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Searching for John Ford

Joseph McBride

Publication Year: 2011

John Ford's classic films--such as Stagecoach The Grapes of Wrath How Green Was My Valley The Quiet Man and The Searchers have earned him worldwide admiration as America's foremost filmmaker, a director whose rich visual imagination conjures up indelible, deeply moving images of our collective past. Joseph McBride's Searching for John Ford , described as definitive by both the New York Times and the Irish Times surpasses all other biographies of the filmmaker in its depth, originality, and insight. Encompassing and illuminating Ford's myriad complexities and contradictions, McBride traces the trajectory of Ford's life from his beginnings as "Bull" Feeney, the nearsighted, football-playing son of Irish immigrants in Portland, Maine, to his recognition, after a long, controversial, and much-honored career, as America's national mythmaker. Blending lively and penetrating analyses of Ford's films with an impeccably documented narrative of the historical and psychological contexts in which those films were created, McBride has at long last given John Ford the biography his stature demands.

Published by: University Press of Mississippi

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Introduction: My Search for John Ford

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pp. 1-13

THEY CALLED HIM "Bull" Feeney, "the human battering ram." Broad shouldered and rugged, John Martin Aloysius Feeney stood six feet tall and weighed 175 pounds, but the wary squint in his blue eyes made him al-ways seem to be coming at you from a defensive crouch. His bluff manner had something strangely distant and dreamy about it. There was an unmistakable sensitivity in his melancholic eyes, at odds with his rough, often rowdy con-duct on the football field in Portland, Maine. During his senior year, red-...

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CHAPTER ONE: '"Tisn't the castle that makes the king"

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pp. 15-36

ONE PARISH OVER" from America, as the saying goes, is the barren, windblown west coast of Ireland, the region of Connemara. I journeyed there a few years ago with my Irish wife, Ruth O'Hara, in search of the Feeney family's beginnings. All I knew was that his ancestors came from a village on Galway Bay called Spiddal, a dot on the map eight and a half miles...

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CHAPTER TWO: A faraway fella

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pp. 37-74

ASURE SIGN THE Feeneys were climbing up in the world came when they moved into a spacious farmhouse a few miles down the coast from Portland in the Spurwink district of Cape Elizabeth. Not that they owned it, mind you. They were only renting the property...

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CHAPTER THREE: "A dollar for a bloody nose"

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pp. 75-100

EVERY GREAT DIRECTOR has a creation myth, a fabulous tale of his beginnings. On inspection, such tales rarely turn out to be true. When asked late in life how he got to Hollywood, Ford replied with epic understatement, "By train." But he was not...

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CHAPTER FOUR: "A job of work"

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pp. 101-134

IN 1948, FORD NOSTALGICALLY dedicated his ravishingly beautiful Technicolor Western 3 Godfathers to the recently deceased Harry Carey. A remake of the 1919 Ford-Carey Western Marked Men, 3 Godfathers is prefaced with a shot of a lone rider on Carey's horse, pausing on a hill at sunset. As the sound track plays Harry s...

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CHAPTER FIVE: Directed by John Ford

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pp. 135-164

FORD SEEMED TO be foundering throughout much of the 1920s. In his personal life, it was a time of emotional confusion, when he seemed beset by conflicting pressures he barely understood. Creatively, that period was among the most uneven of Ford's career, a time of widely divergent subject matter and sometimes bizarre stylistic...

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CHAPTER SIX: "Without a harbor, man is lost"

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pp. 165-213

FORD REMEMBERED THE coming of sound as "a time of near panic in Hollywood." But he was not among the many who panicked. Contrary to his self-perpetuated image as an aesthetic reactionary who made a grudging transition to talkies, Ford actually welcomed the opportunity to combine pictures with what he called "auditory imagery." While most people in Hollywood...

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CHAPTER SEVEN: Sean and Kate

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pp. 214-244

THE INCREASINGLY PERSONAL nature of Ford's work in the mid-1930s was manifested in his growing preoccupation with Irish subject matter. As he looked more deeply within his soul and became more confident in his ability to express his feelings on screen, Ford gravitated to stories that reflected his ambivalence toward his...

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CHAPTER EIGHT: "No place for an Auteur"

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pp. 245-268

DARRYL'S A GENIUS, and I don't use the word lightly," Ford told a Zanuck biographer in the late 1960s. "Of course in this industry every idiot nephew of some executive producer is a genius, but he actually was. He was head and shoulders above all...

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pp. 269-324

FORD'S ANNUS MIRABILIS of 1939 saw the release of Stagecoach, Young Mr. Lincoln, and Drums Along the Mohawk, the director s informal "Americana trilogy." By immersing himself in the American past and bringing it so stirringly alive in those three...

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CHAPTER TEN: "Yes—this really happened"

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pp. 335-415

AS JAPANESE DIVE-bombers and fighter planes swooped over the Midway atoll in the central Pacific on the morning of June 4, 1942, America's greatest filmmaker was there filming the attack for history. Standing atop the powerhouse on...

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CHAPTER ELEVEN: "I am a director of Westerns"

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pp. 416-519

AT THE FAMOUS meeting in October 1950 when the Screen Directors Guild was torn apart over the issue of the Hollywood blacklist, the leading figure in the guild, who had been sitting in enigmatic silence throughout the evening, finally rose...

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CHAPTER TWELVE: "Go searchin' way out there"

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pp. 520-599

FOR A MAN who admitted, "Directings like dope addiction," voluntary retirement was tempting but hardly a realistic option. By the time The Quiet Man was released in September 1952, Ford was already shooting another film,...

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CHAPTER THIRTEEN: "There's no future in America"

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pp. 600-720

IN THE EARLY summer of 1959, Ford was interviewed by Colin Young for a Film Quarterly article on veteran Hollywood directors. Young asked Ford if he had been making the kinds of films he wanted to make. "No!" barked Ford. "I don't want to make great sprawling pictures. I want to make films in a kitchen. . . . The old enthusiasm has gone, maybe. But don't quote that—oh,...

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pp. 721-796

Abbreviations used in these sections include: JF for John Ford (John Martin Feeney); API,American Film Institute; AMPAS, Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Sciences; Anderson,Lindsay Anderson, About John Ford (London: Plexus, 1981, and New York: McGraw-Hill,1983); Davis, Ronald L. Davis, John Ford: Hollywood's Old Master (Norman: University of Okla-homa Press, 1995); DF, Dan Ford, Pappy: The Life of John Ford (Englewood Cliffs, N.J.: Prentice-...


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pp. 797-803

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pp. 805-812

I've been working on this book, intermittently, for more than half my lifetime. The people who have helped me along the way—all those loyal family members, friends, and fellow Fordians—have become my personal Stock Company, without whom this dream project could not have been realized. Foremost is Ruth O'Hara, who encouraged me to pull together my three decades When I began researching John Ford at the University of Wisconsin, Madison, in the late...


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pp. 813-838

E-ISBN-13: 9781604734683
E-ISBN-10: 160473468X
Print-ISBN-13: 9781604734676
Print-ISBN-10: 1604734671

Page Count: 848
Publication Year: 2011