilly’s show,” said Atkins.

A new digital sign at Hilltop Plaza which now advertises “the John Wayne Museum” has generated a lot more interest in what he's doing, Atkins said.

“I’ve always had people come by occasionally. Since they’ve put it on the sign, I get phone calls and I get three times as many people coming by,” Atkins said.

fred quimby March 07, 2011 at 04:01 PM
Where is this museum? I see the sign all the time but can't find the museum.
Bowie Mike March 07, 2011 at 04:34 PM
In the alley next to Outback. It's very easy to miss.
Dan Hornak March 07, 2011 at 05:01 PM
I think it is great that somebody who met and worked with John Wayne is trying to keep his memory alive. I've known Bill Atkins for over ten years and have talked to him about the real John Wayne and learned what he was really like. Now that the Duke has been gone for over thirty years, you find a lot of people-kids especially- don't know who he was. We kinda need the Duke now more than ever to remind us that America is a great place filled with great people who care about others. I am a grandfather and I'm going to bring my grandkids to the man who knew John Wayne!
Gayle Clare March 07, 2011 at 08:20 PM
Gayle Clare "Uncle Bill" Atkins has brought John Wayne back to life!!! Uncle Bill is a star in my eyes. Both men have very similar qualities, they are both American idols. Keep the legions going!!! The Museum is defiantly a place to visit and Bill Atkins will bring John Wayne to life. Niece, Gayle
fred quimby March 07, 2011 at 08:55 PM
Thanks Bowie Mike, I'll see if I can find it next time.
Bowie Mike March 07, 2011 at 09:01 PM
Fred, you may want to call ahead if you plan on stopping by. See the following link for the contact info for Atkins Real Estate. It is the same location and contact info. http://bowie.patch.com/listings/atkins-real-estate
Janet Armentrout March 08, 2011 at 02:13 AM
Bill is dedicated to his passion and it shows every time he speaks of John Wayne. My family has been to the museum and it was quite a treat!
Ellen Vandeloo March 08, 2011 at 02:17 AM
I am a proud owner of this John Wayne dollar bill! But I feel even prouder to know and love the creator of the bill! Thank you Bill!!! Love, Ellen
Cindy Ober March 08, 2011 at 12:55 PM
I love to see uncle Bill"Roland" as some of his family members know him by, have so much passion about a legend like John Wayne. Cindy in Baltimore
Robert L. Mills March 25, 2011 at 12:24 AM
You've done a great job with your John Wayne Museum,, Bill. I should be up there in about 2 weeks and I'll be by to see you and your museum again. Bill and I have been friends (and co-workers for a time) for over 50 years. Bob Mills, Ormond Beach, FL

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