John Ford is one of America's foremost Academy Award-winning film directors. His impressive and influential direct style has included adaptations of classic 20th century American novels like The Grapes of Wrath along with some of the most exciting Westerns in motion picture history. Ford's impressive directorial career includes more films than could possibly be recorded here and his use of stunning cinematography is legendary.
Born in Cape Elizabeth, Maine on February 1, 1894, John was the tenth of eleven children in his family. He grew up in the Munjoy Hill area of Portland, Maine trying his hand at farming, fishing, running a saloon, and even dabbling a little in politics serving as an alderman.
On July 3, 1920, John married Mary McBryde Smith. Together they had two children and remained married until his death on August 31, 1973.
The Beginning of His Career
Following the footsteps of his older brother Frank, who was a promoter actor-director in his own right, John Moved to Hollywood in 1914. He began working on brother Frank's films as a handyman, stuntman, and on occasion even an actor. Wanting to create a name for himself, John began his career at Universal Studios directing silent films. This was a busy time in Ford's career as he directed 62 shorts and features between 1917 and 1928.
In 1920, Ford left Universal to sign with the William Fox studio where he directed his first major success The Iron Horse in 1924. This historical drama told the story of the First Transcontinental Railroad and was an epic undertaking. Filmed on location in Sierra Nevada the film went on to become one of the top grossing films of the decade. It was during the 1920's that Ford would become president of the Motion Picture Directors Association , later to become the Directors Guild of America .
The War Years
While serving as a Commander in the United States Navy during World War II, Ford made documentaries for the Navy Department. During that time he would win two more Academy Awards for the semi-documentary The Battle of Midway (1942), and for the propaganda film December 7 (1943). At the conclusion of the war, Ford became a Rear Admiral in the United States Naval Reserve.
Award Winning Success
John Ford had the pleasure of working with the top film superstars of his era, and they with him. In total, Ford was to win six Academy Awards with four being for Best Director . He still held the record for the most Best Director awards and was the first to win consecutive honors in 1940 for The Grapes of Wrath and in 1941 for How Green Was My Valley .
Surprisingly, despite noted as one of the greatest director of Westerns, Ford won no Academy Awards for these efforts. He was however, nominated as Best Director for the 1939 film Stagecoach which provided the first major picture starring role for John Wayne .
John Ford's tremendous director talent would also lead to his being the first to receive an American Institute Life Achievement Award as well as being awarded the Presidential Medal of Freedom by US President Richard Nixon .