This son of an immigrant Portland bartender won six Oscars

Hello! Every seven days, for the rest of the year, This Week in Portland History is bringing to light a person or event from the city’s past.

Legendary Hollywood film director John Ford was born John Feeney, to Irish immigrant parents, on Feb. 1, 1894 in Cape Elizabeth. He was the 10th of 11 children and grew up at 23/25 Sheridan Street on Munjoy Hill.

A statue of him now sits in a director’s chair at the corner of York, Pleasant and Center Streets. His father used to run a saloon not far from that crossroads, known as Gorham’s Corner. It was the center of Portland’s Irish community in the 19th and early 20th centuries.

A statue of famed Hollywood director and Maine native John Ford sits at Gorham's Corner in Portland. Ford was born John Feeney on Feb. 1, 1894 in Cape Elizabeth but he grew up in Portland. Troy R. Bennett | BDN

A statue of famed Hollywood director and Maine native John Ford sits at Gorham’s Corner in Portland.  Troy R. Bennett | BDN

Ford was a star fullback at Portland High School where he was known as “Bull Feeney.” In 1914, he joined his older brother, Francis, in Hollywood and began working in the movie biz — changing his name to John Ford along the way.

He directed over 140 films and perfected the art of the western movie. Flicks like “Stagecoach,” “The Searchers,” and “The Man Who Shot Liberty Valance” are considered classics of the genre.

John Ford was born in Cape Elizabeth and grew up on Munjoy Hill. Photo courtesy of Maine Memory Network, item 5585

John Ford was born in Cape Elizabeth and grew up on Munjoy Hill. Photo courtesy of Maine Memory Network, item 5585

In his career, Ford won a record four Academy Awards for directing. Only Frank Capra and William Wyler have come close to Ford’s feat, winning three apiece.

During WWII, Ford made documentary films for the government’s Office of Strategic Services. He was wounded while filming at the Battle of Midway and directed a camera crew at Omaha Beach in Normandy on D-Day.

The film he made at Midway gave him one of the two more Oscars he snagged for best documentary.

He was close friends with John Wayne and Ward Bond, whom he directed in many films. He was awarded the Presidential Medal of Freedom by Richard Nixon.

John Ford died in 1973 at the age of 79. He’s remembered today as one of the greatest filmmakers to ever look through a camera lens.

No bad, for the son of an immigrant barkeep from Munjoy Hill.

Disclaimer: I’m not a historian. I owe everything I know to the dedicated research of those who have come before me. These character sketches and historical tidbits are assembled from multiple (often antique) sources and sprinkled with my own conjecture. I’m happy to be set straight or to learn more.

A statue of famed Hollywood director and Maine native John Ford sits at Gorham's Corner in Portland. Ford was born John Feeney on Feb. 1, 1894 in Cape Elizabeth but he grew up in Portland. Troy R. Bennett | BDN

A statue of famed Hollywood director and Maine native John Ford sits at Gorham’s Corner in Portland. Ford was born John Feeney on Feb. 1, 1894 in Cape Elizabeth but he grew up in Portland. Troy R. Bennett | BDN

At intersection of York, Pleasant, Fore, and Center Streets in Portland sits the statue of famous Hollywood director and native son John Ford. Not far from the spot, known as Gorham's Corner, Ford's father ran a saloon. Troy R. Bennett | BDN

At intersection of York, Pleasant, Fore, and Center Streets in Portland sits the statue of famous Hollywood director and native son John Ford. Not far from the spot, known as Gorham’s Corner, Ford’s father ran a saloon. Troy R. Bennett | BDN

Troy R. Bennett

About Troy R. Bennett

Troy R. Bennett is a Buxton native and longtime Portland resident whose photojournalism has appeared in media outlets all over the world.