John Ford is born in Maine to Irish immigrant parents. His father was born in Spiddal, Co. Galway. His mother from the Aran Islands. Film site IMDb states “John Ford is, arguably, The Great American Director.” Although born John Martin Feeney, he never forgot his Irish roots.
Ford was born John Martin “Jack” Feeney (though he later often gave his given names as Sean Aloysius, sometimes with surname O’Feeny or O’Fearna; a Gaelic equivalent of Feeney) in Cape Elizabeth, Maine to John Augustine Feeney and Barbara “Abbey” Curran, on February 1, 1894 (though he occasionally said 1895 and that date is erroneously inscribed on his tombstone). His father, John Augustine, was born in Spiddal, County Galway in 1854. Barbara Curran had been born in the Aran Islands, in the town of Kilronan on the island of Inishmore (Inis Mór). John A. Feeney’s grandmother, Barbara Morris, was said to be a member of a local (impoverished) gentry family, the Morrises of Spiddal, headed at present by Lord Killanin.
John Augustine and Barbara Curran arrived in Boston and Portland respectively within a few days of each other in May and June 1872. They were married in 1875, and became American citizens five years later on September 11, 1880. They had eleven children: Mamie (Mary Agnes), born 1876; Delia (Edith), 1878-1881; Patrick; Francis Ford, 1881-1953; Bridget, 1883-1884; Barbara, born and died 1888; Edward, born 1889; Josephine, born 1891; Hannah (Joanna), born and died 1892; John Martin, 1894-1973; and Daniel, born and died 1896 (or 1898). John Augustine lived in the Munjoy Hill neighborhood of Portland, Maine with his family, and would try farming, fishing, working for the gas company, running a saloon, and being an alderman.
Feeney attended Portland High School, Portland, Maine. He moved to California and began acting and working in film production for his older brother Francis in 1914, taking “Jack Ford” as a stage name. In addition to credited roles, he appeared uncredited as a Klansman in D.W. Griffith’s 1915 classic, The Birth of a Nation, as the man who lifts up one side of his hood so he can see clearly. He married Mary McBryde Smith, on July 3, 1920 and they had two children. The marriage lasted until Ford’s death, although he had many extramarital relationships.
John Ford began his career in film after moving to California in July 1914. He followed in the footsteps of his multi-talented older brother Francis Ford, twelve years his senior, who had left home years earlier and had worked in vaudeville before becoming a movie actor. Francis played in hundreds of silent pictures for Thomas Edison, Georges Melies and Thomas Ince, eventually progressing to become a prominent Hollywood actor-writer-director with his own production company (101 Bison) at Universal.
Jack Ford started out in his brother’s films as an assistant, handyman, stuntman and occasional actor, frequently doubling for his brother, whom he closely resembled. Francis gave his younger brother his first acting role in The Mysterious Rose (November 1914). Despite an often combative relationship, within three years Jack had progressed to become Francis’ chief assistant and often worked as his cameraman. By the time Jack Ford was given his first break as a director, Francis’ profile was declining and he ceased working as a director soon afterward.
One notable feature of John Ford’s films is that he used a ‘stock company’ of actors, far more so than many directors. Many famous stars appeared in at least two or more Ford films, including Harry Carey, Sr. (the star of 25 Ford silents), Will Rogers, John Wayne, Henry Fonda, Maureen O’Hara, James Stewart, Woody Strode, Richard Widmark, Victor McLaglen, Vera Miles and Jeffrey Hunter. Many of his supporting actors appeared in multiple Ford films, often over a period of several decades, including Ben Johnson, Chill Wills, Andy Devine, Ward Bond, Grant Withers, Mae Marsh, Anna Lee, Harry Carey, Jr., Ken Curtis, Frank Baker, Dolores del Río, Pedro Armendariz, Hank Worden, John Qualen, Barry Fitzgerald, Arthur Shields, John Carradine, and Carleton Young. Core members of this extended ‘troupe’, including Ward Bond, John Carradine, Dobe Carey, Mae Marsh, Frank Baker and Ben Johnson, were informally known as the John Ford Stock Company.