27 May 2015

Dear Pappy

One of the most legendary actor-director collaborations in Hollywood history is the collaboration between John Wayne and John Ford. The two men, who also enjoyed a longtime friendship, made 14 movies together, most of them westerns. Amongst their best known movies are "Stagecoach" (1936), "The Quiet Man" (1952), "The Man Who Shot Liberty Valance" (1962), and of course "The Searchers" (1956), often considered the pinnacle of their collaboration and one of the best westerns ever made.

The letter for this post (of which a file copy is shown below) was written by John Wayne to John Ford in November 1955. Wayne had just attended a screening of "The Searchers" (which they had completed earlier that summer) and apart from having doubts about the music he loved the film and thanks Ford for making it. The letter also mentions Wayne's problems with Robert Fellows with whom he had started a production company in 1952, Wayne-Fellows Productions; Wayne eventually bought Fellows out and renamed the company Batjac. In his letter, Wayne also tells Ford that he wants to do the Wead picture with him for MGM (about the life of aviator-turned-screenwriter Frank "Spig" Wead) instead of making lucrative deals with Warners or RKO ("It's more important for me to be in a picture with you, career-wise -for my health- and for my mental relief"); the picture was eventually made as "The Wings of Eagles" (1957), also starring Maureen O'Hara and Ward Bond.

Incidentally, Wayne mentions a number of people in his letter: Bob Morrison was a producer and Wayne's younger brother; Andrew McLaglen was a director; Daniel O'Shea an executive at RKO; Charles Feldman Wayne's agent, and Arthur Loew, Benny Thau and Dore Schary were all MGM executives.

Image courtesy of heritage auctions


sent airmail to: Mr. John Ford, Yacht "Araner", Ala Wai Harbor, Honolulu, T.H.

1022 Palm Avenue
Hollywood 46, Calif.
Nov. 28, 1955

Dear Pappy,

First: I think "The Searchers" is just plain wonderful.

I wanted to tell you the other night, or at least before you got away to Honolulu, what I've decided to do. Here goes.

I built Bob Fellows into such an important character that I can't do anything with him. I find him incompetent, even when he's trying. I've encouraged Bob Morrison and Andy McLaglen and moved them up faster than I should have. I'm afraid that if I just fired Fellows and moved someone else in, number one, I'd wreck Fellows' career (what career?) - and I might just have as many headaches with someone else. So I'm going to fold the company up. I can make a hell of a deal at Warners, and an unbelievable one at RKO with Danny O'Shea, but if I make either one of these deals I couldn't do the Wead story, so to hell with it. It's more important for me to be in a picture with you, career-wise- for my health- and for my mental relief.

So I'm going to let Charlie Feldman talk to Loew, who is the guy behind the guns at MGM now , to set the deal, and if you hear I haven't talked to Schary or Thau, don't think that I'm ducking the picture-- it's just that Feldman can make a better deal with Loew.

Back to "The Searchers"- I don't think the music is great, but I think it's all right. At first I had hoped it would be a little nostalgic, but the whole treatment is so different than the usual western, that I think this music is probably more appropriate. It's just a wonderful picture. You got great performances out of everyone, and it has a raw brutalness without any pettiness or meanness. 

All I can say is- Thanks again, Coach.

Your everloving,

John Wayne as the vengeful Civil War veteran Ethan Edwards in "The Searchers", one of his best performances (above) -- and (below) tea and cookies on the set with John Wayne, John Ford and visitor Dolores Del Rio.

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