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above: John Ford, left, next to his cameraman in the Pacific (Lilly Library / Indiana University, Bloomington)

Sins of Omission

The Admiral of American Movies

When the brilliant Orson Welles was asked to name his three favorite directors, he replied, “The Old Masters, by which I mean John Ford, John Ford, and John Ford.”

John Ford was arguably Hollywood’s greatest director, churning out 140 movies and documentaries and winning the Academy Award for Best Director a record four times. Nine of his movies were nominated for Best Picture and one of them won it. Two of his documentaries won Best Documentary and he won Best Director of a Documentary for one of them. The John Ford most people don’t know of, though, is the decorated naval officer who served in both World War II and Korea.

Born John Martin Feeney in 1894 to Gaelic-speaking parents from County Galway, Ireland, residing in Cape Elizabeth, Maine, Ford was one of 11 children. Five of his siblings died young, and he nearly died of diphtheria himself. But by the time he attended Portland High School, he was an outstanding athlete. He was the star fullback on the...

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