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Bio on John Ford

John Ford

Ford, John (1895-1973), American motion-picture director, winner of four Academy Awards, who in his 50-year career achieved renown with his portrayals of the American frontier and of the Irish immigrant experience. Born Sean Aloysius O'Feeney in Cape Elizabeth, Maine, he was educated at the University of Maine. With the professional alias of Jack Ford, he entered the motion-picture industry as a prop man in 1914, soon securing other assignments and directing his first films in 1917. In Ford's early days in cinema, many of his films were Westerns, and he worked often with such well-known cowboy stars as Hoot Gibson, Tom Mix, and Harry Carey (see Cowboys). The Iron Horse (1924), about the American transcontinental railroad, marked his emergence as a director of importance, already using the name John Ford. Also notable are Three Bad Men (1926), Four Sons (1928), and his work with actor Will Rogers in such films as Judge Priest (1934) and Steamboat 'Round the Bend (1935).

A brilliant storyteller, Ford soon developed a distinctive style as a director, displaying not only a consistent point of view but also thematic continuity over time. His work is characterized by a mythicizing of the American past, by superb composition and fluid movement of large forces on-screen, by a devotion to certain locales (he filmed so frequently in the Monument Valley region of Arizona and Utah that other filmmakers dubbed it "Ford Country"), and by storylines that address the tension between the individual and society.

In 1935 Ford won his first Academy Award for best director with The Informer. In 1939 three important Ford motion pictures inaugurated a remarkable succession of films that would carry him, with a brief wartime interruption, on an unprecedented wave of popular success into the late 1950s: Drums Along the Mohawk, set during the American Revolution (1775-1783); the historical biography Young Mr. Lincoln (with Henry Fonda); and Stagecoach, which single-handedly rehabilitated the largely discredited Western genre. Ford's powerful film The Grapes of Wrath (1940), adapted from the novel by American writer John Steinbeck, and his moving portrait of a Welsh coal-mining family, How Green Was My Valley (1941), won him the Academy Award for best director two years in a row. From 1942 to 1955 Ford served as chief of the Field Photographic Branch of the Office of Strategic Services (OSS), making documentaries of military action, sometimes in battle conditions.

After World War II ended in 1945, Ford directed such films as They Were Expendable (1945), a motion picture about the war; My Darling Clementine (1946); the "Cavalry trilogy" comprising Fort Apache (1948), She Wore a Yellow Ribbon (1949), and Rio Grande (1950); the comedy The Quiet Man (1952), which earned Ford a fourth Academy Award; and The Searchers (1956), considered by many critics to be his greatest film. His later work included Mogambo (1953), The Last Hurrah (1958), The Horse Soldiers (1959), The Man Who Shot Liberty Valance (1962), How the West Was Won (1963; one segment of three), and Seven Women (1966).

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