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John Ford: The Greatest Director of All Time Quits Hollywood To Fight In World War II

Our American Stories / Lee Habeeb
The Truth Network Radio
September 1, 2023 3:02 am

John Ford: The Greatest Director of All Time Quits Hollywood To Fight In World War II

Our American Stories / Lee Habeeb

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September 1, 2023 3:02 am

On this episode of Our American Stories, John Ford was Hollywood’s greatest director (Rio Grande and The Seachers, for example). As WWII began, the 47-year-old Ford was at the top of his game when he quit Hollywood and joined the U.S. Navy. Roger McGrath is here to tell the story. 

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To subscribe to our podcasts, go to the iHeartRadio app or wherever you get your podcasts. And up next, another Hollywood goes to war story with Roger McGrath. McGrath is the author of Gunfighters, Highwaymen, and Vigilantes, Violence on the Frontier, a U.S. Marine and former history professor at UCLA. Dr. McGrath has appeared on numerous History Channel documentaries. He's a regular contributor for us here at Our American Stories. And we're telling this story because on this day in 1973, John Ford died.

Here's McGrath. John Ford was arguably Hollywood's greatest director. When the brilliant Orson Welles was asked to name his three favorite directors, he replied, the old masters, by which I mean John Ford, John Ford, and John Ford. John Ford directed 140 movies and documentaries. He won the Academy Award for Best Director, a record four times. Nine of his movies were nominated for Best Picture, and one of them won it.

Two of his documentaries won Best Documentary, and he won Best Director of a Documentary for one of them. John Martin Feeney is born in 1894 in Cape Elizabeth, Maine, a small town near Portland. His father is John Augustine Feeney, a large and powerful man known for his feats of strength and spellbinding storytelling, who had immigrated to America from Spital, a small town on the coast of Galway Bay in Ireland. His mother is a former Barbara Curran, also an Irish immigrant, who had come from the town of Kilronan on Inishmore, the largest of the Aran Islands, which lie at the entrance to Galway Bay.

For both John and Barbara, their first language is Gaelic. The young John Feeney, the future John Ford, is called Johnny by his family. He's one of 11 children, but five die as infants.

He spends his first several years in Cape Elizabeth, and then the family moves to Munjoy Hill, a mostly Irish neighborhood in Portland. His father works at various times as a farmer, fisherman, and saloon keeper. By the time Johnny Feeney is attending Portland High School, he's known as Jack. He excels in sports, especially football and track. He's a tall, strapping youth, something over six feet and 180 pounds. He stars as a fullback on the varsity football team and earns the nickname, Bull Feeney. In his senior year, the team wins a state championship. He's also the school's top sprinter.

After winning a sprint against a rival school, Portland High's newspaper said, Feeney's form in the getaway and running was perfect and his speed terrific. Jack Feeney is also a voracious reader, partly helped by a year he spent out of school, mostly in bed fighting diphtheria and clinging to life. An older sister read book after book to him, and when he was strong enough, he read book after book himself, although the diphtheria would leave him with poor eyesight for the rest of his life. Years later, when in high school, a classmate says, Every time you'd see him, he'd have a book in his hand, Shakespeare or something. He'd fight at the drop of a hat, but he had a great mind and a great sense of humor. Someone would tell him a funny story, and the next day he'd retell it, adding all kinds of new touches to it. Feeney's performance in his classes varies from poor to excellent, depending on whether he likes the teacher and the material.

Even when he applies himself, Feeney has little time to study. All through high school, he drives a delivery wagon for his older brother Pat's Wholesale Fish Market. On weekends, he works at a theater, which helps pique his interest in movies. Jack Feeney especially likes Westerns, produced by Thomas Ince for Bison Studios, at a location Ince developed at what would become the intersection of the Pacific Coast Highway and Sunset Boulevard in Pacific Palisades.

When Ince arrives there in 1911, the area could pass for the Old West. Soon, the collection of movie sets he builds there is known as Inceville. Many of the Westerns shot at Inceville are directed by Francis Ford, the second oldest of the Feeney boys.

Francis had dropped out of Portland High School in 1898 to fight in the Spanish-American War. He later becomes an actor on the stage in New York with the surname Ford. Movie makers liked his chiseled features and tall lanky frame and began using him in their films. When movie production heads to Hollywood to avoid Thomas Edison's patent monopoly in the East, Francis Ford goes too. He's soon not only acting in Thomas Ince's films, but also directing them. Movie historians generally credit Francis Ford with greatly increasing the quality of the films produced by Ince, although Ince himself often takes director credits for films directed by Francis Ford. Back in Portland, Maine, Jack Feeney is watching Ince's movies, which often star his brother. When Jack graduates from high school in 1914, instead of accepting any of several college scholarships for football and track, he boards a train for Los Angeles.

