Just below the old Fraternity House, in front of a Japanese restaurant, is a statue of the famous Hollywood director John Ford. It is at the intersection of York, Pleasant, Fore, and Center Streets, known as Gorham’s Corner since the 1820s.
John Martin Feeney was born in February 1894 in Cape Elizabeth and baptized at St. Dominic’s Church. He was the son of John Augustine and Barbara “Abby” Curran Feeney, natives of Spiddal, Connemara, County Galway. John “Jack” Feeney’s father operated saloons on Center and Fore Streets from the late 1870s until the turn of the century. He was often arrested on a “search and seizure” charge in a state that had many prohibition laws against alcohol. Hundreds of Irish families in Maine rose up out of poverty by selling booze on the sly, and the Feeneys were no exception.
The Feeney family moved from Gorham’s Corner to Cape Elizabeth in the mid-1880s. They moved back to Portland about 1897 and eventually settled on Munjoy Hill, where Jack Feeney grew up.
Jack Feeney, who earned the nickname “Bull” while playing football at Portland High School, where he graduated in 1914, followed his brother Frank Feeney to Hollywood after high school. Frank had become a successful director, producer, and actor and had changed his name to Francis Ford.
Francis put his brother Jack to work as an assistant and handyman, anything and everything, at $12 a week. Jack went on to act and direct his own movies, changing his name to Jack Ford and to John Ford in 1923. John Ford would go on to direct some of the most famous movies of all time, including The Informer, The Quiet Man, Stagecoach, The Grapes of Wrath, The Long Voyage Home, How Green Was My Valley, They Were Expendable, She Wore A Yellow Ribbon, Rio Grande, The Man Who Shot Liberty Vallance, and The Searchers. Many of his movies had either an Irish or a Western theme. Ford would receive six Academy Awards, more than any other director, and die in California in 1973.
Linda Noe Laine visited Portland in the 1990s and was shocked to find no statue or memorial to John Ford, who had been a friend of both herself and her father, James Albert Noe, governor of Louisiana. After contacting various groups and peoples, including Mayor Jack Dawson of Portland, an Irish-American, she eventually donated $10,000 in May 1996 to cover preliminary designs for a statue. A site was chosen at Gorham’s Corner, near where Ford’s father had owned saloons so many years earlier.
In July 1998, the present statue was dedicated, with several hundred people present, including Dan Ford, the director’s grandson, Patrick Wayne, son of John Wayne whom Ford made a star, and members of the Navajo Nation whom Ford had employed in his movies. A Ford Film festival ran a week prior to the dedication at Portland High School. So finally, twenty-five years after his death, Ford’s hometown had properly honored him.
RELATED SITES: Gorham's Corner, Center Street, St. Dominic Church, Portland High School, Bull Feeney's, John Ford Boyhood Home