Francis FordToday Francis Ford is mostly a footnote for bit parts he played in thirty-one (?) of his brother John Ford’s movies, particularly the amiable coonskin drunks in Judge Priest (1934), Young Mr. Lincoln (1939) and The Sun Shines Bright (1953). But his whole career was remarkable. Said John Ford, “He was a great cameraman—there’s nothing they’re doing today—all these things that are supposed to be so new—that he hadn’t done; he was really a good artist, a wonderful musician, a hell of a good actor, a good director—Johnny of all trades—and master of all; he just couldn’t concentrate on one thing too long. But he was the only influence I ever had, working in pictures.”(1)

Francis Ford was born Frank Thomas Feeney, twelve-and-a-half years before John Martin, August 14, 1881—though like his brother he was given to advancing his birth date a year. Always restless, he had carved up desks at school, married suddenly at 16, had a son and a divorce, and run off to the Spanish-American war (getting only as far as Tennessee, whence his father’s political influence extracted him from a cholera camp), whereupon he joined a circus and disappeared from his family for a decade and more.

In 1913 he sketched his life for The Universal Weekly, his studio’s house organ:

“I was born in Portland, [Maine], and it is sufficient to say that in the year 1882 I was very young. My dear old daddy injected a grammar school education into me, and tried to give me a dose of high school, but I preferred the Spanish-American war.

“However, I didn’t get any further than Chicamauga and the belly- ache. I came back and tried everything, from working in a bakery to shoveling snow at fifteen cents per square sidewalk. But I couldn’t make a success of anything.

“My father told me I didn’t have any sense, and that I had better try at being a policeman or get on the stage. The stage looked good to me, as there I wouldn’t have to do any work—as I thought at that time—but I’ve since had a slight awakening. [Frank was at the time conceiving, scripting, casting, staging, filming, editing and starring in one thirty- or forty-five-minute drama per week, year after year, in a hotly competitive industry.]

“I tried the stage, but found that none of the managers would believe that I could act. I finally landed a job at fifteen per—just to walk on and look wise.(2) I did the walking on all right, but they said I wasn’t supposed to be a boob. Amelia Bingham took quite an interest in me, and said that if I got the idea of being a Booth and Barret out of my head and studied real hard I might make a good property man. So she put me in the baggage car, loading and unloading scenery. So right away I wrote my father and told him that, owing to a change in the bill, I would no longer play leads but would essay heavies.

“Finally, I got a part. I didn’t make much of a hit, and some said my voice was bad. I was offered all kinds of remedies. Some said I should gargle my throat, and another suggested cutting it as a good remedy—for the public.

“Moving pictures was suggested as a remedy, and the first manager applied to said my voice didn’t cut any figure. The first part handed to me was that of a fresh drummer.(3) They gave it to me because I looked funny. In that first picture Al. Christie and Milton Fahrney were playing parts. Both are directors now for the Universal company. I had a good start, all right, I started with several different companies until I landed with Melies doing everything from props to manager, mostly props. I told them I knew more about the business than they did. They wouldn’t believe me, so they let me go. As they and Pathé were the first to make moving pictures, I don’t blame them.

“I went to Melies to the N.Y.M.P.Co, and then to the Universal. I don’t think I can go any further, unless I wait until they make a better company.”(4)

In the 1950s, Frank would play ostentatiously poetic drummers in Wagon Master (John Ford, 1950) and The Sun Shines Bright.

Back in the 1900s, before stardom at Universal, Frank had played vaudeville(5) and supplied voices for silent film screenings.(6) According to James L. Wilkinson,

“Near the end of a showing one day, Ford, wrongly predicting the scene to follow, declared in a loud voice to the girl at his side, ‘And we’ll have a wonderful honeymoon in Bermuda!’ When their celluloid counterparts appeared at the brink of Niagara Falls, Ford’s partner barely paused, then purred through the muslin, ‘Why darling, what a wonderful surprise! You’ve brought me to Niagara Falls instead of Bermuda.’ ”(7)

Frank got his break around 1908 when someone from the Centaur film company spotted him cleaning gas lamps on the New York streets and offered him $2 a day to fall off ladders in the movies.(8) He worked briefly for Edison in the Bronx,(9) and was supposedly on his way to a job in Charles Ansley’s troupe in Bayonne, N.J., for the New York Motion Picture Co. (the “Bison” label) when, seeking a stage name to avoid stigmatising his family and happening to pass a certain automobile, he adopted the name Ford.(10)

Such was Frank’s explanation. John Ford’s version has Frank subbing for an incapacitated (drunk) thespian named Francis Ford and then being unable to shake loose from the name; supposedly, the original Francis Ford appeared years later, claiming to be “Frank Feeney” and in need of a job.(11) A third explanation, too wistful to be true, has Francis paying homage to the Elizabethan playwright.(12)

It is uncertain when Frank joined the Melies Company. Run (without French accents) by the famous Georges Méliès’s brother, Gaston, Star Film of New York (in Brooklyn) began issuing Jersey-made Westerns in October 1909.(13) They were none too good, but on December 29, 1909, a new troupe under Hector Dion sailed from New York for Hotwells Hotel, near San Antonio, Texas, and among them was “Mr. F. J. Ford.”(14) The star was Edith Storey, borrowed from Vitagraph.(15) A William Clifford, the William Paleys, and Ford’s wife, Elsie Van Name, were also in the group.(16) Ford, “a skilled make-up artist,” played all sorts of roles, while doubling in every aspect of production.(17) One reel was issued per week (900-1000 feet, about 15 minutes), a Western, or else a split-reel of a Western drama and a Western comedy. Civil War pictures were an up-and-coming genre, and Ford first came to prominence as a wounded Confederate soldier returning home to a ruined Vicksburg in Under the Stars and Bars, released October 27, 1910 (and maybe the first of Ford’s nearly five-hundred movies to have survived).

Under the Stars and Bars

The pictures were successful, and the troupe came back the following winter (1910-11).(18) William F. Haddock was now the “manager,” and he “aided” Ford “in the selection of settings.”(19) The company left Texas for Sulphur Mountain Springs, California (near Santa Barbara), on April 22, 1911, by which time Mrs. Gaston Melies was reported as manager and Ford as assistant manager.(20) Their last production in Texas, The Immortal Alamo, was criticized for its lack of realism.(21) Ford had played Davy Crockett.(22) He continued to direct with Melies in Sulphur Springs,(23) and in October followed the company to Santa Paula and then to Catalina.(24) He appeared in Melies releases at least as late as Smiling Bob, released February 15, 1912, but made some time previously. In his biographic sketch for Universal, quoted above, Ford hints at a difference of opinion with Melies; but in 1951 he said he was laid off when the company “made so much money they decided to quit.”(25) Indeed, on July 24, 1912, Melies outfitted a boat with a film crew and sailed on a disastrous filmmaking voyage to the South Seas. His star got syphilis, the weather was wretched, the film spoiled in the humidity.(26) Gaston retired.

By January 1912 seven film companies were operating in the Los Angeles area. Most, like Biograph, Kalem, Pathé and Vitagraph, were visiting for the season; one, Selig, had been there since 1907; Nestor had taken root in 1911, and Bison in November 1909.(27) Late in 1911 young Thomas Ince arrived to take charge of Bison production. Working under Adam Kessel and Charles Bauman (in New York) and Fred Balshofer (in Los Angeles), Ince moved his studios to the mouth of St. Inez Canyon, where 18,000 acres of land were leased, and an entire circus hired for a year. For $25,000 per week the Miller Brothers 101 Ranch Wild West Show provided cowboys, horses, oxen, Indians, wagons, everything needed to make the greatest Westerns ever. (The Miller Brothers ranch in Oklahoma was 101,000 acres.) Bison’s trademark was changed to “101 Bison” and the first release, War on the Plains, a two-reeler, appeared February 23, 1912.(28)

“Beyond question these double reel Bisons are the finest Western subjects ever made by any motion picture manufacturer,” declared Moving Picture World. Indeed, for their attention to minor details, their use of action to define character, their exaltation of narrative for its own sake, and the spectacle of their massed battle scenes, the “101-Bisons” excited the entire industry and may perhaps be said to inaugurate the great epoch of American cinema.