By now, Francis Ford is making movies for Universal Studios, 80 of them from 1913 through 1916. A month after Jack arrives, his brother casts him in the mysterious rose as a character named Dopey. Francis plays the male lead, Detective Phil Kelly. The mysterious rose is a humble beginning in Hollywood for Jack Feeney, who is now billed as Jack Ford. And we've been listening to Roger McGrath tell the story of John Martin Feeney, who grew up in Cape Elizabeth, Maine, a small town in the Northeast, almost as small as you can get in that part of the country. Who would think that the man who made epic Westerns for a living would come from a Northeast coastal state? He won Best Director four times, no one has touched it.

He had nine Best Picture nominations. When we come back, the rest of the story of John Martin Feeney, that is John Ford, here on Our American Stories. Here at Our American Stories, we bring you inspiring stories of history, sports, business, faith, and love. Stories from a great and beautiful country that need to be told.

But we can't do it without you. Our stories are free to listen to, but they're not free to make. If you love our stories and America like we do, please go to OurAmericanStories.com and click the donate button. Give a little, give a lot. Help us keep the great American stories coming.

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Listen to Untold Stories Life with myasthenia gravis on the iHeartRadio app, Apple Podcasts, or wherever you get your podcasts. And we continue with our American stories and with Roger McGrath, who's telling the story of the great John Ford. And we're telling this story because on this day in 1973, John Ford died.

Let's pick up where we last left off. He appears in another 15 movies before he begins directing them himself in 1917. He directs 12 movies in 1917, three of them starring himself and a half dozen starring Harry Caray, who Ford helps establish as one of the leading actors in westerns.

Caray's wife, Olive, described what the 23-year-old Jack Ford was like in 1917. He had a magnificent sense of humor, and he was very graceful when he walked. He was imaginative, didn't miss a trick, a fantastic eye for the camera. He lined up all the shots.

He was fascinated with everything. The trade papers regularly praise the young director, reporting on Ford's Three Mounted Men in 1918. One of the papers declares, You can always bank on Jack Ford producing a good picture.

When you add a good cast to it, then he is bound to produce a knockout. Still another notes that his movies always have much to please the eye by the way of artistically chosen locations. In 1920, Ford marries Mary McBride Smith and buys a house on four acres of land in the Hollywood Hills. In 1921, they have a son, Patrick, and a year later a daughter, Barbara. Seven months after Patrick's birth, Ford makes a trip to Ireland to visit family in County Galway for the first time since he was a child when he went with his father.

Ford's trip is paid for by his new employer, Fox Studios. In 1921, Ireland's war for independence is still raging, and a special unit of British soldiers known as the Black and Tans are on patrols throughout Galway. Ford's Feeney relatives are without houses, which the British have burned down. The fighting age Feeney men are volunteers in the IRA, the Irish Republican Army, and are hiding in the Connemara Mountains between missions.

Their cousins, the Thornton boys, who have also had their homes burned down, are with them. It's not by accident that in John Ford's blockbuster 1952 film, The Quiet Man, John Wayne's character is Sean Thornton. Avoiding the Black and Tans, Ford meets with his cousin, Martin Feeney, a member of the IRA's East Connemara Brigade. Ford hands him a bundle of cash for the IRA, possibly $60,000 or more in today's money. Shortly afterwards, the Black and Tans catch up with Ford and take him into custody. Ford is interrogated and roughed up, but he reveals nothing. After only four days in Ireland, Ford is forced onto a ship and told never to return. Once back in California, Ford continues his nonstop moviemaking, cranking out 23 movies from 1922 through 1928. His best movie of the era is The Iron Horse, starring George O'Brien. It's a story of the building of the first transcontinental railroad and a shot on location in Nevada. There's a cast of thousands. Bad weather causes the shoot to fall far behind schedule and run well over budget.

Fox Studios threatens to shut down production. Ford hangs tough and finishes the movie at a cost of $280,000, a fantastic sum for a movie in 1924. But the movie makes more than $2 million, an even more fantastic sum. Halfway through 1928, Ford makes his first talkie, and his transition to talkies is seamless. His 1931 movie, Aerosmith, is a blockbuster and receives four Academy Award nominations. Ford wins the Academy Award for Best Director for his 1935 movie, The Informer, and the movie is nominated for Best Picture. In 1939, Ford produces and directs the movie Stagecoach, which is nominated for Best Picture, and he's nominated for Best Director. Although Ford directed dozens of Westerns in the silent era, this is his first Western in the sound era. Stagecoach is also the first Western that Ford shoots in Monument Valley, and it's the movie that takes John Wayne out of B Westerns and into feature films. Ford wins the Academy Award for Best Director for his 1940 film, The Grapes of Wrath.

