Searching for John Ford

For decades, one simple question has split the Irish on both sides of the Atlantic into two warring factions: Do you love or loathe "The Quiet Man," that 1952 stage Irish classic starring John Wayne and Maureen O'Hara, and directed by John Ford? Ford himself was often more Irish than the Irish themselves, making up an ultra-Gaelic name for himself, and playing the role of a fervent Irish nationalist. But as an epic new biography of Ford shows, there was no need for Ford to exaggerate his background: his family was tight with the IRA, and Ford visited Ireland during the Civil War, riling British authorities. He later shared a boat back to the States with Michael Collins. And as Joseph McBride's new, 800-plus page book "Searching for John Ford" makes clear, Ford was a very Irish filmmaker. Some critics didn't like this. In one particularly cruel review of the Ford/John Wayne 1948 film "Fort Apache," The Nation critic James Agee wrote: "There is enough Irish comedy to make me wish Cromwell had done a more thorough job." Ford was not born Sean Aloysius O'Fearna, as he liked to claim, but John Martin Feeney, in Maine, in 1894. Growing up he felt the "sting of being a mick in a Yankee-dominated New England seaport," writes McBride, who also reviews films for Irish America. Ford's father left the family home in Spiddal, Galway, and came to the States in 1872. Searching for John Ford includes haunting photos of the ruins of the family home, and a fascinating account of McBride's trip to Ford's ancestral town, where many of the locals still speak Gaelic. Aside from honest reporting on Ford's life - the director could be a cruel man - McBride also offers brilliant artistic analyses of Ford's work, such as "Stagecoach" (John Wayne's breakthrough role) in 1939, and "The Grapes of Wrath," the "Dust Bowl" epic which (according to McBride) had a special meaning to Ford because of its resonance with the Irish Famine. (Other Ford classics include "My Darling Clementine" [1946], "She Wore a Yellow Ribbon" [1949], "Rio Grande" [1950] and "The Man Who Shot Liberty Valance" [1962].) "Searching for John Ford" is a revealing look at one of the most influential Irish American artists ever. (

838 pages / $40 / St. Martin's Press)

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