Thomas Ince, whose career was launched by these westerns, had had only a brief exposure to films, as a director of a troupe of Imp players (including Mary Pickford) in Cuba in 1910. That series had been none too happy, the surviving titles look poor today, and Ince had quarreled with Carl Laemmle, Imp’s owner. Nonetheless Ince was reputed “studious and idealistic” and it was said he brought “dignity and realism to the photoplay.”(29) Ince hustled his way into the Bison job on a trial basis, when preferred candidates became unavailable.(30) Just how much Ince himself personally directed at Bison is subject to speculation more than debate, but all agree he did so only rarely after September 1912. Instead he invented the production system: a highly detailed script in which every shot and grimace was, as much as possible, detailed before shooting. In this way, working with his scenarist, Richard V. Spencer, Ince aimed to keep control over an eventually large number of directors. Supposedly Ince was initially provoked to this resort by the orneriness of Francis Ford who, at least until September, was the only other director in the company—and had signed on without knowing Ince was being hired in New York.(31)

Mystery shrouds Ford’s contribution to the “101 Bisons.” He appeared frequently as an actor in them from the first, and Ince later paid tribute to him as “without doubt one of the most finished of ail pioneer film performers. It was nothing for him to play an Indian hero in the morning and make up as Abraham Lincoln for the afternoon’s work.”(32) But in what capacity Ford was hired is obscure, and his directorial contributions were concealed by Ince”s practice of claiming credit for the work of others—as Ince was later to do with William S. Hart.(33) To make matters worse, the most thorough trade journal, Moving Picture World, seems to have had an aversion against mentioning Ford in reviews, despite printing his picture very frequently, despite Ford being among the better known personalities of the time,(34) and despite their West Coast correspondent mentioning him regularly. Perhaps Francis Ford was the chief author of most of the more significant “101-Bisons.”(35) Significantly, Ince had had no prior experience directing action.

So there was friction, as Ford diplomatically related in 1916 to a writer from Photoplay:

“Way back, five years ago when the movies were still feeding out of a bottle, Francis Ford had the distinction of being the youngest director, in point of service, with a well known film corporation. Upon his shoulders fell an unwelcome task. When the head of the company [Ince] saw an actor or actress whom he thought might be a star, said candidate for the hall of fame was shoved off on Director Ford for a tryout. Inasmuch as nine-tenths of the candidates were flivvers, Director Ford’s pictures suffered; likewise his genial disposition. The fact that when one of the candidates did make good he or she immediately graduated into the company of one of the older directors did not help matters any. Then one day came Grace Cunard. She proved to be a real find and Ford’s picture with her in the leading role was a yipping success. Ford wanted to keep her in his troupe, but the big guns decided otherwise. Ford had at this time received an offer from Universal. The young lady announced her preference for Director Ford’s company and was fired. Whereupon Director Ford, indignant at this rude treatment of a new star, up and jumped to the Universal. Her Grace did likewise.”(36)

Ford, it was reported, was given a second, smaller troupe by Ince in May or June, 1912. Ford would supposedly direct one-reelers while Ince handled two-reelers. (NYMPCO released two features per week.) But perhaps a more complicated power struggle occurred. Ford was also given his own brand name, “Broncho,” and beginning in August (though the first release was delayed until September 19), the productions of The Broncho Motion Picture Co. were advertised in full-page ads, separate from half-page ads for the “101 Bisons.” And no doubt press releases like the following were intended to assuage Ford’s discontent: “Director Ford, formerly with the New York Motion Picture Company, is now making the dramatic pictures under the Broncho brand. His company is at Santa Monica canyon, close to the camp of Director Ince and his Bison players.”(37) Of course, both Ford and Ince used the same performers; Ince became vice-president of Broncho;(38) and both were under the authority of Fred Balshofer, who announced that “most of the credit [for the success of the Bisons] is due to Tom Ince and Mr. Ford.”(39) Ince claimed credit for the super-spectaculars (i.e., the 40-minute-long three-reelers). When The Invaders (Kay-Bee, November 29, 1912) was released it was widely publicised as “directed by the same man, Thos. H. Ince, as Custer’s Last Fight.” The latter film, with Ford as Custer, was the biggest and most successful 101 Bison to date (announced initially for June 5, 1912 but finally released October 4, 1912). Today we believe both these pictures were directed by Ford.(40)

Grace Cunard appeared in the Custer film. The top Bison stars were Ethel Grandin and Anna Little. Mae Marsh did a brief stint with Bison, and Ford directed her in The Civilian (2-reel Broncho, November 20, 1912).(41) Reviews of Ford’s pictures generally made the same points: “vigorous action picturesque… convincing fighting… highly commendable.”(42) Yet judging from two surviving titles, Blazing the Trail (2-reel Bison, November 22, 1912) and The Burning Brand (2-reel Broncho, January 1, 1913), there was something more: empathy for human beings, expressed with a direct simplicity that, however histrionic the acting, always respects the privacy of individual tragedy. It was a quality brother John’s pictures would also possess. Grandin stars in Blazing the Trail opposite Francis, which survives in a one-reel abridgement with complex parallel montage.

Also anticipating John, Frank often organises shots in three planes of depth, with characters in the middle.

When Lincoln Paid (2200 ft, Kay-Bee, January 31, 1913).

When Lincoln Paid (2200 ft, Kay-Bee, January 31, 1913).

And Ford liked to stage battles across vast distances—here with cannons firing from down in the valley and cavalry advancing along the two ridges near and far:

Meanwhile powerful forces were at work. The independent film manufacturers were grouping into two consortiums: Mutual and Universal. The latter, with Imp’s Carl Laemmle as its genius, was announced on May 17, 1912, and among its eight firms was NYMPCO, whose president, Charles Bauman (or Baumann) became president of Universal. Fights immediately broke out, and NYMPCO withdrew, to join Mutual. “No doing!” cried Laemmie, and began a battle extending from the courts to actual raids between the companies. Laemmie had purchased the Nestor Company in Hollywood and was expanding rapidly. About one quarter of US films were being made on the Pacific slope by August 1912. Laemmle had four troupes at work that month, fifteen by the end of the year, and more due, each producing one or two films per week, mostly westerns. The troupe, or “company” as it was called, consisted of a team of director, writer, cameraman and actors, and was the basic organization of moviemaking of the era, and it was a structure that John Ford would persist in, as much as he could, throughout his career. What Laemmle did was to consolidate numerous “companies” under a single management. Eventually, during the decade, a single giant studio would evolve. “Universal City” would be inaugurated in 1915. Management would gradually dissolve the troupes and increasingly try to control its employees.

Now in 1912, Laemmie was eager to get his hands on the “101 Bison” people. He engaged Frank Montgomery (who directed the “Bisons” before Ince’s arrival), hired away When Lincoln Paid

Ethel Grandin and director Ray Smallwood (Ince’s photographer and Grandin’s husband) around November, recruited his own hoards of rough riders and Indians, and on July 20, 1912, began issuing his own “101 Bisons.”

The courts settled the confusion on a technicality: Balshofer had neglected to sign a key paper.(43) NYMPCO was permitted to join Mutual, and gave Laemmie $17,000, but were compelled to surrender the “101 Bison” trademarks. Kessel and Bauman replied they were going to stop using the “Bison” brand anyway,(44) and Ince productions after October 25 were released as “Kay-Bee” (or “KB”) and “Broncho” pictures.

