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(2/1/1895– 8/31/1973)

John Ford is still considered the greatest American film director of all time.  He has the most Best Director Academy Awards received at a total of four, a feat which no other director has matched to date.  He is best known for his classic westerns starring John Wayne, who he discovered and made a star with his film “Stagecoach” (1939).  Although he was known for being irascible and tough on actors, his tough demeanor disguised a sensitive inner nature that led to Ford assembling a ‘family’ of actors and crew that would do anything for him.

John Ford was born John Martin Feeney, (although later in life he indicated that his given name was Sean Aloysius O’Feeney) in Cape Elizabeth, Maine.  His parents, John Augustine Feeney and Barbara Curran, were Irish immigrants who arrived in America a few days apart.  They married in 1875 and earned their citizenship in 1880.  Together they had eleven children, of which Ford was the youngest to survive.  Ford’s older brother, Francis Ford, would introduce John to show business.

In 1914, Ford moved out to California at his brother’s invitation and started to help him with a film production he was working on.  There he took on the stage name of Jack Ford, and made several minor appearances in films, both credited and uncredited.  In one of his uncredited roles he appeared as a Klansman in D.W. Griffith’s 1915 controversial blockbuster, “The Birth of a Nation”.

On July 3, 1920 Ford married Mary McBryde Smith.  Their marriage lasted until Ford’s death in 1973.  The couple had two children, Barbara and Patrick.

Ford continued to assist his older brother with his films for Universal, working as an assistant, handyman, stuntman and actor, eventually rising to be his brother’s main assistant and cameraman within three years.  In a reversal of fortunes, Ford got his first break as a director just as Francis’ career was declining, and shortly thereafter Francis would give up directing altogether.

Ford cut his teeth during the silent era, making dozens of features between 1917 and 1928, many of which are considered lost today.  Ford earned a reputation for being extremely hard-working and productive, cranking out movies at an amazing pace.  Ford made ten movies in 1917, eight in 1918, and fifteen in 1919.  One of the traits that Ford developed that enabled him to work at this pace was to create a ‘stable’ of actors and crew that he would work with on film after film.  The advantage of this approach was that the cast and crew developed a familiarity with Ford, his style, what he wanted and how he wanted things done.  Some of Hollywood’s greats existed in this working family--actors such as John Wayne, Henry Fonda, Maureen O'Hara, James Stewart, Victor McLaglen, Vera Miles, Harry Carey Sr., Will Rogers, and Richard Widmark.  Supporting actors and crew were just as important, such as Ward Bond, Chill Wills, Andy Devine, Harry Carey Jr., Ken Curtis, Ben Johnson and John Carradine.

Ford directed 36 films for Universal in three years, between 1917 and 1920, before leaving to work for the William Fox studio in 1920.  In 1923 he changed his name to John from Jack, as his earlier works were credited.

Ford’s first film to win major success was “The Iron Horse” (1924), a historical drama telling the story of building the Transcontinental Railroad.  “The Iron Horse” was a major undertaking, using 5,000 extras, 100 cooks, 2,000 rail layers, 800 Indians, and a full cavalry regiment.  To make matters more difficult, Ford was working off of a short synopsis for a script, and Ford would write the day’s script before filming began each day.  Not surprisingly, production was behind schedule, and further delayed by bad weather in the Sierra Nevada Mountains where they were shooting.  Ford fought with studio executives to allow him to finish the film, which they eventually did.  The rewards were worth it however, as the film made over $2 million worldwide with a budget of $280,000.

Ford made many movies throughout the silent era, many of them westerns, but by the late 1920’s westerns had fallen out of favor with the major studios.  At this time, sound was the latest innovation in film, and Ford become one of its early adopters.  Ford captured the first song for the Fox studio for his film “Mother Machree”, which was also the first Ford film to star a young actor named John Wayne.  Ford had found Wayne as a football player at UCLA, along with his close friend Ward Bond.  Although discovering Wayne, Ford did not immediately press Wayne into films, instead allowing him to grow within the industry on his own during the 1930’s.  Ford would later state that he was waiting for the proper script to come along to use as Wayne’s vehicle to stardom.  That vehicle would arrive in 1939 as a stagecoach, in Ford’s first talking western and first western in thirteen years.

Stagecoach” (1939) would become a success with fans, critics and Hollywood personalities almost immediately.  It is said that Orson Welles watched “Stagecoach” forty-three times while preparing to make “Citizen Kane”.  Ford was so insistent the Wayne play the lead in the movie that he had a hard time finding financing for the film.  Wayne had only been in one other major budget western at the time, “The Big Trail” (1930), which flopped at the box office.  It also did not help that westerns had gotten a reputation as B-budget productions and were not something that major picture studios thought would succeed.  Finally Ford found a financier in Walter Wanger, who initially insisted that the main role be played by Gary Cooper, and that Marlene Dietrich play Dallas.  However, Ford was insistent and Wanger eventually relented, as long as Ford gave top billing to Claire Trevor who was much better known than Wayne at the time.

