Print the Legend: The Life and Times of John Ford
Borrowing his title from dialogue in John Ford's classic Western, < I> The Man Who Shot Liberty Valance (" When the legend becomes fact, print the legend"), Scott Eyman heeds this advice in his splendid study of Ford, finding a convincing balance between the gruff image Ford cultivated and the sensitive artist that Ford truly was. The result is a to-date definitive biography, occasionally prone to indelicate critical assessment while benefiting greatly from Eyman's full access to the Ford family archives. Arguably the greatest American filmmaker of the 20th century, Ford protected himself with a façade of belligerence yet engendered more loyalty among his crew and stock players (notably John Wayne and Ward Bond) than any other director. Eyman illuminates the Ford legend while focusing on fact-on a complex genius who would berate even the most vulnerable actor and then "apologize without apologizing, " a binge drinker who never let alcohol interfere with his closely-guarded artistry, and a stalwart Navy captain whose service in World War I I became his primary source of pride.
< I> Print the Legend essentially confirms Ford's brief affair with Katharine Hepburn, but Eyman emphasizes Ford's deep, abiding affection for his wife, Mary, who valiantly tolerated his absolute devotion to filmmaking. While hundreds of interviews yield a comprehensive account of Ford's working methods (which the director was loathe to discuss), Eyman expertly navigates around Ford's own penchant for autobiographical embellishment. What emerges is likely to remain the most thorough portrait of a cinematic master who recognized his own greatness without parading it, and whose human flaws were ultimately forgivable by those-and they were many-who loved him. Readers should look elsewhere for more astute studies of Ford's films, but Eyman has captured Ford the man with lasting authority. < I>- Jeff Shannon