Ford resented his lack of complete control at NYMPCO, Grace Cunard fired his resentment, and he told Laemmie it was he, not Ince, who was responsible for the “101 Bisons.”(45) Some authorities state that as part of the settlement between NYMPCO and Universal in September, Francis Ford was ceded to the latter,(46) but we have been unable to find supporting evidence for this. Ford is last mentioned in connection with Broncho in October and he did not begin shooting at Universal until January 13, 1913.(47) His first Universal-101 Bison, The Coward’s Atonement (February 22, 1913), was ballyhooed as “the original cast of the 101 Bison outfit,”(48) and rental prices were raised.(49) It was “like coming home for Ford,”(50) “a big military picture of the kind Ford does so well.”(51) Commented Moving Picture World, after mentioning blown-up bridges, columns of skirmishing infantry, desperate cavalry charges under artillery fire:

“The military movements are so constant and busy that the interwoven story [of two Confederates in love with Ethel Grandin] serves only as a framework for brisk engagements and heavy operations of an exciting character… That the play is interesting in spite of the stale characters and hackneyed theme is due to the director’s masterly handling of battle scenes. He has closely followed Griffith and Ince in giving swift military action in the foreground with equally intense action in the far reaching landscapes of great beauty and has held up to view some stirring conflicts in both large and small scope.”(52)

Curiously, despite a still of Ford and lauds to his masterly, and despite mention of Grandin, William Clifford and Ray Meyers, reviewer Louis Reeves Harrison never mentions Ford’s name.

 Francis Ford and Anna Little, The Outcast (101-Bison, 1912). Typical use of a long shot with foreground figures.

Francis Ford. John would also use doorways.

A Frontier Child (Ford or Ince, 1912).  Mildred Harris, Francis Ford.  Characters placed behind foreground.

Ince’s productions, with Ford gone, lost something of their force. And at the same time the Western and Civil War picture, in rage since 1909 with dozens issued each week, had gone stale with audiences. So much so that in May of 1913—almost two years before The Birth of a Nation (February 8, 1915)—Universal announced the discontinuance of its Indian, Western and Civil War pictures, and said that Ford would now do Philippine pictures and Henry McRae Cuban pictures.(53) The new genres caused no revolution, however.

In June, Universal announced Ford was at liberty, but by September he and Cunard were back again(54)—without explanation.

Francis Ford & Grace Cunard. c. 1914.

Grace Cunard, née Harriet Mildred Jeffries, born April 8, 1893, was five-foot-four, with red hair and grey eyes,(55) had worked for Biograph, Lubin and others, and drawn attention in Republic’s Before Yorktown in 1911,(56) before coming to Bison. She and Ford—five-foot-eleven, 160 lbs., fair skin, black hair, gray eyes(57)—were never married, but Ford had been separated from his wife, actress and writer Elsie Van Name, and it was reported in Variety in February 1915,(58) that she was suing for divorce, had named Cunard as correspondent, but that the suit was thrown out of court. The Fords were reconciled in March 1917, and their third child born around 1920. Also in 1917, Grace married Joe Moore, brother of Owen Moore (married to Mary Pickford) and Tom Moore (Alice Joyce); there was one more Moore, but his fate is lost.(59)

Almost all of Ford’s work at Universal has disappeared and our knowledge is derived principally from the studio house organ, The Universal Weekly.(60) In collaboration with Grace Cunard, his writer,(61) leading lady and occasional assistant director, Ford, from 1913 to 1916, produced approximately 80 pictures (2, 3 or 4 reels, some singles) plus four serials totaling 67 additional reels. 1913 saw some frontier melodramas and, notably, From Rail-Splitter to President (2-reel Gold Seal, December 16, 1913), in which Ford played his favorite role, Abraham Lincoln. He commented:

“There is nothing, I like better than to play Lincoln. I have a big library devoted to this great man, and I have studied every phase of his remarkable character and when I am acting the part, I can feel the man as I judge him. I have taken the part in six or seven photoplays now, and every one of them has given a different side of his personality. I have shown his youth, his joys and sorrows, his rail-splitting days, his tragic death, his awkward ways and his capacity for loving. I have not done yet, and I hope to take the part of Lincoln one of these days and show a résumé of his life in a twelve-part picture, or more, if necessary, and when I do, it will be drawn to as near truth as I can make it, and done with due reverence.”(62)

 Francis Ford as Lincoln, On Secret Service (Kay-Bee, 1912).

But it was in the crime film, a virtually virgin genre then, that Ford was to make his greatest mark. A number of separate pictures and a series entitled My Lady Raffles led up to the first great Ford-Cunard serial, Lucille Love—The Girl of Mystery (15 chapters, weekly from April 14, 1914). Success was awesome; serials were the newest rage.(63) And Universal spent lavishly. As in most of their pictures together, Cunard played an adventurous, devil-may-care jewel-thief with a hypnotic, lunatic look to her; Ford was the detective (or thief) chasing her. (“She hates yet moves me, and everybody knows that a woman in that frame of mind is liable to do most any desperate thing.”(64)) Plot was no inhibition to the team’s often macabre fantasies. They aimed for “rattling good melodrama in which each episode ending leaves either the hero or heroine in peril, for the unexpected, which produces the pulse-stirring quality of adventure, of sudden quirks, mysteries and twists that keep the audience awake and glad they’re seeing the picture.”(65) In one episode of Lucille Love (which Universal claimed were “the most expensive two-reelers ever made!”(66)) 300 imported Polynesians were employed in a specially constructed South Sea Island Village; they hail Lucille (Cunard) as their white goddess when she arrives fleeing Hugo Loubeque (Ford). But her white elephant (Universal’s familiar Anna May) stampedes, and they (Lucille and elephant) fall into a pit, and into an underground city inhabited by strange half-human, half-ape creatures, whom she befriends and leads back against Hugo and the natives.(67) Ford revelled in the unconventional and shocking. Universal’s product was marketed primarily in small town and neighborhood theaters and, as Edward Everett has pointed out,(68) scenes in whorehouses, Grace naked on a tigerskin, and jokes about corpses invited controversy and censorship. Serials also gave Ford a chance to don make-up and play several parts. In the My Lady Raffles series Cunard played three roles simultaneously on the screen.(69) Ford used trick photography in almost all his pictures, but without depending on it to attract his audience.

Ford and Cunard. Lucille Love—The Girl of Mystery (1914-15)

The plot of The Phantom of the Violin (3-reel, March 9, 1915) gives some idea of what Ford and Cunard could do with purloined material:

Rosa Retina (Cunard) studies violin with Ellis Zehring (Ford). At the cabaret, she causes a sensation by playing his masterpiece, “The Phantom of the Violin,” and they get married. But Rosa is ensnared by wine and by Vess (Duke Worne), and learning of this, heartbroken, Zehring resolves on suicide, but is stopped by the police and put in jail, where he finds a secret dungeon under the cabaret, with dozens of skeletons, each of whom rises up to relate its past life. “I was unfaithful to my husband and he buried me here,” says one. Rosa, thinking Zehring dead, takes a new lover, Harry Norman (Harry Schumm). Vess, frightened by Zehring’s ghost, falls down stairs and Zehring takes him to the dungeon where, driven mad by a talking skeleton, he dies. Norman falls through a stage trap, dies. Zehring sets fire to the theater, drags Rosa to the dungeon, plays “The Phantom of the Violin,” then jumps with Rosa into a bottomless pit.(70)

 Francis Ford, skeletons, and Grace Cunard, The Broken Coin (Universal, 1915).

