From his Hollywood debut in 1926 to his tragic death in 1979, John Wayne amassed nearly 200 acting credits, becoming a symbol of Americana and a true icon of both the Western genre and the Golden Age of Hollywood along the way.
In the course of his 50-year career, John Wayne worked with a wide variety of directors. His favorite by far, however, was John Ford, the mastermind behind award-winning classics such as The Man Who Shot Liberty Valance and The Quiet Man. John Ford, after all, was the one to give The Duke his first job in Hollywood as a prop boy and extra.
That said, John Wayne’s incredibly high opinion of Ford was far from the universal outlook on the director. Opinions on John Ford differed so drastically from person to person, in fact, that he seems to have been a walking contradiction. While some knew him as a “softy,” others knew him as the “tough, two-fisted, hard-drinking” Irishman.
“He was a genius,” actress Maureen O’Hara explained to Irish America in a 2004 interview. “He was the finest director any of us ever worked with. And we were proud to work with him and work for him. We realized that he was bad-tempered and awful but we accepted it and forgave him. He was abusive if it suited him and what he was after. I used to watch him and think, ‘Oh, he’s after something.’”
John Wayne’s Ruined Shot in ‘The Searchers’ Enraged John Ford
So, now that we’ve established that John Ford was (maybe) a little hot-headed, let’s talk about the infamous The Searchers fiasco. The Searchers is a 1956 Western filmed in the Navajo territory on the border of Arizona and Utah. And though John Ford created dozens of awe-inspiring films, The Searchers is thought by many to be his masterpiece.
Now, it’s not uncommon for tempers to run high on any film set. However, everyone was particularly on edge due to the 120-degree weather in Monument Valley.
Well, one day, Ward Bond, the actor behind Reverend Captain Clayton, found himself desperate for a shave. Unable to find an outlet to plug in his electric razor, Bond unplugged a nearby cord. He wasn’t sure what the cord was attached to, but what harm could it do?
Unfortunately for Bond, the cord just happened to be the one to the camera. To make matters worse, John Wayne was in the middle of performing Ethan’s iconic speech recounting his discovery and subsequent burial of Lucy.
What really sent John Ford over the edge, however, was that John Wayne’s delivery of the speech was absolutely flawless. Had the camera not “malfunctioned,” they would have completed the emotional scene with one take.
You see, John Ford thought the camera had malfunctioned. The Searchers crew knew the truth but never told the director for fear that he would physically harm Ward Bond.
Years later, however, Ford learned the real story, and was allegedly so enraged that his face drained of color and he was rendered “uncharacteristically speechless.”