Duke's sons guest of honour at John Ford Ireland Symposium

JOHN Wayne’s sons, Patrick and Ethan, will be chief honorees at the second John Ford Ireland Symposium in Dublin this weekend.

Celebrating the great American filmmaker, the festival strengthens ties between Ford and his ancestral home.

Classic Ford films (among them She Wore a Yellow Ribbon, The Quiet Man, and How Green Was My Valley) will be shown, while other guests will include iconic French filmmaker, Bertrand Tavernier, and the Pulitzer Prize-winning author, Glenn Frankel, who has written an acclaimed new book on Ford’s masterpiece, The Searchers.

The sons of Wayne, whose ancestral lines trailed back to Antrim and Cork, will be interviewed publicly on Friday evening by Miriam O’Callaghan, ahead of a screening of The Searchers.

Proceeds from the evening will go to the Irish Cancer Society. Patrick played Lt. Greenhill in The Searchers, when aged only 15. Ethan was named after his father’s character in the film (the grizzled Ethan Edwards), arguably the Duke’s greatest performance.

For Patrick — who is chairman of the John Wayne Cancer Institute — it will be his third visit to Ireland. His first was in 1951 when, as children, he and his older brother, Michael, spent six weeks in Cong, Co. Mayo with their father, shooting Ford’s great labour-of-love, The Quiet Man.

“The Irish people were so nice to us,” says Patrick, a spry 73. “They’d take us on trips to Galway Bay or to the Ring of Kerry. We got to see a lot of the country and it was so beautiful.”

In Mayo, Patrick’s love affair with filmmaking took root. He had a cameo in The Quiet Man and later worked on many more Ford films.

“I was working with my dad, and with John Ford, who was my godfather, and so acting was a family experience,” says Patrick. “I didn’t know whether I liked acting or whether I just liked being around my family. But, as it turned out, the acting was a big part of it, too.”

Patrick had a lengthy and varied career in film before becoming a regular on American television in the 1980s. What influence did his father have on his acting? “He never tried to influence any of his children as to what they should do with their lives,” says Patrick. “But I think he was really proud that I followed in his footsteps. As far as giving me tips goes, he led by example.

“He was an actor who was always on time for work and always prepared. These were important lessons.

“One time, on The Comancheros, we were doing a shot where I was riding a horse and the camera was following at my side. We saw the dailies and it looked terrible. I was bouncing all over the place and I looked completely out of control.

“My father was so upset. He said, ‘You’re going to learn to ride a horse or you’re getting out of this business’,” Patrick says, laughing as he hears himself echoing his father’s famous drawl.

“I can’t really do an imitation of him,” he says. “Anyway, I was embarrassed. Fortunately, I had an opportunity to work on it and they shot the scene again and it came out perfectly. But it was an important lesson to learn. If you have to do something physical in a film, you don’t wait until you’re doing the film to learn it. You practice, so that it becomes second nature to you. And that lesson paid off so many times.”

In cinema history, the close working relationship between Wayne and Ford has an almost mythic quality.

What does Patrick think each man found in the other? “Well, Ford gave my father the big break, in Stagecoach, that launched him into the class-A movies,” says Patrick.

“And the rest is history. But my father was a tremendously loyal person and he never, ever forgot that Ford had done that. He appreciated it so much. They liked each other, sure, but even if they hadn’t, my father would have done anything for this man. For Ford, I think that he thought he was John Wayne. When he looked in the mirror, he saw John Wayne. So whatever he did in a film, it was Ford doing it through John Wayne. And they had tremendous success together — there’s no question about that.”

This week is Patrick’s first in Ireland since a fateful visit to the Cork Film Festival in 1976. He’d been in England preparing for a film, Sinbad and the Eye of the Tiger, when United Artists asked him to represent his father’s new movie, Brannigan, in Cork. “I popped over for a few days,” he says. “It was so great. They’d have a film in the evening and then, afterwards, they’d have a big dance — lots of music and Guinness. It was a wild affair.

“One night, I was out dancing and I stepped on something. I reached down and I found this clip-on gold earring. And I thought, ‘Wow, this is an omen. Sinbad would wear a gold earring, right? I’m going to wear this in the movie’. So I popped it in my pocket. When I got back to work, I went to the wardrobe department and told them I wanted to wear the earring in the movie. They said, ‘oh no, you can’t do that. We have to have doubles for every prop’. I said, ‘I will guard this earring with my life. I’m wearing this earring’. And after much protestation, they let me do it.” You just don’t mess around with these Wayne boyos.

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