Steven Spielberg’s semi-autobiographical film ‘The Fabelmans’ revolves around Samuel “Sammy” Fabelman, who dreams to become a filmmaker. When his father Burt Fabelman considers Sammy’s obsession with films just as a hobby, Sammy dedicates his time and energy to making home movies. While attending college, Sammy realizes that he wants to find a gateway into the entertainment industry and succeeds in finding an opportunity to join CBS’ ‘Hogan’s Heroes.’ While meeting one of the creators of the show, Sammy gets an opportunity to meet the legendary filmmaker John Ford. Since Sammy is a semi-fictionalized version of Spielberg, one must be wondering whether Spielberg and Ford met in reality. Well, let us provide the answer!
Did Spielberg Really Meet John Ford?
Yes, Spielberg did meet John Ford in real life. When he was 16, Spielberg was in Los Angeles and a cousin led him to one of the creative heads of ‘Hogan’s Heroes.’ The person told Spielberg that Ford’s office was in the same place and led the teenager to the legendary filmmaker who made ‘Stagecoach,’ ‘The Searchers,’ and several other classics. Spielberg and Ford’s meeting happened in real life exactly the same way the film depicts. “I’m not going to say too much about what is absolutely authentic [in the film] and what is a little bit invented based on an authentic recollection,” Spielberg said at TIFF, “but I can say that the John Ford scene happened to me word for word.”
As the film depicts, Ford walked into his office wearing a safari jacket and eye patch, along with kiss marks on his face, while a young Spielberg was waiting at the place. The legendary filmmaker also asked the teenager to take a look at a couple of paintings in his office. “When you can come to the conclusion that putting the horizon on the bottom of the frame or the top of the frame is a lot better than putting the horizon in the middle of the frame, then you may someday make a good picture-maker. Now get the fuck out of here!” Ford told Spielberg, as per the latter.
Meeting John Ford was nothing short of a dream come true for a young man who had idolized the legendary director growing up. “[…] I’ve always loved John Ford’s compositions. I’ve both studied and been very aware of his compositions. Ford was a hero of mine, and I got such great instruction from him, which he sort of made more of a bollocking than anything else. But I didn’t come out of that [meeting] saying, Oh my God, he scared me to death. I came out of that so inspired,” Spielberg told The New York Times about their meeting.
Spielberg met Ford without knowing anything about his behavior toward young executives. “I was only about 16 when I met him, and I didn’t know anything about his reputation, how surly and ornery he was, and how he ate young studio executives for breakfast. That only came later when people began writing more about him. I felt I really escaped that office with my life,” Spielberg added in the same The New York Times interview.
Over the years, Spielberg has expressed his admiration for Ford and his works in several instances. “I turn on a John Ford film — one or two — before every movie, simply because he inspires me,” the director told AFI. Ford’s influence in Spielberg’s movies is most evident in ‘War Horse.’ “Ford’s in my mind when I make a lot of my pictures. But I think the thing that might resemble a John Ford movie more than anything else is that Ford celebrated the land. I just thought that of all the films I’ve made in recent years, this [‘War Horse’] offered the opportunity to make the land a character,” Spielberg said in a press conference.