As a kid, I sat in movie theaters every Saturday watching rugged men duke it out to win the hand of the beautiful lady. It was the 1950s and the films from the Golden Age of Hollywood were still on the big screen. “Three Bad Men: John Ford, John Wayne, Ward Bond” by Scott Allen Nollen is actually the story of Hollywood, a story that brought those Saturdays rushing back like it was yesterday.
“Three Bad Men” is a literal who’s who of Hollywood between the late 1920s and the early 1970s. It starts and ends with one of the greatest film directors to have ever graced a Hollywood set, John Ford. In between the covers of this great book you will run across every name you have ever heard of in motion pictures. . . and then some. The book interweaves this detailed Hollywood history with the complex and, dare I say, somewhat strange relationship between Ford, movie megastar John Wayne and everyman’s favorite actor Ward Bond.
To say John Ford, born Sean Martin Feeney, was eccentric, is the grossest form of understatement. To many, he was rude, crude and socially unacceptable. He preferred to be known as Sean Aloysius O’Fearna and described himself as “half genius, half Irish.” Modesty is something that rarely crossed his path. A lot of actors couldn’t take the swearing and screaming that infused a John Ford picture. But to many, Wayne and Bond included, he was Jack, Pap, Pappy or Papa. Those who loved him loved him completely, despite his many idiosyncrasies.
There isn’t much you can say about John Wayne that hasn’t been said before. However, Nollen’s book gives you a more everyday version of John Wayne, more than just his on-screen presence. You get to see the “Duke,” the motion picture star, but you also get to see the man with all his faults. John Wayne loved Jack Ford, but the two of them had a tumultuous relationship right up until the death of Ford.
My most vivid memories of Ward Bond are as Major Seth Adams from the TV show “Wagon Train” which ran from 1957 to 1961, actually beyond the actor’s premature death on Nov. 5, 1960 at the age of 57. It was only later on that I realized I had seen him in more movies and more different parts than I could count. John Ford loved Ward most of all, despite calling him his “horse’s ass” and usually aiming a camera at Bond’s ample posterior somewhere in a film. Ward Bond took it all in stride. He was just that kind of guy and returned Pappy’s love in good measure.
“Three Bad Men” is not an easy read due to the astonishing amount of detail provided and it contains profane language, albeit appropriate to the story. But if you’re a Hollywood fanatic or just a kid who sat in the movies Saturday after Saturday back in the 1950s, “Three Bad Men: John Ford, John Wayne, Ward Bond” is definitely a must read.