John Ford’s Larger-Than-Life Films Portray Pioneering Spirit

No filmmaker has been more sensitive to the American landscape than John Ford. Though he is often associated with stories of the Old West, Ford’s work shows an impressive range. He received five Academy Award nominations for directing, winning four times—for The Informer (1935), The Grapes of Wrath (1940), How Green Was My Valley (1941), and The Quiet Man (1952). His fifth nomination was for Stagecoach (1939), lauded by critic Pauline Kael as a “movie that has just about everything.”

The son of Irish immigrants, Ford was born on February 1, 1894, in Cape Elizabeth, Maine. He went to Hollywood as a young man, following in the footsteps of his older brother, Francis, who had gone there to work in the fledgling movie industry. He learned his craft by acting in bit parts and by assisting his older brother. He directed dozens of pictures—many with silent film actor Harry Carey—before he had a major success with The Iron Horse (1924), a feature film about the building of the transcontinental railroad.

The Informer, an adaptation of a prizewinning novel by Liam O’Flaherty, is set during the Irish War of Independence. It centers on a man torn by a guilty conscience after he reports a friend’s involvement in the Irish Republican Army to the police.

Stagecoach showcased John Wayne in his breakthrough role as the Ringo Kid, a fugitive traveling by stagecoach with a diverse group that included Thomas Mitchell as an alcoholic doctor and Claire Trevor as a goodhearted prostitute. It was shot on location in Monument Valley, a distinctive area on the Arizona/Utah border where Ford made several films.

The Grapes of Wrath, based on John Steinbeck’s novel, starred Henry Fonda as Tom Joad, a poor farmer from Oklahoma who travels to California with his family in search of a better life during the Great Depression. Widely regarded as a classic, The Grapes of Wrath is considered one of the greatest expressions of sympathy for the poor in American cinema.

How Green Was My Valley, an elegiac look at the passing of a way of life in a Welsh mining community, won several Academy Awards, including one for best picture, in addition to Ford’s for direction.

The Quiet Man is a boisterous romantic comedy starring John Wayne and Maureen O’Hara. It was a pet project that Ford struggled for years to make, earned him another Oscar, and remains an audience favorite.

During World War II, Ford was chief of a U.S. Navy film unit that produced several documentaries. One of them, The Battle of Midway (1942), won an Academy Award “for the historical value of its achievement….” A year later, December 7th earned an Oscar for best documentary short subject. Ford played an active role in the production of films documenting the North African invasion, the campaign in Burma, the Normandy invasion, and—when the war was over—the Nuremberg Trials.

After the war, Ford’s films included several Westerns, among them My Darling Clementine (1946), Fort Apache (1948), She Wore a Yellow Ribbon (1949), and Rio Grande (1950). One of his most influential works, The Searchers (1956), starred John Wayne as a man bent on vengeance after the deaths of his family members.

Digital Color Postmark (click to order)

The Man Who Shot Liberty Valance (1962) stars John Wayne as a taciturn man of action and James Stewart as a lawyer and politician; it suggests that “civilization” is maintained by hidden acts of violence. It contains one of the most famous lines in Ford’s movies, spoken by a newspaperman: “This is the West, sir. When the legend becomes fact, print the legend.”

A recurring theme in Ford’s work is the struggle of order (represented, for example, by towns, railroads, or the military) against disorder (nature, outlaws, etc.). His heroes were inexpressive, masculine archetypes, who dramatized the tension between individualism and law and order. Another characteristic theme is the competing attractions of adventure and domesticity.

Some of Ford’s other films include What Price Glory (1952), Mogambo (1953), and The Last Hurrah (1958). He employed many of the same crew members from picture to picture and repeatedly cast many of the same performers, chief among them John Wayne, Henry Fonda, Ward Bond, his older brother Francis Ford, and the son of his old friend and early associate, Harry Carey, Jr. Members of Ford’s “company” sometimes referred to him as “Pappy.” He died on August 31, 1973.

Three of Ford’s works—The Grapes of Wrath, Stagecoach, and The Searchers—are included on a list of 100 greatest movies compiled by the American Film Institute (AFI). Ford’s other honors include the Medal of Freedom, presented by President Richard Nixon on March 31, 1973. That same year, the AFI gave Ford its lifetime achievement award.