Stagecoach” was a success that took the Hollywood executives by surprise.  It had been no secret that the studios thought that the western genre was played out, something to be relegated to B-budget serials.  However, “Stagecoach” grossed over $1 million in its first year against its budget of just under $400,000, making the film industry sit up and take notice.  “Stagecoach” was nominated for seven Academy Awards, and won two of them.

Wayne had become a star, and he had Ford to thank.  Together Ford and Wayne had a very close working relationship spanning over 50 years that yielded some of the great classics in John Wayne’s career.  It is not disputed that John Ford played a great role in making John Wayne the iconic star that he still is today.  Ford gave Wayne his breakthrough role in “Stagecoach”, for which Ford won Academy Award nominations for both Best Picture and Best Director.  Films that Ford and Wayne made together include, “Stagecoach”, “The Long Voyage Home”, “They Were Expendable”, “3 Godfathers”, “She Wore a Yellow Ribbon”, “Rio Grande”, “The Quiet Man”, “The Searchers”, “The Wings of Eagles”, “The Horse Soldiers”, “The Alamo”, “The Man Who Shot Liberty Valance”, “How the West Was Won”, finally concluding with “Donovan's Reef”.

Ford continued to make films that earned him Academy Award nominations.  Ford’s next film was “Young Mr. Lincoln” (1939) starring Henry Fonda.  “Drums Along the Mohawk” (1939) also starred Henry Fonda, and brought in an Academy Award nomination for Edna May Oliver.  In 1940, Ford made the screen adaptation of John Steinbeck’s “The Grapes of Wrath”, also starring Henry Fonda, which was a commercial and critical success, winning Ford his second Best Director Academy Award.

Ford would have time to make three more films before the outbreak of World War II, “The Long Voyage Home” (1940), “Tobacco Road” (1941), and “How Green Was My Valley” (1941).  “How Green Was My Valley” was nominated for 10 Academy Awards, and won Ford his third Best Director Oscar.

Even while serving his country at war, Ford was able to win Oscars.  Ford served in the United States Navy and was in charge of filming documentaries for the Navy Department.  He won Academy Awards for his semi-documentaries “The Battle of Midway” and “December 7th “.  Ford was wounded by shrapnel while filming a Japanese attack during the Battle of Midway, and shot footage from the infamous Omaha Beach landing on D-day.  His last movie in his military time was the film “They Were Expendable” and although it was a commercial success, Ford never liked the film, stating that he was forced to make it.

Upon Ford’s return from military service, he was made a Rear Admiral in the United States Navy Reserve.  Ford immediately turned his attention to westerns, making “My Darling Clementine” (1946), based on the legend of Wyatt Earp and the gunfight at the OK Corral, starring Henry Fonda as Wyatt Earp.  The film showed that even after the war, westerns struck a nerve with the American public, grossing $2.75 million.

Once his contract was up at Fox, Ford turned down a lucrative offer to stay with the company in order to be an independent producer/director working with Argosy Productions.  Ford’s first independent film, “The Fugitive” (1946), yet again starred Henry Fonda.  Although Ford considered this his best film to date, it did not do well commercially.

Ford would next set to working on his legendary cavalry trilogy, a group of three movies that, although they did not feature the same characters, revolved around the U.S. Cavalry and were all based on the stories of James Warner Bellah.  These films were “Fort Apache” (1948), “She Wore a Yellow Ribbon” (1949) and “Rio Grande” (1950).  Ford made a few other movies between them and assisted his friend Howard Hawks on his film “Red River” (1949).

Rio Grande” was also done as part of a deal with Republic Pictures executives to allow Ford to do his pet project “The Quiet Man” (1950).  Ford had to fight tooth and nail to make “The Quiet Man” as many studio execs considered the film “a silly Irish story that won’t make a penny”.  Herbert J. Yates at Republic agreed to do it only if Ford, John Wayne and Maureen O'Hara made him a western first, to make back the money “The Quiet Man” would lose.  As a result the three made the western, “Rio Grande”.

Ford again stunned Hollywood with the success of “The Quiet Man”, which became his highest grossing film to that time, pulling in nearly $4 million in the U.S. alone.  “The Quiet Man” was nominated for seven Academy Awards and gave Ford his fourth Best Director Oscar.  It was also the only movie ever made by Republic Pictures that won an Academy Award.

