Three Bad Men: John Ford, John Wayne, Ward Bond by Scott Allen Nollen

As big a fan of these three men as I am, there is a level of revisionist history that is impossible to simply accept.

I actually had to stop reading the book, at least for a while. It’s a temporary interruption I’m sure, but I needed to back off from Three Bad Men. I needed to take a few deep breaths and calm down before continuing.

This book chronicles the lives and friendships of John Ford, John Wayne and Ward Bond. Two great actors and one extraordinary director. It’s an interesting read. I have been reading, as is my habit, slowly, savoring. I was enjoying it.

Until I got to the section in which the author claims Ford used Stepin Fetchit and other minorities to “slyly mock America‘s racism“.

The Man Who Shot Liberty Valance.jpg

That’s just not true. What I see — and have always seen — is the perpetuation of racism by Pappy. As much as I love John Ford’s westerns, there’s no escaping the racism in his films. They were still calling Woody Strode “boy” as late as The Man Who Shot Liberty Valance (1962). Even considering his belated attempt to make some reparations with Cheyenne Autumn, it was much too little and way too late.

I’ll get back to the book in a while, when I have calmed down a bit. Right now, I’m sorry. I simply can’t continue reading it.

– – –

Categories: American history, Arts, Book Review, Books, Celebrities, film, History, Movies, Racism and Bigotry

Tags: , , , , , , , , , , , , , , ,

3 replies

  1. Now, I see. Scott FOUND your post, LOL…….I didn’t tell him where it was. Well, Scott, very nice comment….I am pleased! KEITH
    By the way, same thing I said to my friends. Tom Doniphon, would most likely have called Pompey something much more derogatory than “boy” but would not have thought it was anything but the norm. He would not have been trying to degrade the man….Pompey was his friend.


  2. I’m not the only historian who has understood what Ford was actually doing. Joseph McBride is another, and the greatest Ford scholar on the planet. And there have been African American historians, too, as far back as the early 1970s, who have given Stepin Fetchit a break. Two things: as I mention in the book, Lincoln Perry wrote for the CHICAGO DEFENDER; also, in the Old West, Tom Doniphon would have called Pompey something MUCH WORSE than “boy”–Ford was being “revisionist” by having Wayne call Strode “boy.” Don’t read a book with preconceived notions, because that’s exactly what you’ll find–WHAT YOU’RE LOOKING FOR, rather than what is really there, and from that, you might learn something. I wrote the ONLY book about Paul Robeson focusing on his film career, and it has been hailed as a “masterpiece.” Do you think I’d write ANYTHING praising racism? Read THREE BAD MEN with an open mind and you might see things differently. Those films were made EIGHTY years ago.


    • Hi, Scott,

      I wanted to let you know I’ve resumed reading “Three Bad Men”. I didn’t begin with any preconceived notions. Just the opposite. I know Keith and you are upset with my remarks. I don’t apologize for them. I AM sorry I publicized them before finishing your book. I should’ve kept my feelings to myself. I am not a knee-jerk liberal looking for a white-wash (sorry) or revisionist view of history. I am old enough to have experienced first-hand the racial climate of our country from the late 40’s to the present. As a TV/radio journalist, I’ve been in the middle of many racially charged incidents across the country spanning more than 40 years. I have a hard-earned reputation for being fair and objective, even from those whose politics I object to personally. As for John Ford and the movies, it’s been a life long love affair. You have to remember I’ve spent time — personal and professional — with Duke Wayne and many of the other legends. They were very candid about Hollywood’s dealings with race as well as their personal feelings.

      I think as I grow older, I’m a more sensitive to some of the racial attitudes of films from Hollywood’s golden era. I understand that’s the way it was but it’s difficult to stomach the stereotypes — ANY stereotypes. I also understand that filmmakers had to deal with pressure from theatre owners in the south and other parts of the country who represented substantial box office revenue.

      I’ll continue to read “Three Bad Men” with interest. I also look forward to reading your other books.



      P.S. Just watched “Liberty Valance”, “Three Godfathers” and “Sgt. Rutledge” again in recent days. My sentiments are the same but I still love the movies!!


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