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Ford Loved His Lincoln

By Edward Epstein

Washington D.C.

Wednesday, May 19, 2021

John Ford, Hollywood's most honored director, had an idol - Abraham Lincoln.

The 16h president figured as a character in or was referred to visually in several Ford films over the director's long career that garnered him four best director Oscars. His hero worship reached its acme in his 1939 movie, "Young Mr. Lincoln,' one of the young movie star Henry Fonda's first great roles.

The story of Ford's lasting admiration for Lincoln is told in the latest edition of The Lincolnian newsletter, a pdf publication available only to members of the Lincoln Group of the District of Columbia.

Here are some nuggets from the richly illustrated article:

--Fonda was initially overwhelmed by the idea of portraying Lincoln. "I can't play God," he told Ford, who had to convince Fonda to take on the part.

--Ford's older brother Francis was even bigger admirer of Lincoln. He starred in a series of silent film shorts about Lincoln, but only one survives. He also owned a notable collection of Lincoln memorabilia. Francis had small roles in a host of John Ford classics, even though the brothers weren't particularly close as they grew older.

--"Young Mr. Lincoln" would have us believe that the spirit of Ann Rutledge, Lincoln's love interest who died so young, was responsible for his decision to leave New Salem, Illinois, and launch into his study of the law and his road to greatness. For details, you'll have to read the article.

The John Ford article is envisioned as the first in a series about Lincoln on film.

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