Borrowing his title from dialogue in John Ford's classic Western, The Man Who Shot Liberty Valance
("When the legend becomes fact, print the legend"), Scott Eyman heeds this advice in his splendid study of Ford, finding a convincing balance between the gruff image Ford cultivated and the sensitive artist that Ford truly was. The result is a to-date definitive biography, occasionally prone to indelicate critical assessment while benefiting greatly from Eyman's full access to the Ford family archives. Arguably the greatest American filmmaker of the 20th century, Ford protected himself with a façade of belligerence yet engendered more loyalty among his crew and stock players (notably John Wayne and Ward Bond) than any other director. Eyman illuminates the Ford legend while focusing on fact--on a complex genius who would berate even the most vulnerable actor and then "apologize without apologizing," a binge drinker who never let alcohol interfere with his closely-guarded artistry, and a stalwart Navy captain whose service in World War II became his primary source of pride.
Print the Legend essentially confirms Ford's brief affair with Katharine Hepburn, but Eyman emphasizes Ford's deep, abiding affection for his wife, Mary, who valiantly tolerated his absolute devotion to filmmaking. While hundreds of interviews yield a comprehensive account of Ford's working methods (which the director was loathe to discuss), Eyman expertly navigates around Ford's own penchant for autobiographical embellishment. What emerges is likely to remain the most thorough portrait of a cinematic master who recognized his own greatness without parading it, and whose human flaws were ultimately forgivable by those--and they were many--who loved him. Readers should look elsewhere for more astute studies of Ford's films, but Eyman has captured Ford the man with lasting authority. -- Jeff Shannon
From Publishers Weekly
One of the great directors in the history of film, John Ford (1894-1973) was "America's tribal poet," writes Eyman, a man whose movies added up to a national epic. The director of such classics as The Grapes of Wrath, The Searchers and The Man Who Shot Liberty Valance, Ford certainly had a dark side, according to Eyman: he was bad-tempered and pugnacious; a sloppy, self-pitying drunk; a dictatorial, frequently abusive director; and a failed father estranged from his son and daughter. Biographer of Ernst Lubitsch and Mary Pickford, Eyman has written a quietly magnificent biography of an American original who has shaped our perception of movies as serious art. His westerns conjure up a democratic community of equals unified by shared purpose. A Maine saloonkeeper's son, Ford grew up in a large, working-class Irish immigrant family. Using hitherto untapped transcripts, Eyman tells the full story of the famous, tumultuous 1950 Screen Directors Guild meeting, when Ford took a courageous stand against hard-line conservative Cecil B. DeMille, who sought to mandate a McCarthyite loyalty oath for members. Eyman's study serves up a big, gorgeous chunk of Hollywood history, chock-full of priceless anecdotes of Katharine Hepburn, James Cagney, Henry Fonda, Frank Capra, Clark Gable and others. Though many considered Ford pass? by the 1960s, a new generation of critics and cineastes were championing the six-time Academy Award winner for his largeness of spirit, his deeply felt poetry, his evocation of innocence and of America as it was meant to have been. (Nov.)
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