Meanwhile, back in Portland, Maine, no one had heard a word of Frank until one day Jack and his mother ran home all excited: they had found Frank—on the Greeley Theater’s screen, in a Melies western! Through a New York agent, the prodigal was located and in the summer of 1914 came home in cashmere and a Stutz Bearcat and with Grace Cunard. According to Universal, the couple researched criminal methods in New England, after which they took a trip to Europe and shot background footage for their films.(71)

Awestruck, Jack went out to California by train in July, in time to work on the last episodes of Lucille Love as “assistant, handyman, everything,” for $12 a week,(72) and for three years shadowed Frank. He could not have had a more expert teacher in every aspect of the craft. He appeared as an actor in more than a dozen of Frank’s pictures through 1916, all of them lost films today.(73) Often he performed stunts.

Frank liked his action grit-real, so injuries, including at least one death, were frequent, but he paid bonuses for injuries and would goad them to it:

“Now boys, remember you are not in a drawing room; don’t bow to each other or apologise if you should happen to take a piece of skin away from the man you are fighting. This is to be the real thing—go to it. Who will roll down that bank? Who will fall off a horse? I don’t believe one of you dare—huh! You will?—and you will? Good! I thought there might be one or two of you who did not want a cushion to fall on—no, I don’t want any more. Listen, boys, a dollar for a bloody nose and two for a black eye.”(74)

That last line would be echoed twenty-five years later in How Green Was My Valley (John Ford, 1941).

Frank took especial care of Jack. He blew up a dynamite-wired desk where Jack was sitting by firing a cannonball through the tent. He had him jump seventy-five feet from a freight car rolling along a trestle; had him blown up in a car by mining the road; had him dodging shells on a Confederate bat­tlefield before bouncing a powder grenade off his head (for a close shot)—it exploded just beneath his chin. “That was a close thing,” Frank told him in the hospital. “Another second and audiences would have realized I was using a double.”(75)

Two decades later, in Judge Priest, Jack had Frank playing a drunk rest­ing on a wheelbarrow. But there was a rope tied to it, and, as a carriage drove off, Frank went suddenly careening down the street, swallowing his chaw at the first jolt. “That was for the grenade!” Jack scolded, as if it had been the day before.(76)

Just recently a print of The Bandit’s Wager (1-reel BigU November 5, 1916) has surfaced at the British Film Institute with Jack as one of the three actors (not much of a role but there he is!). Grace fears she has been kidnapped by a notorious bandit, but it’s just a wager between her brother and a friend to see if she’ll shoot the bandit and prove herself worthy to live in the West. But she’s also attracted to the bandit, of course (love-hate being the Ford-Cunard formula), and almost all of the movie consists of their reactions to each other, a kind of psychological study of two people in a room.

Shooting the Ford-Cunard serial, The Broken Coin (1915). Francis and Grace, kneeling; Eddie Polo, on back, Jack Ford, hand in mouth. Robert S. Birchard Collection.

Meanwhile Frank experimented with two new genres. For his Indian (in India) pictures Ford purchased siege guns and armor,(77) and some hundreds of giant marble blocks (from Wall Street, via a bankrupt Colorado firm)(78) with which an Oriental castle was constructed. For the opening of Universal City, March 15, 1915, visitors watched an Irish regiment storm a Sepoy citadel (for The Doorway to Destruction, 2-reel Bison, April 17, 1915). Ford was tooling up for one of his biggest pictures, The Campbells Are Coming. Promotion of Campbells started in December 1914 (“Every known conceivable sort of thrill!”(79)) but the sets were damaged by a flood in January (and were then reconstructed to serve as a dam to protect the studio).(80) Reportedly, 7000 extras were used, 11,000 pounds of powder and 550 ammo rounds. The harem scenes were supervised by an Oakland girl, an ex-harem-mate of an Egyptian.(81) The picture, four reels, was released October 18, 1915.

Smuggler’s Island (1915). Jack Ford far left, Grace Cunard struggles with Harry Schumm.

In the second genre, involving fantasmatic principalities, Ford-Cunard reached their peak. Two earlier pictures (The Mystery of the Throne Room, 2-reel Gold Seal, January 5, 1915; and The Madcap Queen of Gredshoffen, 2-reel Gold Seal, January 26, 1915) led up to a second serial, The Broken Coin. Grace had a dual role as an American reporter and the heartbroken Queen of Gretzhoffen; Ford played both the scheming good-evil Count Frederick and an American detective named Phil Kelly. Phil Kelly appeared in Ford films for years, inspired by The Three Musketeers and The Count of Monte Cristo.(82) Kalton Lahue reports Universal was at first against the idea.(83) But Carl Laemmie soon gave Ford a fat, blank check book, and said, reportedly:

“Remember, Mr. Ford, I don’t care how much the serial costs; spend as much as you like; go anywhere you please; build as many and as expensive sets as you wish—the whole Universal organization and its last dollar is behind you. I want this serial to smash all box-office records, and with you, Mr. Ford, and Miss Cunard, leading the cast and actively directing things, I am positive—absolutely certain—that The Broken Coin will do so. Go to it!”

“Which” added the Weekly, “was quite some speech for the keen-eyed, taciturn ‘Little Father of the Big U Family.’ ”(84) And success was indeed astounding. The Broken Coin had to be extended from 15 to 22 chapters; 1500 newspapers carried it.(85)

Cast photo: The Broken Coin.

Descriptions of Francis Ford at this date resemble later ones of brother John. A writer for The Universal Weekly describes him as taciturn and active, “but running underneath this silence is a stream of humor that may be called distinctively Fordesquian.”(86) Richard Willis had a similar impression: “Under the quiet, almost sarcastic manner, there is deep seriousness, and below the veil of indifference there is one of the warmest hearts imaginable.” Without much to say to strangers, but with ready smile and soft voice, Ford “speaks of the people who work with him as though he loved them. He never boasts; in fact, he is inclined to speak of his work with levity, and he gives a wrong impression to those who do not know him well.”

But this does not sound like John, “Good mixer without trying, good fellow without essaying to be particularly good—he is always natural and always himself.”(87) Indeed, in later years, the earnest John found Frank’s easy-going ways something of an irritant. Frank’s superabundance of talents combined badly with streaks of impracticality. He played violin, sculpted, painted huge canvases in his garage—and if someone admired a section, would impulsively cut it out and give it to them. He lacked the obsessive stick-to-itiveness that was John’s key to success. Frank’s passion was variety. He enjoyed many women, through three wives and numerous affairs. He loved makeup and disguises. And unlike John indulged experiment for its own sake. He used superimpositions to illustrate thought as early as 1911, and more typical than exceptional was a scene in The Twins Double (1914) in which Cunard appears on screen simultaneously in three roles, in a double exposure within a triple exposure. And, again unlike John, Frank reveled in the unconventional, the shocking, macabre and occult. The problems these caused him with producers in an era of middleclass tastes were aggravated by carelessness with money, problems with drink, and a tendency to walk out when he could not do things his own way.

Willis remarked, though, that “Fordie” excelled in “showing the action over a vast distance,” which is also a famous John Ford trait. And the essentials of John Ford’s acting style can be found in Francis’s pictures as well: relaxed relating. Directed with minimal rehearsal, their actors have freshness and some autonomy, encouraging us to believe their fictional characters exist independently of the movie. It is difficult to imagine either Ford manipulating an actor the way D. W. Griffith did—for instance, Mae Marsh (in Intolerance’s [1916] courtroom) or Lillian Gish (in the closet in Broken Blossoms [1919](88)) or staring at them with a brutality in cutting and framing that seems often to aim, like Hitchcock, for the maximum in sensationalism. And both Griffith and Hitchcock had a fondness for high angles and sudden close-ups that makes them seem rapacious alongside the Fords’ low or level angles, gentler cutting, and more respectful distance.

After The Broken Coin Ford went home to Portland. He’d scarcely seen his family for eight years. Now the Mayor gave Frank the key to the city.

 Cousin John Connelly, Edward, Frank and John Feeney.

