A recent letter from a reader in Maine questioned our birth date for director John Ford. We had 1895, but after some detailed review we now think the reader was right: Ford was born in 1894.
Ford himself, it seems, liked to claim 1895 as his date of birth. That being the case, it’s no surprise that many sources online and off list his birth date as 1895. But the case for 1894 has been pretty well settled in the last two decades by some thoughtful biographers.
Tag Gallagher, in his 1986 book John Ford, puts it this way: “…although most references, including Ford himself, cite the year as 1895, the town clerk registered him as John Martin Feeney, born February 1, 1894, and this information appears also on his tombstone and baptismal records.”
Joseph McBride’s 2001 biography, Searching for John Ford, echoes Gallagher’s report on Ford’s date of birth. “The town records of Cape Elizabeth, Maine, indicate that ford was born John Martin Feeney at home on February 1, 1894 (not 1895, as he later claimed). The records of St. Dominic’s Church in Portland list him as being baptized under the same name on March 13, 1894.”
These reports seem very reliable. The one odd note is Gallagher’s comment about Ford’s tombstone. A photo at FindAGrave shows the tombstone reading, in fact, 1895. The tombstone also calls him Admiral John Ford. (Gallagher notes in his book that Ford was made a rear admiral in 1951 after a career of military filmmaking that began when he was “given a reserve commission as a lieutenant commander in September 1934.”)
We have no answer for the discrepancy between Gallagher’s comment and the tombstone we see in the photo. However, town and church birth records are more reliable than tombstones. With the reports of Ford’s biographers in hand, we feel confident in making 1894 our official birth date for John Ford.