He wins Best Director again for his 1941 film, How Green Was My Valley, and the movie wins Best Picture. John Ford is at the top of his game and at the top of Hollywood. He has money, fame, and power.

He's 47 years old. So what does he do? He quits Hollywood and goes on active duty in the Navy. Back in 1934, Ford, who owned a yacht and had been sailing since his childhood, was commissioned a lieutenant commander in the Naval Reserve. For the next six years, he sailed the California and Mexican coasts and quietly photographed and made notes on Japanese shipping activity and Japanese settlements. He filed the photos and the notes with the 11th Naval District and in 1940 received a commendation for his initiative in securing valuable information. Even before the Japanese sneak attack on Pearl Harbor on December 7, 1941, Ford proposes creating a unit to film and photograph the U.S. Navy. The Navy tentatively accepts Ford's proposal, and during the fall of 1941, he begins organizing the Naval Motion Picture and Field Photographic Unit. Ford's recruits come from Hollywood, and they are each chosen for their particular skills in the making of movies.

As the unit is taking shape, it's put under the command of William Donovan, the head of the Office of Strategic Services, the OSS. Ford's unit now becomes the Field Photographic Branch of the OSS. A World War I hero who was awarded the Medal of Honor while Bill Donovan gives Ford great latitude and independence, exactly what the contrary and crusty Ford likes. Ford gets an office in Washington, D.C., and a generous budget. Ford doesn't spend much time in Washington and will soon be found on battlefronts around the world. After assignments to Pearl Harbor, Iceland, and the Panama Canal, Ford is aboard the Carrier Hornet in April 1942 to document Jimmy Doolittle's raid on Tokyo.

In early June, Ford is at Midway Atoll when the epic Battle of Midway erupts. Standing atop the power plant on Eastern Island, Ford films the arrival of the first Japanese planes and continues filming throughout the attack. At one point, he's knocked out when a bomb explodes and sends a chunk of concrete flying into him. He regains consciousness and continues filming. Minutes later, he's knocked flat by another Japanese bomb and suffers shrapnel wounds to his left arm.

In pain and bleeding, he struggles to his feet and continues filming. And we've been listening to Roger McGrath tell the story of John Ford. It's a part of our Hollywood Goes to War series. And my goodness, what a thing to do. He's just won two Oscars for best director year after year.

When's the last time that's happened? Best director for The Grapes of Wrath in 1940. Best director for How Green Was My Valley in 41. And then what does he do? Well, he goes active duty in the Navy and becomes a part of the OSS. And he goes into combat to film what's really happening with all of our men and women overseas. And we've told similar stories about Jimmy Stewart, Clark Gable, Henry Fonda, and Eddie Albert, giving up lucrative careers at the height of their fame to serve their country at war. When we come back, more of John Ford's remarkable story.

It continues here on Our American Stories. The customizable home screen puts your inputs, streaming favorites like iHeart, and free live TV all in one place. From simple settings anyone can understand, automatic updates with the latest features, and much more, Roku TV is more than a smart TV. It's a better TV. Learn more today at roku.com.

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Listen to Untold Stories Life with myasthenia gravis on the iHeartRadio app, Apple Podcasts, or wherever you get your podcasts. And we continue here with our American stories and the story of John Ford as told by Roger McGrath. And we're telling this story because on this day in 1973, John Ford died.

Let's pick up where we last left off. Ford puts the footage from his filming together with footage taken by another cameraman to create the documentary, The Battle of Midway. He has actors from his movies, Donald Crisp, Jane Darwell, Henry Fonda, narrate and has a musical score that includes America's favorites, Anchors Away, Red River Valley, The Marine's Hymn, The Star-Spangled Banner, Onward Christian Soldiers, My Country Tis of Thee. Before the documentary is released, there are those who think it's too emotionally evocative to be released as it is. The footage, narration, and the music pluck every chord in the American heart. Ford says it's released as it is or it's not released at all, and it goes into theaters without further editing.

It wins the Academy Award for Best Documentary Feature. In November and December 1942, Ford is at the battlefront with the Army's 13th Armored Regiment in Algeria and Tunisia and leads his photographic unit into the thick of the action. General Donovan, in a letter to the Director of Naval Intelligence, says Ford inspires a real devotion among his men. He has evidenced his leadership and his courage in his photographic work with the fleet in the Pacific as well as with the invading forces in Tunisia.

Both as a man and as an officer, I consider Commander Ford superior and outstanding. The fall of 1943 finds Ford with Donovan and Chung King with Chiang Kai-shek and his Chinese Nationalist forces. Among other photographic missions, Ford takes aerial reconnaissance flights over Japanese positions and films Japanese air raids. Then John Ford undertakes a mission that is like something out of one of his movies. The 49-year-old director leaps out of a C-47 and parachutes behind enemy lines into a Burmese jungle.

