The legendary film director was starting work on "Mister Roberts," the movie version of the fabulously successful Broadway play, starring his old friend Henry Fonda.
from the moment they got to the location, Ford and Fonda clashed. Fonda felt it was neither as funny nor as nuanced as the original play.
Producer Leland Hayward arranged for a clear-the-air meeting in Ford’s room in the Bachelor Officer’s Quarters.
Ford was sprawled on a chaise lounge with a tall drink in his hand. Before Fonda could finish explaining his concerns, Ford sprang up and punched him in the face.
The actor fled the room in stunned silence.
Fifteen minutes later, Ford knocked on Fonda’s door and stumbled through a tearful, abject apology, but things were never the same.
Ford, a life-long alcoholic, started grimly working his way through a case of chilled beer each day on the set.
"Mister Roberts" was a box-office hit, and won three Academy Awards, including Jack Lemmon’s first, for best supporting actor.
But Ford and Fonda were both bitterly disappointed. They never worked together again.
The Western had been John Ford’s favorite movie genre ever since he first arrived in Hollywood 40 years earlier in the formative days of moving pictures.
At the moment of Ford’s greatest need, his longtime friend and business partner, Merian C. Cooper, came up with the idea for a Western he thought John Ford would find irresistible.
"The Searchers," a new novel by author and screenwriter Alan LeMay, was a captivity narrative set in Texas during pioneer days.
It was based in part on a true story — the abduction of a nine-year-old girl in East Texas in 1836 by Comanche raiders.
While "The Searchers" pays homage to the familiar themes of the classic Western, it also undermines them.
Its central character possesses all of the manly virtues and dark charisma of the Western hero yet is tainted by racism and crazed by revenge, his quest fueled by hatred.
His goal is not to restore his lost niece to the remnants of their broken family but to kill her, because she has grown into a young woman and has become a Comanche bride.
At the heart of "The Searchers" is John Wayne’s towering performance. Wayne had portrayed morally ambiguous men before, but in "The Searchers" he is darker, angrier and more troubled than ever.
This dark knight is determined to exterminate the damsel and anyone who stands in this way. Still, because he is played by John Wayne, his charisma draws us in, making us complicit in his terrible vendetta.
Largely overlooked in its time — it was not nominated for a single Academy Award –
"The Searchers" has become recognized as one of the greatest of Hollywood movies.
It was extraordinarily influential on a generation of modern American filmmakers —
from Steven Spielberg to George Lucas to Martin Scorsese — imprinting itself on their psyches and their ambitions during their formative years.
Just as Ernest Hemingway noted that “all modern American literature comes from one book by Mark Twain called 'Huckleberry Finn,'”
Film critic Stuart Byron once declared, “in the same broad sense it can be said that all recent American cinema derives from John Ford’s 'The Searchers.'”