Like many people, my knowledge of John Ford's movie making begins with his 1939 classic STAGECOACH starring John Wayne.
But Ford had been making movies since the mid 1910s. He directed his first feature film, STRAIGHT SHOOTING, in 1917. That movie was filmed in Newhall in the Santa Clarita Valley. This still from the movie was taken at Beale's Cut.
During the filming of this and earlier movies, Ford developed a close friendship with Harry Carey, a relationship that would last through 25 films. Ford, Carey and Carey's wife Olive would spend a great deal of time together and many nights bunked out at Carey's ranch house. Because the ranch was on the small side, Ford, Carey and the other film crew chose to sleep under the stars. It's said that on these nights Ford and Carey would spend hours talking and dreaming up movie plots. "Harry Carey tutored me in the early days," Ford is quoted as saying. "I was scared to death, but....Harry helped me immeasurably."
The Student's Group at UCLA website has a full page on this film, and the site had this to say about what happened when Ford first turned in the film STRAIGHT SHOOTING to his bosses at Universal:
"When Ford and his company set out for Newhall (the area approximately 20 miles north of Universal City where Ford shot most of his Universal films) to begin filming STRAIGHT SHOOTING, Universal expected a two-reeler focusing on the “‘Cheyenne’ Harry” character that Harry Carey had created for himself. While the studio did get a film centered around “Cheyenne,” instead of the two-reels they had expected, Ford turned in footage conceived of as a five-reeler. According to Ford biographer, Joseph McBride, Ford had acted surreptitiously to get the time and raw film stock he needed to complete his longer film. Thus, he concocted a story about 4,000 feet of film falling into a river. Executives at the studio apparently found [it] a plausible enough scenario and Ford was given what he needed to finish the film. However, when the film was finally completed, most executives were furious at Ford’s insolence. Luckily for Ford, the two individuals whose opinion mattered most—Carl Laemmle and Irving Thalberg—were quite pleased with Ford’s result. In response to the extra three reels, Laemmle was even rumored to have said, “If I ordered a suit of clothes and the fellow gives me an extra pair of pants free, what am I going to do—throw them back in his face?”
Many of Ford's early films are lost forever, and for many years it was thought that STRAIGHT SHOOTING suffered the same fate. Then, in 1966, a copy of the film showed up in all places at the national film archives in Czechoslovakia. The American Film Institute eventually obtained the print for restoration purposes and now is enjoying a second life shown at various film festivals, universities and museums.
Sources: Student Groups at UCLA website
JOHN FORD, THE MAN AND HIS FILMS by Tag Gallagher (University of CA Press, 1986).
Photo of John Ford is ca. 1920, courtesy of the Maine Historical Society.
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