On the ground, he rendezvous with Father James Stewart an Irish priest who had served with the IRA and then as a medical missionary in Burma and is now leading a catch and guerilla band against the Japanese. By the end of January 1944, Ford is in India and eventually back to the United States by way of Africa and Brazil. Ford's not home for long before he's off to England to prepare his photographic unit for the landings at Normandy.

He assigns his cameramen to different waves in the landing and even rigs some of the landing craft with cameras that automatically start rolling when the ramps drop. Ford himself coordinates everything from the cruiser Augusta. Once the landings begin, Ford leaves the safety of the ship and climbs aboard a landing craft and heads for the beach. Ford wades ashore and begins moving inland with the American troops. One of Ford's directors is crouched low behind a hedgerow when he spies Ford standing tall and calmly observing the fighting in front of him. Many later said Ford not only seemed fearless, he actually seemed elated, the happiest they had ever seen him.

Here's John Ford in a 1966 interview with the BBC. I don't know, I've tried to figure that I am a... I am really a coward.

I know I am. So that's why I did foolish things. I was decorated eight or nine times, trying to prove that I was not a coward. But after all, I still knew that I still know that I was a coward. I've always found that the little quiet little man that nobody pays any attention to usually has more guts. They use guts in BBC? Sure, has more guts and courage than the big blowhard, the big noisy outspoken fellow.

It's the little man that does the courageous thing. After more than two months on the battlefront with brief periods in London, Ford is back in Washington in September. By October, Ford and the Navy are in serious discussions about making a movie honoring the daring do and sacrifice of the PT boats in the Philippines during 1942. In February 1945, Ford begins shooting and they were expendable in Florida.

By the end of May, filming is finished and post-production begins. At the end of June, Ford is promoted to captain. Ford's thoughts now turn to the Pacific and the anticipated invasion of Japan.

However, the atomic bombing of Hiroshima and Nagasaki end the war in August and avoid what would have been a monumental bloodbath. At the end of September, his field photographic unit is decommissioned and John Ford is released from active duty. His decorations include, among many others, the Legion of Merit and the Purple Heart. His officer's fitness report says, personnel of his organization performed with outstanding distinction and valor in clandestine operations in combat in the world's battlefronts. This record of high accomplishments results from Captain Ford's outstanding ability, his devotion to duty, his loyalty to and love for his subordinates. The discipline of his organization was outstanding, their accomplishment superb.

This could result only from great leadership. Ford remains in the Naval Reserve and although 56 years old, is called to active duty during the Korean War. He spends several months in Korea making the documentary This is Korea and gets along especially well with Chesty Puller, the salty and ornery and highly decorated marine legend. Upon Ford's return to the States, he's promoted to rear admiral and retired from the Navy. Mark Armistead, a veteran of the Field Photographic Unit who was with Ford again in Korea, said the famous director was probably more proud of the admiral stripe than he was of all his Oscars combined. From the late 1940s and into the 1960s, John Ford continues to make movies that both critics in the American public love, including Ford Apache, She Wore Yellow Ribbon, Rio Grande, The Quiet Man, Mr. Roberts, and The Searchers. John Ford dies in 1973. He is buried at Holy Cross Cemetery in Culver City, California. On his headstone, he is identified not as an actor, director, or producer, but as Admiral John Ford. And a terrific job by Greg Hengler on the production and a special thanks to Roger McGrath for telling the story of John Ford and what John Ford did during World War II, including, my goodness, getting an Oscar for the Battle of Midway, but more importantly, the way he served his country doing it, the risks he took, and then the self-effacement to know that he wasn't exactly calling himself a hero and giving that credit and the credit of courage to the many others who fought every day on the ground, every day until they got to Berlin or until those bombs were dropped over Nagasaki and Hiroshima, and that humility comes through. And, of course, that tombstone says it all with what it doesn't say. It merely says, Admiral.

The story of John Ford, who died on this day in 1973 here on Our American Stories. that launch in a snap and curated selections of TV for when you only sort of know what to watch, not to mention all the free TV you can stream, including over 300 free live channels on the Roku channel. Find the perfect Roku player for you today at roku.com.

Happy streaming. For each person living with myasthenia gravis, or MG, their journey with this rare condition is unique. That's why Untold Stories Life with myasthenia gravis, a new podcast from iHeartRadio in partnership with Argenics, is exploring the extraordinary challenges and personal triumphs of underserved communities living with MG. Host Martine Hackett will share these powerful perspectives from real people with MG so their experiences can help inspire the MG community and educate others about this rare condition.

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Whisper: medium.en / 2023-09-01 04:35:57 / 2023-09-01 04:48:09 / 12

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