Francis Joseph Feeney
August 14, 1881
Portland, Maine, U.S.
|Died||September 5, 1953 (aged 72)|
Los Angeles, California, U.S.
|Other names||J. Francis O'Fearna|
|Spouse(s)||Elsie Van Name (1909–1934) (2 children)|
Mary Armstrong (1935–1953) (his death)
|Children||2, including Philip Ford|
Francis Ford (born Francis Joseph Feeney; August 14, 1881 – September 5, 1953) was an American film actor, writer and director. He was the mentor and elder brother of film director John Ford. He also appeared in many of the latter's movies, including Young Mr. Lincoln (1939) and The Quiet Man (1952).
Ford was born in Portland, Maine. He was the son of John Augustine Feeney, who was born in the village of Spiddal, County Galway, Ireland, on June 15, 1854. His mother was Barbara "Abbey" Curran. By 1878, John had moved to Portland, Maine, and opened a saloon, at 42 Center Street, that used a false front to pose as grocery store. John opened four others in following years.
After service in the United States Army in the Spanish–American War (In Pappy: The Life of John Ford, Dan Ford wrote about Francis Ford and the war, "The Army soon discovered that he was only fifteen and sent him home."), Francis left home. He drifted into the film business in New York City, working for David Horsley, Al Christie and the Star Film Company's San Antonio operation under Gaston Méliès. He adopted the name Ford from the automobile. From San Antonio, Francis began his Hollywood career working for Thomas H. Ince at Ince's Bison studio, directing and appearing in westerns.
Ford's younger brother, John M. Feeney, nicknamed "Bull," was a successful fullback and defensive tackle on a Portland High state championship football team. In 1914, "Bull" followed Francis to Hollywood, changed his name to John Ford and eventually surpassed his elder brother's considerable reputation.
Ford's son, Philip Ford, was also a film actor/director. Ford died after being diagnosed with cancer.
Ford may have acted in over 400 films, with many of his early credits poorly documented and probably lost.
Ambitious and prolific, in Ford's early work he cast himself as George Armstrong Custer, Sherlock Holmes (with his younger brother as Dr. Watson) and Abraham Lincoln, a role in which he specialized. By 1912, Ford was directing alongside Thomas Ince. It rapidly became clear that Ince was routinely taking credit for Ford's work, so Ford moved to Universal in early 1913. His 1913 Lucille Love, Girl of Mystery was Universal's first serial, and the first of a string of very popular serials starring Ford's collaborator and lover Grace Cunard. The 1915 serial The Broken Coin was expanded from 15 to 22 episodes by popular demand, probably the height of Ford's career.
In 1917, Ford founded a short-lived independent company, Fordart Films, which released the 1918 Berlin via America with Phil Kelly, and briefly opened his own studio at Sunset Boulevard and Gower Street. At the same time, Ford mentored his younger brother, collaborating frequently as writers, directors and actors in each other's projects, but as early as 1917, it was clear that John's star was on the rise. Frank's directorial style remained suitable for serials, but failed to evolve. Ford's final known directoral credit is for the 1928 The Call of the Heart, a 50-minute vehicle for "Dynamite the Devil Dog".
The Ford brothers were, at the best of times, critical of each other and sometimes sharply antagonistic. Ford wrote an unpublished memoir in 1934 called Up and Down the Ladder which is "filled with bitter and sometimes heartrending complaints about how old-timers who had helped create the industry had been shunted aside by younger men." From the late 1920s, and for the next two decades, Ford sustained a career as a grizzled character actor and bit player. He is often uncredited, as in his appearance in James Whale's 1931 Frankenstein. Among his most memorable roles was that of the demented old man in The Ox-Bow Incident (1943).