John Ford was born John Martin Feeney in 1894, in Cape Elizabeth, Maine. Both of his parents were born in County Galway, Ireland. The family had eleven children, five who died in infancy. An older brother, Francis Ford, was an acting pioneer in early silent era films and by 1912 was also writing and directing.
In 1914, Ford began working for his brother, who was then directing for Universal Film Manufacturing. He was 20 years old and did anything that was asked of him, including building props, doing stunt work and acting. Within a year, he was also writing scenarios for his brother’s pictures. He also appeared in D.W. Griffith’s The Birth Of A Nation (1915).
While working at Bison Motion Pictures in 1917, Ford teamed up with the Western genre actor Harry Carey and began directing his short-reel films. The pictures were a hit and the pair were picked up by Universal later that year.
Ford moved over to Fox Film in 1920 and expanded out of Westerns. Except for a tour of duty as the head of a documentary crew for the U.S. Naval Reserve during World War II, he remained with what would become Twentieth Century-Fox for the next 35 years.
Ford directed over 145 films in a career that stretched over 60 years. He was awarded four Director Oscars:
- The Informer (1935),
- The Grapes Of Wrath (1940),
- How Green Was My Valley (1941) and
- The Quiet Man (1952).
Ford was at Omaha Beach on D-Day. He observed the first wave of soldiers land and later came ashore himself with a team of cameramen, filming the battle from behind the beachhead. The film was never shown because of governmental fear of adverse public reaction to the large number of casualties taken. It is now considered ‘lost’. After the war, Ford became a Rear Admiral for the U.S. Naval Reserve.
He married Mary Smith, in 1920. They raised two children.
Ford died of stomach cancer in Palm Desert, California, in 1973. He was 79 years old.