“I made the long journey across the continent to the old home with the expectation that I would forget all about motion pictures and have a real rest, but after the first few days I felt the desire to get busy once again and was soon writing two scenarios for the pictures I subsequently produced there.”(89)

The two pictures were Chicken-Hearted Jim (shot November 10-17, 1915; 1-reel Rex, April 23, 1916) and The Strong Arm Squad (shot November 26-29, 1915; 1-reel Rex, February 25, 1916).(90) Ford starred himself and featured his parents, brothers Pat, Eddie and Jack, and niece Cecil McLean.(91) The story of Chicken-Hearted Jim concerned a young man who worried his parents by his nightly debauches; fleeing the cops, he joins a schooner, single-handedly thwarts a mutiny and marries the captain’s daughter: almost exactly the same plot as Ford-Cunard’s Captain Billie’s Mate (2-reel, September 27, 1913).

In between serials, Ford-Cunard redid their old plots: Gretzhoffen, Lady Raffles, a number of title-changed reissues, and a number of stories about oppressed Irish peasants. Peg o’ the Ring, the third serial, was a circus picture, full of animals, with Grace as both “a mother who has been clawed by a leopard during pregnancy years before” and as “the daughter, Peg, who (for some reason) had been affected by this and went insane every night at midnight, attacking anyone who was near at the time.”(92) Ford’s fascination with occult spiritualism was becoming more pronounced. Eddie Polo had been cast in Peg over their objections (after trouble with him refusing to wear make-up, because of his increasing number of fan letters, in The Broken Coin) and, after a few chapters, Ford-Cunard gave the front office an ultimatum. It was announced in the April 15, 1916 issue of the Moving Picture World that they were no longer employed by Universal.(93) Polo and Ruth Stonehouse were the new leads, Jacques Jaccard the new director; but the pre-sold serial, due to open in a few weeks, could not be salvaged. A quick trip East, a talk with Laemmle, and Ford-Cunard were back in control, their replacements reassigned to other projects.

Peg o’ the Ring (1916). Jack Ford on left.

Peg did not do as well as expected, and another serial, The Purple Mask (15 chapters, December 15, 1916) was an expensive failure.(94) It was around this time that, with studio encouragement, the Ford-Cunard team broke up.(95)

Cunard and Ford. The Purple Mask (1916)

Ford was fairly inactive for a while.(96) With Mae Gaston he did a secret service thriller, Who Was That Other Man (5-reel Butterfly, August 25, 1917), and an Indian drama with Dark Cloud, Remington’s model of nineteen years, John Ermine of Yellowstone (5-reel Butterfly, October 15?, 1917). Despite some big battle scenes, Exhibitor’s Trade Review found it poor, old-fashioned and in a rut.(97)

Ford now left Universal to embark upon a perilous career in independent production. First he went to New England, where friends from the Bison days, Balshofer and Smallwood, were doing a series of Harold Lockwood woods adventures. Originally, Ford was to direct Lockwood in alternate features (so that Lockwood’s time would not be wasted while the first picture was being edited),(98) but Ford only did one, The Avenging Trail (Yorke-Metro, December 31, 1917), and it was well received. Another serial was begun, then abandoned.(99) But in 1918 Ford and his wife Elsie (as writer and actress) began Fordart Films, Inc. Their first release, Berlin via America, was well received and did good business.(100) Ford was Phil Kelly, a Secret Service agent posing as a traitor. Fordart announced completion of The Island [or Isle] of Intrigue, but it was never reviewed.(101) And in September, the Francis Ford Producing Co. announced six (6- or 7-reel) features in preparation, plus a series of one-reel comedies to be issued semi-monthly (Bill Stingers’ Poems)(102) but by the end of the month the announcement was withdrawn without explanation. Instead, November 2, a new serial appeared, The Silent Mystery, in partnership with producer Louis Burston, and no more is heard of Fordart. (In fact, midst post-war economic depression and a theater-closing epidemic, it was the worst time to seek independence.) Highly successful and often considered one of his best serials, The Silent Mystery co-starred Mae Gaston and Rosemary Theby, bewitched by the occult power of a jewel (“The Eye of the World”) and rescued by, once again, Phil Keily.

Various plans for a filmmaking trip to the South Seas(103) did not yet materialise. In February Ford’s parents moved to California,(104) and that spring he purchased a home on Catalina Island.(105) In April, he began work on his own studio, at Sunset and Gower in Hollywood, and moved in a month later(106) to shoot another Rosemary Theby serial, The Mystery of 13, a “western-mystery-serial.”(107) Burston planned his publicity even before production began,(108) which included running a thirteen-page ad in Moving Picture World.(109) As these films were sold states rights, it was necessary to secure advance sales. The plot featured Ford as a South American ranch owner, and he claimed to have “invented an underwater camera” for an air-hose fight between Ford and Theby.(110) Six months later, The Great Reward, another Burston serial, this one starring Ella Hall, concerned the delusions of a demented monarch conjuring into being whole colonies of miniature people.(111) Ford “was tiring of acting,” writes Lahue, “and his fans were deserting him for the newer and more subdued serial stars.…The Great Reward was the poorest serial Ford was ever connected with. His star was on the wane, and before long, he was to fade out of the serial picture, reappearing at intervals only as director.”(112)

Ford’s subsequent directorial career is obscured by the glamourlessness of his projects in an age of glamour. He directed three more serials (The Fighting Skipper, with Peggy O’Day, 1923; Perils at the Wild, with Joe Bonomo, 1925; The Winking Idol, William Desmond, 1916) and, from 1921 to 1926, approximately thirty-five features, mostly C-budget Westerns, with Jack Hoxie, Franklyn Famum, Peggy O’Day, Jack Mower and others. Two more assignments appeared in 1927 and in January 1928, his last picture as director, Call of the Heart, which starred a dog named Dynamite. (Ford’s Wolfs Trail, 1927, with Dynamite, has the best earnings ratio of any Universal feature, and a grave scene anticipating later John Ford movies.(113))

The general consensus, such as it is, would have us believe that Ford completely collapsed as a director in the 1920s, and no less an enthusiast than Kevin Brownlow has said that The Lash of Pinto Pete (with Ashton Dearholt, 1924) “is so embarrassing it would put you off silent films for life.”(114) Yet a modest western for Texas Guinan, The Stampede (1921), evinces a delicate sense of narrative, and a maximally cheapie like Four from Nowhere (1922, with Ford, O’Day, Phil and Billie Ford)—with a whole reel of stagey tableaux from The Count of Monte Cristo interpolated when the heroes, snowed in for the winter, read the book—has a scene when Ford, awaiting revenge, sits alone in long-shot in a dark-shadowed room for which “Siegfried Kracauer could write caption…that would make it look like a collaboration between Freud and Pabst,” commented William K. Everson.(115) And perhaps the image represents the state into which Ford’s unbridled indulgence in the macabre and whacky had hardened his career.

In any case, he finally took the South Seas trip the following year, and fell seriously ill on Pango Pango. When he got home he found his wife Elsie had run off with his business manager after selling off the studio and whatever other assets she could find. Undaunted, Frank started a co-op with Frank Baker, an Australian sailor and filmmaker who had brought him back from Pango Pango. Ashton Dearholt, playing a character stolen from Douglas Fairbanks’ Zorro, was a frequent lead, and Florence Gilbert his lady, but everyone did at least five jobs and took turns acting, directing, running the camera, everything. As Baker recalls:

“We’d just travel around looking for locations. It was completely creative, because we’d adapt the story to meet [the] location. We had the framework of the story written on postcards more than likely. That was our script! … We’d make them for peanuts. Some of those things were made for about $2,000, and we sold them for around $60,000. And everybody received exactly the same pay. The script girl got the same as the producer, and the director got the same as the property man. The company belonged to us. It was completely a commonwealth company; in fact that’s what we called it at first, the Commonwealth Company, and then the California Commonwealth Company, and then the Califo Company. In the four-and-a-half, five years we were together, we were just like a complete family. I don’t think I ever heard a harsh word or an unkind thing said. No pressures.”(116)

But in August 1927, Ford announced he was abandoning directing for acting and, emulating Wallace Beery, would “get away from the dramatic and essay a comedy character.”(117) In 1935 or 1936 Ford married Mary Armstrong, who survived him. His son Phil Ford directed some Republic westerns and TV shows after the war.

