Biography

Maine-born John Ford (born Sean Aloysius O'Fearna) originally went to Hollywood in the shadow of his older brother, Francis, an actor/writer/director who had worked on Broadway. Originally a laborer, propman's assistant, and occasional stuntman for his brother, he rose to became an assistant director and supporting actor before turning to directing in 1917. Ford became best known for his Westerns, of which he made dozens through the 1920s, but he didn't achieve status as a major director until the mid-'30s, when his films for RKO (The Lost Patrol [1934], The Informer [1935]), 20th Century Fox (Young Mr. Lincoln [1939], The Grapes of Wrath [1940]), and Walter Wanger (Stagecoach [1939]), won over the public, the critics, and earned various Oscars and Academy nominations. His 1940s films included one military-produced documentary co-directed by Ford and cinematographer Gregg Toland, December 7th (1943), which creaks badly today (especially compared with Frank Capra's Why We Fight series); a major war film (They Were Expendable [1945]); the historically-based drama My Darling Clementine (1946); and the "cavalry trilogy" of Fort Apache (1948), She Wore a Yellow Ribbon (1949), and Rio Grande (1950), each of which starred John Wayne. My Darling Clementine and the cavalry trilogy contain some of the most powerful images of the American West ever shot, and are considered definitive examples of the Western. Ford also had a weakness for Irish and Gaelic subject matter, in which a great degree of sentimentality was evident, most notably How Green Was My Valley (1941) and The Quiet Man (1952), which was his most personal film, and one of his most popular. It also earned more Oscars and nominations than any other movie ever produced at Republic Pictures. Poor health dogged Ford's career during the 1950s, but he still managed to create The Sun Shines Bright (1953) -- one of his favorite films, dealing with politics and race relations in the 19th century South -- Mogambo (1953), and The Searchers (1956), which is considered one of the most powerful Western dramas ever made. The Horse Soldiers (1959) showed some of Ford's flair, but was marred by production problems, and Ford later directed the John Wayne/Harry Morgan section of How the West Was Won (1963). His concern with social justice, which manifested itself in The Sun Shines Bright also became more evident during the early '60s, in films such as Sergeant Rutledge (1960), Donovan's Reef (1963), and Cheyenne Autumn (1964), all of which sought to address problems of racial prejudice. Ford was the recipient of the first Life Achievement Award bestowed by the American Film Institute, and was the subject of Peter Bogdanovich's documentary, Directed by John Ford (1971). He died in 1973. ~ Bruce Eder, Rovi