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Drinking with John Ford

Posted by Colonel Bourbon on

After writing the last blog, about St. Patrick's Day, we were inspired to write a little more about the legendary film director John Ford and his notorious drinking habits 

Ford directed masterpieces: Stagecoach, Grapes of Wrath, The Searchers, The Quiet Man...

He made John Wayne a star.

For St Patrick's Day, we wrote about Ford's movie, The Quiet ManFord, having directed the greatest westerns of all time, was getting back in touch with Irish heritage 

Drinking with John Ford

(An early photo of the legendary film director John Ford, young,  when he was an actor in 1913. Public domain.)

There is a lot of drinking in the Quiet Manwith the pub in the mythical town Inisfree in Ireland, being a central gathering place.

The 1952 movie, starring John Wayne and Maureen O'Hara, is about an Irish-born American boxer who returns home to the Emerald Isle to leave a tragedy behind and retire into a new life. It was a very different movie than the westerns and war films  that Wayne regularly starred in or that Ford usually directed. In this movie, Wayne plays... well, a quiet man. Film critics have said that only an actor like The Duke could pull off the role, as audiences knew something explosive was underneath this mild-mannered demeanor. The character Sean Thornton refuses to be baited into a fight with his new brother-in-law --  his fiery red-headed wife, O'Hara, is beside herself --  that her husband won't fight for the dowry that is righhtfully owed to her. It is a matter of honor; an Irish custom that the American Sean does not understand and does not care about.

Spoiler alert below...

John Ford's The Quiet Man

(The Quiet Man poster art, Wikipedia public domain.)

The fight finally happens --  the climax of the film --  when the quiet man and his nemesis brother in law (played by Victor McLaglen), two huge men, come to blows, throwing each other up and down the hills, into a lake, and throughout the town. 

In the middle of it all, there is an interlude where the two men briefly call a truce, to have a drink at the above-mentioned pub. When each one insists on paying the bill, the argument resumes the fight.

In the end, the two men bond as great cinema does: coming home throughly drunk, ready for food to be on the table; his wife is throughly pleased.

The director John Ford

It is said Ford didn't drink during a film shoot, at least during most of his career. (John Wayne used to ship a case of Wild Turkey bourbon to location shoots, for after hours.) It's probably better to say Ford managed any drinking he did while filming, because he was known for his benders.

In the Ford biography, Searching for John Ford by Joseph McBride, the director had a ritual: When shooting was completed, "he would hand (his wife) Mary two thousand dollars and tell her to call the bootleggers. If the bootleggers couldn't deliver the full order, Mary's navy friends would come to the rescue by supplying some of the alcohol that was used to power torpedoes. The Fords would use it to mix up batches of 'torpedo juice' in their bathrub."

Excursions to Mexico

McBride writes: "Each winter Ford sailed to Mexico on (his yacht) the Araner for sport fishing and carousing in fishing villages." Tequilla was the order of the day.

The carousing was recorded in the "wry entries" of the ship's log by the master of the Araner:

"9:30PM Got the owner, Fonda, Wayne, Bond out of jail again. Invited by Mexican officials to leave town."

The following day:

"Owner went to mass -- brought priest to Araner --purpose  to sign pledge (to quit drinking); pledge signed -- celebrated signing pledge with champagne, later augmented with brandy."

Later years

The legendary director fell out of favor with the studios. In an era of Easy Rider and Midnight Cowboy, Ford couldn't get a film made, and he didn't think much of the films being made.

Ford's benders make for fun stories, but suffice to say the excess drinking was... excessive 🥃❤

He didn't seem to have a favorite drink as much as a favorite or preferred condition: inebriated. Sometimes it got so bad or excessive, he would stay at a hospital to "dry out."

A master of film

But we must end that his vices do not diminish an extraordinary catalog of brilliant filmmaking. If you haven't seen Stagecoach, which made John Wayne a star, watch it. The scenes of the majestic Monument Valley is black and white cinematography at its very finest. And yes, the film features the proverbial inebriated MD who sobers up to deliver a baby.

Finally, we'll leave you with the glorious fight scene from The Quiet Man, with the pub interlude:


PS: Interestingly, there is a Quiet Man Irish Whiskey. But they say it's not inspired by the movie, as far as we can see. According to a review:

"The whiskey is named in tribute to John Mulgrew, father of Niche Drinks co-owner and managing director Ciaran Mulgrew. The elder Mulgrew was a bartender with a reputation for keeping a secret. Both the original Gaelic and English translations of Mr. Mulgrew’s nickname appear on the label: 'An Fear Ciuin,' and 'The Quiet Man.'"

-- Whiskey Wash

It was said he knew how to keep a patron's secret.

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