Grace Cunard’s career petered out in the early 20s, but she continued to appear in bit parts, mostly at Universal, well into the 30s. In 1925 she married Jack Shannon; she died quietly at the Motion Picture County Home, January 9, 1967.

Francis Ford appeared in more than a hundred small roles until his death, September 6, 1953. His Brother Feeney character, a coonskin drunk who rarely spoke, must rank as one of the finest, if most obscure, comic creations in film, more entrancing to these prejudiced eyes than Charles Chaplin or Buster Keaton.

Francis Ford in his last role, as drummer, in The Sun Shines Bright (1952).

• • •

Just after the grim and cathartic conclusion of Four from Nowhere, the camera cuts back and one may or may not notice a secretary trying to hear what is going on inside the office. It is this sort of gag, unstressed, contrastful and iconoclastic, that would become almost a signature of John Ford. His debt to Francis cannot be exaggerated.

According to Frank Baker:

“In some ways Francis was very much like John, [but] he and Jack didn’t get on very well. That was a funny part of John Ford, the fact that…. Everything that John Ford did, I could see the reflection of Frank. Camera angles and different touches. He’d say, ‘How do you like that?’ And I’d say, ‘I’ve seen that before,’ and he’d go as cold as anything. He had an amazing admiration for his brother, because Frank was about thirteen or fourteen years older than John, but he was completely jealous of him. He realised that this isn’t me, I’m just walking in his footsteps, because I’ve always considered Frank the most picture-wise men I’ve ever known. Frank was not interested in making money, not in the least. He was an experimenter, always. Jack did the same thing, but he had this awful…. I can say something that perhaps most people would give me the horse laugh for. I’ve studied John Ford for so long, and I realised he was two completely different people, one is the real John Ford. And the real John Ford is so much different from the John Ford we know, the tough, ruthless, sarcastic individual. He’s so different to the real John Ford, who’s a very kind individual. But he was afraid of that. And the John Ford we know is a legend, a living legend who was created by John Ford himself to protect the other John Ford, the sympathetic, sentimental, soft John Ford. I am quite assured now that John Ford was perhaps suffering tremendously from a very great inferiority complex, and sitting right at the foundation of that inferiority complex was his brother, Francis. He knew that this is where it ail came from, and he took it out on Frank for the rest of his life. But John Ford, there was a man in my estimation… he had the touch of greatness. He was perhaps a great man, John Ford. There were many sides to him that people never saw…”(118)

In 1917 Jack had graduated to director as Frank’s star had begun to wane. With his brother’s troupe Jack made a satiric action picture with a sentimental twist: the hero (Jack Ford) needs money to buy his mother a home in Ireland. Universal publicity gave The Tornado (2-reel 101 Bison, March 3, 1917) a good boost. His second movie, again with Frank’s troupe, The Trail of Hate, was called “thrilling… teeming with life and colour and action” by Exhibitor’s Trade Review,(119) while The Universal Weekly ran a still from his next film, explaining, “When Jack has finished a picture his players are not fit for publication.”(120) After the third, The Scrapper, in which he copied Francis by staging a fight in a whorehouse, the Weekly remarked (probably facetiously):

For a long time people have said, as they heard the name “Ford” in connection with a picture: “Ford? Any relation to Francis?” Very soon, unless all indications of the present time fail, they will be saying: “Ford? Any relation to Jack?”(121)

Frank, in later years, used to say he was glad to get rid of Jack, was fed up with him. Jack was always getting into emotional arguments, would fight with everyone; he was a damn nuisance, a dunderhead that couldn’t be relied on. (122) He hated the “handshaking industry” and was always quitting and going home.(123) “As a prop man he stunk; as an assistant director, he was worse, and as an actor… well, such a ham! When I would tell Jack to put a chair in the corner for a scene, Jack would turn and say, ‘Joe, get a chair and put it in the corner;’ Joe would turn around and holler, ‘Dutch, get a chair and put it in the corner;’ Dutch would turn around and holler, ‘Jake, get a chair….’ ”(124)

Frank got his own chair; but, he added, anticipating the theme of The Long Gray Line (1955), Jack was durable, and he stressed the word. Jack’s first film, “wasn’t bad except for his acting,” but the fourth one, The Soul Herder, was “a little gem”.

“Jack was no good,” he concluded, “until he was given something to do on his own where he could let himself go—and he proved himself then.”(125)