Ford made several other movies in the early 50’s, including one which cost him one of his most-used actors.  In a screen adaptation of “Mister Roberts”, a comedy about the Navy which had been on Broadway for some time, Ford clashed with Henry Fonda, who was playing the lead as he had on the Broadway production for the last seven years.  Fonda challenged Ford about his directing and as a result Ford punched him in the jaw, knocking Fonda across the room.  Afterwards, Ford became depressed, retreating to his yacht and refusing to see anyone.  Ford suffered a ruptured gallbladder and needed to be replaced on the set by Mervyn LeRoy.

Ford attempted to direct some shows for television, creating “Rookie of the Year” in 1955 for “Studio Directors Playhouse” and the “Bamboo Cross” for “Fireside Theater”.  In 1956 Ford returned to the big screen with “The Searchers” which is not only regarded by many to be Ford’s best film, but also the greatest western ever made.

Ford returned to war movies with “The Wings of Eagles” (1957), the story of Ford’s friend Frank 'Spig' Wead.  Ford had fun with the movie, even casting Ward Bond as John Dodge, a character based on Ford himself.

Ford became more introspective and hungered for something a bit different, travelling again to Ireland to film “The Rising of the Moon" (1957), a collection of Irish short stories, pro-bono, for his friend and distant relative Lord Killanin.  Ford also directed “Gideon’s Day” (1958), Ford’s only police drama about a detective from Scotland Yard.

The Last Hurrah” (1958) starring Spencer Tracy and Katharine Hepburn and “Korea: Battleground for Liberty” (1959), a documentary for the Department of Defense, rounded out the decade for Ford.

During the 60’s Ford’s health was beginning to decline, and his normally manic pace of moviemaking slowed.  Ford finished his last cavalry, “Sergeant Rutledge”, film in 1960 which Warner Brothers incorrectly marketed as a suspense film, leading to its failure at the box office.  “Two Rode Together” (1961) followed, starring James Stewart and Richard Widmark, which achieved moderate box office success.

1962 saw the release of what has been considered by many to be Ford’s greatest movie in his long and distinguished career of great movies, “The Man Who Shot Liberty Valance”, which went on to be a major box office success.

Ford finished his almost fifteen-movie run with John Wayne with the action – comedy “Donovan's Reef”.  This would also be Ford’s last major commercial success.

Ford next said goodbye to the Wild West in “Cheyenne Autumn” (1964), which Ford dedicated to Native Americans.  It was Ford’s last Western, his longest film, and most expensive production.  Although it bombed at the box office, it did pick up an Academy Award nomination.

Ford made two other works before his health deteriorated, “7 Women” and one last military documentary, “Chesty: A Tribute to a Legend” about the most decorated U.S. Marine, Lewis B. Puller.

In the early 70’s Ford’s health declined rapidly--he was put in a wheelchair because of a broken hip, and was being treated for cancer.  At a final honor for the legendary film maker, the Screen Directors Guild paid tribute to Ford, and the American Film Institute gave Ford their first Lifetime Achievement Award, a televised event which culminated with President Nixon promoting Ford to full Admiral and bestowing Ford with the Presidential Medal of Freedom.

John Ford died on August 31, 1973 at his home in Palm Desert, California.  Ford’s funeral was held at the Church of the Blessed Sacrament in Hollywood and he was interred in Holy Cross Cemetery in Culver City, California.


Silent Films:

1917    The Tornado

1917    The Fighting Gringo

1917    The Trail of Hate

1917    The Scrapper

1917    Cheyenne's Pal

1917    The Soul Herder

1917    Straight Shooting

1917    The Secret Man

1917    A Marked Man

1917    Bucking Broadway

1918    The Phantom Riders

1918    Wild Women

1918    Thieves' Gold

1918    The Scarlet Drop

1918    Hell Bent

1918    A Woman's Fool

1918    The Craving

1918    Three Mounted Men

1919    Roped

1919    The Fighting Brothers

1919    A Fight for Love

1919    Rustlers

1919    Bare Fists

1919    Gun Law

1919    By Indian Post

1919    The Gun Packer

1919    Riders of Vengeance

1919    The Last Outlaw

1919    The Outcasts of Poker Flat

1919    Ace of the Saddle

1919    Rider of the Law

1919    A Gun Fightin' Gentleman

1919    Marked Men

1920    The Prince of Avenue A

1920    The Girl in Number 29

1920    Hitchin' Posts

1920    Just Pals

1921    The Big Punch

1921    The Freeze-Out

1921    The Wallop

1921    Desperate Trails

1921    Action

1921    Sure Fire

1921    Jackie

1922    Little Miss Smiles

1922    Silver Wings

1922    The Village Blacksmith

1923    The Face on the Bar-Room Floor

1923    Three Jumps Ahead

1923    Cameo Kirby

1923    North of Hudson Bay

1923    Hoodman Blind

1924    The Iron Horse

1924    Hearts of Oak

1925    Lightnin'

1925    Kentucky Pride

1925    Thank You

1925    The Fighting Heart

1926    The Shamrock Handicap

1926    3 Bad Men

1926    The Blue Eagle

1927    Upstream

Sound Films:

