Francis Ford: Western Star and John Ford’s Big Brother



Today is the birthday of Francis Ford (Francis Joseph Feeney, 1881-1953).

Born in Portland, Maine to parents from Galway, Feeney served briefly in the Spanish-American War before bumming around doing odd jobs in the theatre, including vaudeville (where one of his first gigs was to supply voices for silent movies).

This led to work in the then-new movie business, for such studios as Centaur, Edison, Al Christie and Melies. By 1910, he was starring in westerns made by Thomas Ince’s Bison pictures and had adopted his stage name (borrowed from the automobile manufacturer). Two years later he began directing his own vehicles. In 1913 he had made the move to Universal, which is where his brother John, twelve years his junior, joined him as an apprentice the following year.


By 1917, John was directing as well, and soon became one of the top directors in Hollywood. Francis would continue directing for another decade, though he never distinguished himself on the level of his brother. The younger Ford, while often belittling and disparaging his brother as a primitive holdover from the cinema’s earliest days, also credited him with teaching him everything he new about film-making. While Francis Ford directed hundreds of films during the silent era, very few survive today.  He continued on as a bit player (often, though not exclusively, in his brother’s films) for another quarter century. His son, Philip Ford, began directing B movies in the mid 1940s, moving over to television a decade later.

Note: Tempting as it may be to conclude otherwise, Francis Ford Coppola is not named after the earlier film pioneer. Composer Carmine Coppola gave his son Francis the middle name Ford after the auto magnate, who had sponsored some of his work.

For more on vaudeville historyconsult No Applause, Just Throw Money: The Book That Made Vaudeville Famous, available at Amazon, Barnes and Noble, and wherever nutty books are sold.

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