Men Behind the Stars — John Ford (1936) 🇺🇸

John Ford |

January 14, 2022

A galloping horse hurled John Ford out of the acting end of the motion picture business and landed him in a director’s chair, where he came up from directing lowly westerns to winning International fame for his marvelous directorial talents and the Academy Award with “The Informer.”

Director of “Mary of Scotland”

It all happened more than twenty years ago when Ford first came to Hollywood, fresh from school, determined to be successful in the motion picture industry. He was playing the part of an Indian in a wild western and as he rode madly down a steep hill he was thrown from his horse, landed on his head in a pile of stones and woke up in a hospital several hours later. “And right then and there I decided that my place was behind the camera instead of in front of it,” said Ford.

Credited with such outstanding successes as “The Iron Horse,” “Born Reckless,” “The Godfathers,” “3 Bad Men,” “Men Without Women,” “Air Mail,” “Arrowsmith,” “Prisoner of Shark Island,” “The Lost Patrol,” “The Informer” and now, “Mary of Scotland,” starring Katharine Hepburn and Fredric March, Mr. Ford believes that there is a definite trend in motion picture production towards realism and stories that deviate from the conventional theme.

“The gratifying response to “The Informer,” he says, “proves that a departure from the sugary-sweet type of film that is turned out in bulk, is a welcome relief to the movie-going public. It took four years to interest a producer in “The Informer.” They were afraid of it because it was too depressing, too realistic, too much of a departure from the ordinary picture. I believe, however, that the general reception of the picture justifies other productions of the same type.”

Born in Portland, Maine and educated at the public schools there, Ford is one of Hollywood’s earliest settlers. His first step toward his directorship was as an assistant to his brother, Francis Ford, who was directing as well as acting at Universal studios. He soon became a full-fledged director and after making several pictures for that company he moved his megaphone to the Fox lot, where he has directed some of the outstanding films of his long career. Before joining RKO he worked for Metro-Goldwyn-Mayer and Jesse L. Lasky.

The dominant character of this tall, broad shouldered man is carried onto the lot where he is known as “Jack” to everyone, from executives to “prop” boys. He is famous for three things... having been a director when only nineteen years old, being the most difficult man in the world to interview and being the untidiest director in Hollywood (and proud of it). Always garbed in old flannel trousers, tennis shoes with holes in the toes, shirt open at the throat, no neck-tie, and collar turned up in hottest weather, Ford would never be selected from a crowd as one of the greatest directors ever to handle a picture in cinema-land. He is recognized as one of the most discerning men who never misses a trick when the cameras are clicking. He is noted for his regard for photographic effects. “It is my opinion,” he states, “that terror loses its dramatic force in glaring light, but has increased potentiality when photographed in a setting that is forbiddingly gloomy.”

With his casts, he is always quiet-spoken and courteous but always in command. He is never overwhelmed by a star. A recent example was when he told Katharine Hepburn, while making “Mary of Scotland,” “you’ll give your best performance or I’ll break you across my knee.” Despite his success, Ford has not gone “Hollywood.” He lives in the same house he built fifteen years ago and while his wife and two children ride in a foreign car, he drives his own Ford coupé back and forth to the studio. He has no illusions about social position, and working members of his crew are as often chosen to be his companions, as are the stars. His favorite recreation is going for a cruise on his schooner-rigged yacht. His hobby is reading and he favors biographies and history, or a novel which has picture possibilities.

Success in pictures has not changed Ford. Whenever he returns to his home town he slips in unheralded.

John Ford told Katharine Hepburn he’d break her across his knee if she did not perform well in “Mary of Scotland.”

Source: Motion Picture, October 1936