  1. Peter Bogdanovich. John Ford (New York: Praeger), p. 40.
  2. Probably in The Modern Lady Godiva, Amelia Bingham’s last play.
  3. Possibly The Girl from Arizona, produced by Centaur Co., in Bayonne, N.J.
  4. The Universal Weekly, 12.20.13., p. 4. N.Y.M.P.Co = The New York Motion Picture Company.
  5. Motion Picture Magazine, Feb. 1915, p. 112. An interview.
  6. From an interview with Francis Ford, Apr. 19, 1951, in James L. Wilkinson, An Introduction to the Career and Films of John Ford, an M.A. thesis wrtten for UCLA, August 1960 (University Microfilms), p. 19. Wilkinson’s remarkable research was the first to make known John Ford’s correct birth name and date —John Martin Feeney, Feb. 1, 1894.
  7. Wilkinson, loc. cit..
  8. Wilkinson, loc. cit., dates this 1907, but Centaur, which changed its name to Nestor shortly after, was not started until Fall 1908.
  9. Motion Picture Magazine, Feb. 1915, p. 112. No evidence could be found that Ford worked for Vitagraph, as stated by several authors, nor has Anthony Slide, an authority on that company, found such evidence (Letter to author, Jul. 27, 1976).
  10. Wilkinson, op .cit., p.21. But NYMPCO was not founded until early 1909, and filmed in Fort Lee, not Bayonne. Centaur, however, was headquartered in Bayonne. Cf. Fred J. Balshofer & Arthur C.Miller, One Reel a Week (Berkeley: University of California Press, 1967) p. 21.
  11. Bogdanovich, loc cit.
  12. Jean Mitry, John Ford (Paris: Éditions Universitaires, 1954), p.4.
  13. Wilkinson states Ford began with Melies in 1908 in Chicago. But at that date Gaston was simply distributing his brother’s French production, Cf. Film Index, Jul. 24, 1909; Aug. 7, 1909; Oct. 13, 1909.
  14. Film Index, Feb. 26, 1910.
  15. Film Index, Jun. 10, 1911.
  16. Film Index Feb. 26, 1910; Moving Picture World, May 20, 1991, p. 1127. Francis, in his unpublished, rambling and unreliable memoirs Up and down the ladder (c. 1934, 312-page typescript in Grover Jones papers at the Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Sciences’ library, Los Angeles) writes that “Hutchinson” directed, Gaston’s son Paul Melies managed, and Dolly Larkin was in the troupe. It’s unclear which of the two seasons he’s referring to.
  17. Wikinson, loc cit.
  18. Film Index, Nov. 26, 1910, p.26.
  19. Moving Picture World, April 1911, p.308, citing a report from The San Antonio Daily Express, Jan. 18, 1911.
  20. Moving Picture World, May 20, 1911. p. 1127.
  21. Ibid., Jul. 1, 1911.
  22. Patrick Mclnroy, “Hollywood Ruined S. A. Filming,” San Antonio Light, May 30, 1976.
  23. Moving Picture World, Aug. 5, 1911, p. 276.
  24. Patrick Mclnroy, Letter to author, Sep. 4, 1976.
  25. Wilkinson, op.cit. Mclnroy confirms the company’s profitability, as does Moving Picture World, May 13, 1911, et al. The assertion by Bessy and Lo Duca (in G. Méliès Mage. Paris: Prisma 1945) that Texas Star Film “swallowed in one year considerable sums, which caused the liquidation of the American branch“ is contradicted by Madeleine Malthête-Méliès in her book (Mélies l’enchanteur. Paris: Hachette, 1973). Although she quotes William Haddock to the effect that they were the absolutely worst westerns ever made, she quotes also Paul Méliès: “We did war films and cowboy movies there that were perfectly idiotic, but which had a great deal of success. The subject was always the same: A young man loves a girl, a villain carries her off, he’s pursued by the young man who kills him and marries the girl. It was an excellent commercial affair. We regular sold our prints.” Star Films was sold at substantial profit to Vitagraph.
  26. Mclnroy, letter; also Paul Hammond, Marvelous Méliès. New York: St. Martin’s Press, 1974.
  27. Moving Picture World, Jan. 13, 1912. Balshofer-Miller, op.cit.; Anthony Slide, Early American Cinema (Zwemmer Barnes, 1970).
  28. War on the Plains had been announced for Jan. 23, 1912. An initial attempt to distribute from New York with extensive advertising reaped only 14 orders from exchanges; hence Kessel & Bauman switched to a territorial basis at 15¢ per foot, and quickly disposed of entire rights to the U.S. and Canada. Carl Laemmle, an important exchange operator in the Midwest boosted them big. (Cf. Moving Picture World, February and March 1912.)
  29. Moving Picture World, May 20, 1911, p. 1123.
  30. Balshofer-Miller, op.cit. For Ince and the 101-Bisons, cf.: Thomas Ince, “The Early Days at Kay Bee,” Photoplay, March 1919; George Pratt, “See Mr. Ince…,” Image May 1956; Jean Mitry, Histoire du cinéma vol. 1 (Paris: Éditions Universitaires), a vast improvement over his Ince monograph for Antholoqie du Cinéma, vol. 1 (printed also in Cahiers du Cinéma 19, 20 & 21 (1952) but still fancifully myopic; George Mitchell, “Thomas Ince,” Films in Review October 1960; Paul O’Dell, Griffith and the Rise of Hollywood (New York: Castle, 1970); David Robinson, Hollywood in the Twenties (Zwemmer-Barnes ,1968); Jon Tuska, The Filming of the West (Doubleday: New York 1976) and contemporary journals.
  31. Ford, Up and Down the Ladder.
  32. Ince, op. cit., Photoplay, March 1919.
  33. Thus the tendency of esteemed French critics like Delluc, Charles Ford (no relation) and Jean Mitry to overestimate Ince by giving him authorial credit for hundreds of pictures (such as the Harts) with which he was only minimally involved, if at all.
  34. Stars’ names were known, even if not listed on the film. A list in Motion Picture News (May 8, 1912) of popular players mentions Florence Lawrence, Owen Moore, Ethel Grandin, King Baggott, Phillip Smalley, Anna Little, Vivian Prescott, Fred Mace, Francis Ford…
  35. Writes Jon Tuska to author: On the production records [preserved at the State Historical Society at the Center for Theatre Research, an extension of the University of Wisconsin, located at Madison] you will see who was paid to direct the various Bison Westerns, rather than who received credit on the publicity releases. (Letter, Aug. 9, 1976.) But no such records exist at the cited location.Ford, in Up and Down the Ladder, recalls When Lee Surrendered (2r KB, released Nov. 8, 1912) as the first film he directed for NYMPCO. But in most instances his recollections are not accurate.
  36. “Her Grace and Francis I, The Royal Pair of Photo-Melodrama,” Motion Picture Photoplay, January 1916 (with thanks for this reference to Kevin Brownlow).
  37. Moving Picture World, Oct. 5, 1912, p. 32.
  38. Ibid., Nov. 2, 1912, p.441. Ince was over Ford, not under him.
  39. Moving Picture World, Sep. 21, 1912, p. 1160.
  40. Tuska, op. cit, p. 26.
  41. Motoqraphv, Sep. 26, 1912.
  42. Moving Picture World, Oct. 12, 1912, p. 144.
  43. Balshofer-Miller, op. cit.
  44. Moving Picture World, Oct. 16, 1912, p. 312.
  45. Tuska, pp. 26-28.
  46. Mitry op. cit; Tuska op. cit.
  47. Moving Picture World, Feb. 15, 1913, p. 666 (at 10:00 a.m.).
  48. Ibid. Universal advertisement.
  49. Ibid.
  50. Ibid., Feb. 8, 1913, p. 560.
  51. Ibid., Feb. 15, 1913, p. 666.
  52. Ibid., Feb. 22, 1913, p. 760.
  53. Ibid., May 10, 1913, p. 582.
  54. Motography, Sep. 6, 1913.
  55. Eldon K. Everett, “The Great Grace Cunard-Francis Ford Mystery,” in Classic Film Collector, Summer 1973, pp. 22-25.
  56. A cameo in Moving Picture World, Dec. 18, 1911, p. 972.
  57. Motion Picture Studio Directory. 1921.
  58. Page 28.
  59. Moving Picture World [Universal Weekly], Dec. 15, 1917.
  60. The Universal Weekly changed its name c. 1915 to Moving Picture Weekly, but the older name is sometimes used for convenience.
  61. In 1915 Cunard claimed she had written 400 scenarios which had been produced. This is amazing but not phenomenal, as many of these were doubtless synopses, while even with Ford her work tended to be formulaic. Universal Weekly, Aug. 20, 1915, p. 26.
