Born on February 1, 1894, in Cape Elizabeth, Maine, John Ford was an Academy Award-winning director who is considered to be one of the best filmmakers of all time. Ford left Maine for Hollywood in 1913, and worked there as a stagehand and prop man. Four years later, he directed his first film, a western called The Tornado. He was soon directing numerous silent films, many of which were Westerns.
Already successful and well regarded, Ford began a creative hot streak in the mid-1930s. He received his first Academy Award for directing in 1935 for the Irish drama The Informer. Four years later, Ford was nominated for the western Stagecoach (1939) starring John Wayne, a close friend. This film helped make Wayne a star, and the two would continue to work together frequently over the years.
The film adaptation of the John Steinbeck novel, Grapes of Wrath (1940), brought Ford his second Academy Award for directing. The film starred Henry Fonda, another member of Ford’s informal repertory company. By this time, they had already made two other films together, Drums Along the Mohawk (1939) and Young Mr. Lincoln (1939).
For the second year in a row, Ford received one of film’s greatest honors for How Green Was My Valley (1941). The drama explored the struggles of a family of coal miners in Wales. Both a critical and commercial success, the film netted ten Academy Award nominations and won five awards, including Best Director and Best Picture.
Best known for his westerns, Ford made some of his classic films in late 1940s. He directed Fort Apache (1948) with Wayne and Fonda. Wayne went on to star in She Wore a Yellow Ribbon (1949) and Rio Grande (1950), two more famous Ford westerns. One of Ford’s most notable films with Wayne, however, was not a western, but a romantic drama. The Quiet Man (1952) featured Wayne as an American boxer with a bad reputation who moves to Ireland where he falls in love with a local woman (Maureen O’Hara).
During the later part of his career, Ford continued to create great westerns. He worked with Jimmy Stewart on several films, including the classic The Man Who Shot Liberty Valance (1962). In addition to Stewart, John Wayne also appeared in this hugely successful western drama. For his last feature film, Ford took on a decidedly different project. He directed 7 Women (1966) starring Anne Bancroft. The film followed a group of female missionaries working in China in the 1930s.
Ford died on August 31, 1973, in Palm Desert, California. Adept at all genres, he frequently explored his Irish roots but achieved his greatest renown for poetic visions of the American West, depicting its rugged heroes, pioneering families, and sense of male camaraderie. He received the first American Film Institute Life Achievement Award in 1973.