Candice Bergen’s book, KNOCK WOOD (reviewed in my last post), was one of too many biographies/autobiographies I’ve been reading lately. I read them because I’m into trying to get a handle on the “real” human being beneath the public persona of past legendary creative/performing artists I’ve “known.”

Take JOHN FORD, director of such classic Westerns as Stagecoach, Fort Apache, My Darling Clementine, Rio Grande and The Searchers. Did I really need to find out (in a book titled COMPANY OF HEROES) that he was a real horse’s ass in the way he treated others — not just the actors and subordinates he “treated like children” and often directed like a sadistic drill sergeant, but in his personal life? Well, some might say that Hollywood filmmaking was a cutthroat industry and Westerns are violent by their very nature, so it goes with the territory.

But Ford wasn’t always thoughtless, nor did he direct only shoot ’em ups. His 50 year directorial career included such (relatively) non-violent gems as Judge Priest (Will Rogers’ finest film), The Grapes Of Wrath, Young Mr. Lincoln, How Green Was My Valley, The Quiet Man (in which fists flew, but not bullets) and Mister Roberts. Go figure. A complex fellow, Mister Ford. 

And then there’s JOHN HUSTON, who made only a few Westerns, but, like Ford, was an egoist, womanizer and “larger-than-life” figure. In his book JOHN HUSTON: COURAGE AND ART, author Jeffrey Meyers paints a picture of a man who was an “extraordinary director, writer, actor, and bon vivant who made such iconic films as The Maltese Falcon, The Treasure of the Sierra Madre [in which his father, Walter Huston, co-starred], The Asphalt Jungle and The African Queen.” He also directed Anjelica Huston, his daughter by the fourth of his five wives.

John Ford. John Huston. Orson Welles. Billy Wilder. Vincente Minnelli. Woody Allen. And more. Too many biographies/autobiographies? I plead guilty. But I can’t stop. They’re addictive.



8 comments on “BEHIND THE SCENES

  1. arekhill1 says:

    Just as the winners write history, Sr. Muse, survivors write biographies. Not that being a horse’s ass is a tough benchmark to achieve, but perhaps the guy you think is being a jerk thinks he’s just following his habit of not suffering fools gladly, which is a flaw of my own, I’m sorry to say.


  2. mistermuse says:

    Actually, the author of COMPANY OF HEROES, Harry “Dobe” Carey Jr. (a member of Ford’s stock company of actors in nine Ford Westerns), mostly praises Ford, calling him both his “nemesis and hero. There were times when I was not an admirer – but when the day’s work was done – I loved him.” Others were less forgiving of Ford’s bullying and sometimes sadistic behavior.

    As for not suffering fools gladly, I wouldn’t call it so much a flaw, as an exercise in futility – or should I say, FOOLTILITY (if that word catches on, you heard it here first).


  3. Thankx for the info on the directors. No matter how eccentric they were, I have seen all of their films and enjoyed them all. We must have similar taste, mistermuse.


  4. mistermuse says:

    I remember remarking some time ago (regarding Frank Sinatra) that regardless of what one thinks of his personal life, he was a great singer. I think the same thing goes for directors and actors – if they’re gifted at what they do, their personal shortcomings shouldn’t detract from our judgment of their talent (which raises the question: if Adolph Hitler hadn’t failed as an artist and had become a great painter, would he have become “The Great Dictator” (the title of Charlie Chaplin’s 1940 Hitler-satire).


  5. Don Frankel says:

    Be a little careful with Biographies. They are usually well researched but the Author has definitely come to some kind of an opinion. They’re not very objective pro or con.

    I don’t know much about John Ford but the same actors appear in movie after movie of his so he had to have been more than just a meanie.


  6. mistermuse says:

    You’re right about the same actors appearing in Ford movie after Ford movie (the sub-title of the book I mention in my post & 7/29 comment, COMPANY OF HEROES, is “My Life as an Actor in the John Ford Stock Company”). These “same actors” included John Wayne, Ward Bond, Maureen O’Hara and, of course, the book’s author, Harry Carey Jr.

    I think you’d love this book, Don – in fact, I’d be pleased to mail it to you as a “get well” gift (assuming you ARE geting well after your hip operation!) – just email me your address and the book is yours.


  7. Don Frankel says:

    You sure about that Muse?
    Okay it’s
    Don Frankel
    3725 Henry Hudson Pkwy.
    Apt. 6C
    Riverdale NY 10463


  8. mistermuse says:

    Don, the check – I mean, the book – is in the mail (expected delivery date 8/11). It’s paperback, so it’s not like it’s an expensive gift. Enjoy!


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