1928    Mother Machree

1928    Four Sons

1928    Hangman's House

1928    Napoleon's Barber

1928    Riley the Cop

1929    Strong Boy

1929    The Black Watch

1929    Salute

1930    Men Without Women

1930    Born Reckless

1930    Up the River

1931    Seas Beneath

1931    The Brat

1931    Arrowsmith

1932    Airmail

1932    Flesh

1933    Pilgrimage

1933    Doctor Bull

1934    The Lost Patrol

1934    The World Moves On

1934    Judge Priest

1935    The Whole Town's Talking

1935    The Informer

1935    Steamboat Round the Bend

1936    The Prisoner of Shark Island

1936    Mary of Scotland

1936    The Plough and the Stars

1937    Wee Willie Winkie

1937    The Hurricane

1938    The Adventures of Marco Polo

1938    Four Men and a Prayer

1938    Submarine Patrol

1939    Stagecoach

1939    Young Mr. Lincoln

1939    Drums Along the Mohawk

1940    The Grapes of Wrath

1940    The Long Voyage Home

1941    Tobacco Road

1941    How Green Was My Valley

1942    Torpedo Squadron

1942    Sex Hygiene

1942    The Battle of Midway

1943    December 7th

1943    We Sail at Midnight

1945    They Were Expendable

1946    My Darling Clementine

1947    The Fugitive

1948    Fort Apache

1948    3 Godfathers

1949    Pinky

1949    She Wore a Yellow Ribbon

1950    When Willie Comes Marching Home

1950    Wagon Master

1950    Rio Grande

1951    This Is Korea!

1952    The Quiet Man

1952    What Price Glory?

1953    The Sun Shines Bright

1953    Mogambo

1955    The Long Gray Line

1955    Mister Roberts

1955    The Bamboo Cross

1956    The Searchers

1957    The Wings of Eagles

1957    The Rising of the Moon

1958    Gideon's Day

1958    The Last Hurrah

1959    Korea

1959    The Horse Soldiers

1960    Sergeant Rutledge

1960    The Alamo

1961    Two Rode Together

1962    Flasing Spikes

1962    The Man Who Shot Liberty Valance

1962    How the West Was Won

1963    Donovan's Reef

1964    Cheyenne Autumn

1965    Young Cassidy

1966    7 Women

1971    Chesty: A Tribute to a Legend

1971    The American West of John Ford (Tribute)

Matinee Classics - 7 Women starring Anne Bancroft, Sue Lyon, Margaret Leighton, Flora Robson, Mildred Dunnock, Betty Field, Anna Lee, Eddie Albert, Mike Mazurki and Woody Strode
Matinee Classics - Fort Apache
Matinee Classics - Fort Apache starring John Wayne, Henry Fonda, Shirley Temple, John Agar, Harry Carey Jr. Ben Johnson, Dick Foran, Irene Rich, Guy Kibbee and Andrew MacLaglen
Matinee Classics - Rio Grande starring John Wayne, Maureen O'Hara, Ben Johnson, Harry Carey Jr., Claude Jarman Jr., Chill Wills, J. Carroll Naish, Victor McLaglen and Grant Withers
Matinee Classics - Stagecoach starring John Wayne as Ringo, Claire Trevor, Andy Devine, John Carradine, Thomas Mitchell, Louise Platt, George Bancroft, Donald Meek, Berton Churchill, Tim Holt and Tom Tyler
Matinee Classics - The Horse Soldiers starring John Wayne, William Holden, Constance Towers, Althea Gibson, Judson Pratt, Ken Curtis, Willis Bouchey, Bing Russel, O.Z. Whitehead, Hank Worden, Chuck Hayward, Dnver Pyle, Strother Martin, Basil Ruysdael, Carleton Young, William Leslie, William Henry, Walter Reed, Anna Lee, William Forrest, Ron Hagerthy and Russell Simpson
Matinee Classics - Donovan's Reef
Matinee Classics - Dennis Hopper with John Ford and John Huston
Matinee Classics - How the West Was Won starring John Wayne, James Stewart, Debbie Reynolds, Henry Fonda, Lee J. Cobb, Carol Baker, Gregory Peck, George Peppard, Harry Morgan, Walter Brennan, Lee Van Cleef, Agnes Moorehead and Robert Preston
Matinee Classics - The Long Voyage Home starring John Wayne, Ward Bond, Barry Fitzgerald, Thomas Mitchell, Ian Hunter, Wilfrid Lawson, Mildred Natwick, John Qualen, Arthur Shields, Joe Sawyer and JM Kerrigan

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