  62. Motion Picture Magazine, June 1915, p. 101. Ford had played Lincoln at NYMPCO perhaps in two 2-reelers, On Secret Service (KB, Nov. 1, 1912), When Lee Surrenders (KB, Nov. 8, 1912), and surely in When Lincoln Paid (KB, Nov. 13, 1913). His first Lincoln role at Universal may have preceded his directorial debut: Otis Turner’s Sheridan’s Ride (2r Bison, Jan. 18, 1913) (cf. Universal Weekly, Dec. 13, 1913), a film parodied in the Cunard-directed Sheridan’s Pride (1r Joker, Mar. 4, 1914). In the latter the general’s automobile(!) is pulled out of a ditch by an elephant—an inside joke: on Carl Laemmle’s visit to the Nestor studio in October 1911, his car had had to be pulled out by the studio’s elephant.Lincoln’s assassination was enacted by Ford in The Toll of War (3r Bison, May 13, 1913; again Moving Picture World managed not to mention Ford), and he was Lincoln during the war in The Battle of Bull Run (2r Bison, Mar. 18, 1913) in which Ford used NYMPCO methods, shooting with three cameras simultaneously (cf. Moving Picture World, Mar. 29, 1913, p. 1207).From Rail-Splitter to President has a script resembling Griffith’s 1930 treatment: railsplitter /peacemaker /shopkeeper /unsuccessful (!) suit of Ann Rutledge; she dies, AL mourns her grave. /Debates Douglas, /president /visits McClellan, cheered by weary soldiers, /places Grant in command. /Big battle scenes /Lee surrenders. /AL thinks of battlefields and army of dead, /close friends read of his death. (Universal Weekly, Dec. 13, 1913, p. 12.)
    Ford never got to make his 12-reel epic (nor did he ever play Lincoln for brother John). His last Lincoln effort was The Heart of Lincoln (3r Gold Seal Feb. 9, 1915) in which he intervenes to save two colonels, one Northern, one Southern, both in love with Grace Cunard, and which was reissued in five reels May 8, 1920 by Louis Burston and again Nov. 1, 1921 by New Era-Anchor. All of Ford’s Lincoln movies are lost films, with the exception of When Lincoln Paid, which was recently discovered in a barn and restored in 2009, with some scenes missing, by Keene State College.
  63. Serials are distinguished from seriesself-contained dramas, such as the My Lady Raffles series or Edison’s popular What Happened to Mary? The first serials were tied in to newspaper circulation wars, the weekly episodes being printed in novelized form. The Adventures of Kathlyn was the first such serial, debuting Dec. 29, 1913 with Kathlyn Williams starring for Selig and Max Annenberg. Hearst competition came first with Dolly of the Dailies (Jan. 31, 1914, Mary Fuller, Edison), then with The Perils of Pauline (Pathé-Eclectic, Pearl White, Apr. 11, 1914). Lucille Love was thus the third serial. Some chapters of Lucille Love exist at Eastman House, Rochester, New York, but it has not been possible for me to see them due to the Archive’s restrictive policies.
  64. Moving Picture World, Aug. 16, 1919, p. 998: “Francis Ford Expresses His Ideas on Serials” (which hadn’t changed much in seven years from his earlier views on non-serials).
  65. Ibid.
  66. Universal Weekly, May 2, 1914, p. 2.
  67. Everett, op. cit.
  68. Ibid.
  69. Universal Weekly, Dec. 27, 1913, p. 5. In Moving Picture World, Nov. 20, 1912, p. 1277, Ince is praised for the use of a double exposure to illustrate thought in A Shadow of the Past (KB, Jan. 22, 1913). Curiously, in an issue of Motography fourteen months earlier (November 1911, p. 245) Gaston Melies is quoted as having invented just such a device and as intending to patent it(!). Need it be added that Ford worked for both Melies and Ince.
  70. Nearly all Ford productions had these same supporting players.
  71. Universal Weekly, Aug. 29, 1914, p. 14; Oct. 17, 1914, p. 6 (crime research); Dec. 19, 1914, p. 6. Wilkinson is likely incorrect in asserting a vacation in Portland and the shooting of a film (not Chicken-Hearted Jim) there at this time.
  72. Wilkinson, op. cit. Bogdanovich, p. 109. The 15th episode of Lucille Love was released Jul 21, 1914.
  73. Jack first shows up in the pages of The Universal Weekly as “Dopey” in The Mysterious Rose (2r, Nov. 24, 1914); then in The Campbells Are Coming (UW Jan. 19, 1915), Three Bad Men and a Girl (UW Feb. 20, 1915), The Doorway to Destruction (UW Apr 17, 1915), The Broken Coin (UW Jun. 21, 1915), etc.
  74. Richard Willis, “Francis Ford, of the Gold Seal Company,” Motion Picture Magazine, June 1915, p. 101.
  75. Quoted in Frank S. Nugent, “Hollywood’s Favorite Rebel,” The Saturday Evening Post, September 23, 1949, p. 97.
  76. Ibid.
  77. Universal Weekly, Apr. 10, 1915, p. 24; Oct. 16, 1915.
  78. Universal Weekly, Mar. 20, 1915, p. 30.
  79. Universal Weekly, Dec. 26, 1914, p. 16.
  80. Universal Weekly, Feb. 6, 1915. The flood did either $130,000 or $300,000 damage.
  81. Universal Weekly, Oct. 16, 1915.
  82. Moving Picture World, Feb. 18, 1919.
  83. Continued Next Week: A History of the Moving Picture Serial (Norman: University of Oklahoma, 1964), pp. 29-30.
  84. Universal Weekly, Apr. 24, 1915.
  85. Universal Weekly, Aug. 28, 1915, p. 19; Sep. 4, 1915, p. 24.
  86. Universal Weekly, Oct. 16, 1915.
  87. Willis, op. cit, p. 101 sq.
  88. The example is no less valid, even if Gish herself was responsible for the level of her hysteria.
  89. Universal Weekly Jan. 1, 1916.
  90. Chicken-Hearted Jim (shot Nov. 10-17, 1915; 1r Rex Apr. 23, 1916); The Strong Arm Squad (shot Nov. 26-29, 1015; 1r Rex Feb. 25, 1916). Bogdanovich, p. 110, for the shooting dates. The Strong Arm Squad had two working titles: “The Yellow Streak” and “The Lumber Yard Gang.”
  91. In The Strong Arm Squad there is a character named Cecil McLean listed as played by Elise Maison (in Bogdanovich) or Elsie Maison (in The Universal Weekly, Feb. 12, 1916, p .27) who may or may not be the same as Edna Maison, or may really be Cecilia A. McLean.
  92. Everett, op. cit.
  93. Everett, op. cit. Following events in Universal Weekly: Apr. 1, 1916: Ford and Cunard, no mention of Polo. Apr. 8, 1916: Polo people, no mention of Ford or Cunard. Apr. 22, 1916: reappearance in publicity of Ford and Cunard, no mention of change or of Polo.
  94. At this time, according to Lahue (op. cit., p. 44), Cunard was getting $450 a week, plus 25 a foot over 1500-feet release footage per week, plus 10% of net profits. Cf. Universal Weekly, Dec. 2, 1916, pp. 28-29.
  95. Everett, op. cit.
  96. But Photoplay was somewhat hyperbolic in reporting (August 1917, p. 112) that Ford was back at Universal after a year’s absence.
  97. Cf., Universal Weekly, Oct. 12?, 1917, p. 8.
  98. Exhibitor’s Trade Review, Nov. 10, 1917, p 1823.
  99. The Chanq Fuy Treasure was to be made into a serial, The Phantom Ship; when Neva Gerber took ill, Ford and Elsie quit. It was completed by Henry Harvey as The Mystery Ship.
  100. Moving Picture World, May 11, 1918, p. 1849. We are intrigued by the identity of an actor in the cast named Francis Feeney.
  101. Ibid., Aug. 10, 1918. A film of the same title, directed by Henry Otto, was released by Metro eight months later, cf. Moving Picture World, Apr. 19, 1919, p. 425.
  102. Ibid., Sep. 7, 1918.
  103. Ibid., Mar. 20, 1919; Feb. 18, 1919.
  104. Ibid., Feb. 22, 1919.
  105. Ibid., Apr. 19, 1919.
  106. Ibid., Apr. 26, 1919, p. 571; May 31, 1919, p. 335.
  107. Ibid., Jul. 12, 1919, p. 245.
  108. Ibid., Jul. 26, 1919, p. 552.
  109. Ibid., Jul. 12, 1919.
  110. Ibid., Sep. 6, 1919, p. 1523.
  111. Ibid., Mar. 13, 1920, p. 1785.
  112. Op. cit., pp. 73 & 96.
  113. Report to author from Richard Koszarski.
  114. Letter to author, May 16, 1976.
  115. Notes for Theodore Huff Memorial Film Society screening, Mar. 23, 1970.
  116. Frank Baker interviewed Jul. 3, 1977, by Anthon Slide and Robert Gitt, for Los Angeles Film and Television Study Center. Unpublished.
  117. Moving Picture World, Aug. 27, 1927, p. 588.
  118. Baker interview.
  119. Apr. 28, 1917.
  120. May 19, 1917, p. 18. Bogdanovich, op cit., citing a notice in Motion Picture News, Apr. 28, 1917, credits direction of The Trail of Hate to Francis Ford; but The Unversal Weekly makes quite a fuss over Jack Ford and this picture.
  121. Jun. 2, 1917, p. 19.
  122. Quoted in Wilkinson, p. 186.
  123. Francis Ford (comparing Jack to Garbo), Up and down the ladder.
  124. Quoted in Wilkinson, p. 186.
  125. Quoted in Wilkinson, p. 186.

About The Author

Tag Gallagher is the author of John Ford and The Adventures of Roberto Rossellini and has appeared in Cinéma 0, Trafic, Cinémathèque and Cahiers du Cinéma. More of his work can be found on his website.

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