John Ford is one of four directors featured on the Great Film Directors pane. The stamps will be issued on May 23 in Silver Spring, Maryland, but you can preorder them today!
The John Wayne name and likeness licensed by John Wayne Enterprises, LLC. Newport Beach, CA. All rights reserved.

Did You Know They’ve Been on Stamps?

Since the Postal Service announced on September 26 that living people will now have the opportunity to appear on stamps, we have closely monitored the living and recently deceased nominations pouring in through social media outlets. So far, the suggestions represent a wide array of public and lesser-known figures—from sports stars to scientists, pop culture icons to unsung military heroes—who have influenced pockets of the country in their own ways.

Reading through the nominees, we noticed several notable names appeared who already have their own stamps. Here are a few people who perhaps you never knew reached U.S. postage fame.

Albert Einstein (1979–1955)
German-born physicist and scholar, Albert Einstein won the Nobel Prize in 1921 for the discovery of the laws of the photoelectric effect, developed the special theory of relativity, and created the equation E=mc². His immense intelligence and contributions to science have made his name synonymous with genius.

This stamp was issued in 1979.


John Wayne (1907–1979)
Born Marion Robert Morrison, John Wayne played many memorable roles during his 50–year career, but he is perhaps best known for characters exhibiting the rugged individualism associated with the American cowboy. He won an Academy Award for his role as Rooster Cogburn, the one-eyed marshal in True Grit (1969).

This stamp was issued in 2004 as part of the Legends of Hollywood series.


Malcolm X (1925–1965)
Powerful Muslim minister and noted civil rights leader, Malcolm X made great strides for the advancement of African Americans. Born Malcolm Little, he was also known as El-Hajj Malik El-Shabazz and notorious for his harsh indictments of white America for its crimes against black Americans.

This stamp was issued in 1999 as part of the Black Heritage series.


Elvis Presley (1935–1977)
Perhaps one of the most recognizable American cultural icons, Elvis’ fame has lived on long past his death.  His musical influence spans generations, creating deeply devoted fans around the world. From stage to screen, Elvis was a natural performer, truly deserving of his title as the King of Rock & Roll.

This stamp was issued in 1993, among four other Rock & Roll/Rhythm & Blues stamps, as part of the Legends of American Music series. In 1992, the Postal Service polled the public on which of Elvis’ many faces should be used for his stamp.


Bob Hope (1903–2003)
Well-known for his many television appearances, Bob Hope also found success on the live stage, in radio shows, and in motion pictures. A man who devoted his life to making people laugh, he became one of the most honored and beloved performers of the 20th century.

This stamp was issued in 2009.



Lucille Ball (1911–1989)
Prominent star of stage, screen, radio, and especially television, Lucille Ball is best loved for her portrayal of that wacky redhead Lucy Ricardo in the 1950s TV series I Love Lucy. A true master at comedic timing and entertaining an audience, Ball lived up to her name as America’s “Queen of Comedy.”

This stamp was issued in 2001, as part of the Legends of Hollywood series.


Ayn Rand (1905–1982)
Russian-American novelist, playwright, and screenwriter, Ayn Rand is best known for her two novels The Fountainhead and Atlas Shrugged, both of which glorify individualism. Her love for America and New York was surpassed only by her philosophical interests, leading her to create her own philosophical system called Objectivism.

This stamp was issued in 1999, as part of the Literary Arts series.


Clara Barton (1821–1912)
Working as a nurse, teacher, women’s and civil rights activist, and humanitarian, Clara Barton is best remembered for founding the American Red Cross. Her tireless aid to Union soldiers throughout the Civil War informed her interest in better organization of medical relief in times of emergency in order to save more lives. The effects of her work are still felt today by millions of people worldwide.

This stamp was issued in 1995, as part of a Civil War pane of stamps.


The Postal Service is still accepting suggestions for living and recently deceased people, so if you have an idea, send it in—either on Facebook, through Twitter, or mail to:

Citizens’ Stamp Advisory Committee
c/o Stamp Development
U.S. Postal Service
475 L’Enfant Plaza SW, Room 3300
Washington, DC 20260-3501

We love to read about who inspires everyday Americans and can’t wait to see who will be the first living person on a U.S. stamp.

Name, image and likeness of John Wayne licensed by Wayne Enterprises, Newport Beach CA. All Rights Reserved.

Bob Hope® Hope Enterprises, Inc.

Image of Lucille Ball is used with permission of Desilu, too, LLC.