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John Ford
John Ford 1946.jpg
Ford in 1946
John Martin Feeney

(1894-02-01)February 1, 1894
Died August 31, 1973(1973-08-31) (aged 79)
Cause of death Stomach cancer
Resting place Holy Cross Cemetery, Culver City, California
Occupation Film director/producer
Years active 1917–1966
Mary McBride Smith
(m. 1920)
Children 2
Military career
Allegiance United States United States
Service/branch US Navy
US Naval Reserve
Years of service 1942–45 (active)
1946–62 (reserve)
Rank Commander (active)
Rear Admiral (reserve)
Battles/wars World War II Battle of Midway

John Ford (February 1, 1894 – August 31, 1973) was an American film director. He is renowned both for Westerns such as Stagecoach (1939), The Searchers (1956), and The Man Who Shot Liberty Valance (1962), as well as adaptations of classic 20th-century American novels such as the film The Grapes of Wrath (1940). His four Academy Awards for Best Director (in 1935, 1940, 1941, and 1952) remain a record. One of the films for which he won the award, How Green Was My Valley, also won Best Picture.

In a career that spanned more than 50 years, Ford directed more than 140 films (although most of his silent films are now lost) and he is widely regarded as one of the most important and influential filmmakers of his generation. Ford's work was held in high regard by his colleagues, with Orson Welles and Ingmar Bergman among those who have named him one of the greatest directors of all time.

Ford made frequent use of location shooting and long shots, in which his characters were framed against a vast, harsh, and rugged natural terrain.

Early life

John Ford's football team 1913
John Ford's football team 1913

Ford was born John Martin "Jack" Feeney in Cape Elizabeth, Maine. Feeney attended Portland High School, Portland, Maine, where he was a successful fullback and defensive tackle. He earned the nickname "Bull" because of the way he would lower his helmet and charge the line. A Portland pub is named Bull Feeney's in his honor. He later moved to California and in 1914 began working in film production as well as acting for his older brother Francis, adopting "Jack Ford" as a professional name.

He married Mary McBride Smith on July 3, 1920, and they had two children. The marriage between Ford and Smith lasted for life despite various issues, one of which could have proved problematic from the start, this being that John Ford was Catholic while she was a non-Catholic.

Directing career

USA 10279 Monument Valley Luca Galuzzi 2007
Monument Valley, where Ford di most of his filming

Ford started directing movies in 1917 after he moved to California. His first movies were made during The Silent Era, an era where there was no recorded sound in any movies. In 1956, Ford finished making a popular movie called The Searchers. The movie starred John Wayne as the hero. The Searchers is widely known today for its cultural and historical significance.

Throughout his career Ford was one of the busiest directors in Hollywood, but he was extraordinarily productive in his first few years as a director—he made ten films in 1917, eight in 1918 and fifteen in 1919—and he directed a total of 62 shorts and features between 1917 and 1928, although he was not given a screen credit in most of his earliest films.

During the 1920s, Ford also served as president of the Motion Picture Directors Association, a forerunner to today's Directors Guild of America.

The searchers Ford Trailer screenshot (3)
The Searchers 1956

Ford was one of the pioneer directors of sound films; he shot Fox's first song sung on screen, for his film Mother Machree (1928) of which only four of the original seven reels survive; this film is also notable as the first Ford film to feature the young John Wayne (as an uncredited extra) and he appeared in Ford's next two films. Ford also directed Fox's first all-talking dramatic featurette Napoleon's Barber (1928), a 3-reeler which is also now lost.

Ford's favorite location for his Western films was southern Utah's Monument Valley. Although not generally appropriate geographically as a setting for his plots, the expressive visual impact of the area enabled Ford to define images of the American West with some of the most beautiful and powerful cinematography ever shot.

Ford's legendary efficiency and his ability to craft films combining artfulness with strong commercial appeal won him increasing renown. By 1940 he was acknowledged as one of the world's foremost movie directors.

War years

John Ford in admiral's uniform
John Ford in admiral's uniform 1952

During World War II, Commander John Ford, USNR, served in the United States Navy and as head of the photographic unit for the Office of Strategic Services, made documentaries for the Navy Department. He won two more Academy Awards during this time, one for the semi-documentary The Battle of Midway (1942), and a second for the propaganda film December 7th: The Movie (1943). Commander Ford was a veteran of the Battle of Midway, where he was wounded in the arm by shrapnel while filming the Japanese attack from the power plant of Sand Island on Midway.

Ford was also present on Omaha Beach on D-Day. He crossed the English Channel on the USS Plunkett (DD-431), anchored off Omaha Beach at 0600 where he observed the first wave land on the beach from the ship, landing on the beach himself later with a team of US Coast Guard cameramen who filmed the battle from behind the beach obstacles, with Ford directing operations. The film was edited in London, but very little was released to the public. According to records released in 2008, Ford was cited by his superiors for bravery, taking a position to film one mission that was "an obvious and clear target". He survived "continuous attack and was wounded" while he continued filming, one commendation in his file states.

His last wartime film was They Were Expendable (MGM, 1945), an account of America's disastrous defeat in The Philippines, told from the viewpoint of a PT boat squadron and its commander. After the war, Ford remained an officer in the United States Navy Reserve. He returned to active service during the Korean War, and was promoted to Rear Admiral the day he left service.


Ford's health deteriorated rapidly in the early 1970s; he suffered a broken hip in 1970 which put him in a wheelchair. He had to move from his Bel Air home to a single-level house in Palm Desert, California, near Eisenhower Medical Center, where he was being treated for cancer. The Screen Directors Guild staged a tribute to Ford in October 1972, and in March 1973 the American Film Institute honored him with its first Lifetime Achievement Award at a ceremony which was telecast nationwide, with President Richard Nixon promoting Ford to full Admiral and presenting him with the Presidential Medal of Freedom.

Ford died on 31 August 1973 at Palm Desert and his funeral was held on 5 September at Hollywood's Church of the Blessed Sacrament. He was interred in Holy Cross Cemetery in Culver City, California.

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See also

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