Hollywood Renegades Archive

The Society of Independent Motion Picture Producers

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John Ford in 1937. Publicity photo by Alex Kahle. (Aberdeen collection). To purchase Aberdeen photos for reprint purposes click here.

John Ford—Independent Profile

Argosy Pictures: The Independent Film Company of Director John Ford and Producer Merian C. Cooper

Excerpt from Hollywood Renegades by J. A. Aberdeen

Before going independent, John Ford was one of the most acclaimed directors of classic studio era. He shared the rebelliousness of the independent producers, and had a reputation for mistreating the producers he worked with in Hollywood. He began making inroads to independent production in the 1930s. King Kong (1933) producer Merian C. Cooper left RKO in 1934 to form Pioneer Pictures to specialize in the experimental Technicolor film process, and convinced Ford to join the new independent company. Ford used his own money to purchase stories and acquire properties that later become important films for him, including two magazine stories “The Quiet Man” and “Stage to Lordsberg.”

Producer Merian C. Cooper.

Pioneer Pictures was merged into the newly-formed Selznick International Pictures in 1936, and Ford faced opposition from David O. Selznick, who was not interested in producing Ford's A-movie Western film “Stage to Lordsberg.” Ford shopped his project to other producers, and even tried to form his own independent company in June 1937 called Renowned Artists in collaboration with producer-director Tay Garnett and actor Ronald Coleman. Before Ford's independent plans could materialize, Walter Wanger agreed to produce Ford's film, offering the director 20 percent of the profits. The project, renamed Stagecoach became one of the most acclaimed films and successful blockbusters of 1939.

Following the success of Stagecoach, John Ford and Merian C. Cooper formed the first incarnation of Argosy Pictures. But Ford hedged his bet by also signing with Twentieth Century-Fox as a director under Darryl Zanuck. Meanwhile Wanger agreed to sponsor the first Argosy film The Long Voyage Home (1940), which turned out to be the only critical and commercial failure from Ford during this extraordinarily prolific period.

Among the earliest existing stock certificates from the John Ford independent film company Argosy. Original certificate (above) and detail (below) for ten shares of Argosy Corporation, dated August 14, 1939, made out to John Ford. (Aberdeen collection).

At the end of World War II, Ford and Cooper decided to turn Argosy into a full-fledged independent production company, and the director turned down a lucrative contract renewal with Zanuck. Argosy Productions was reorganized in March 1946 with $500,000 in capital and a multi-picture distribution deal with RKO. Merian Cooper was president. John Ford became chairman of the board.

Finally free of the brow-beating bosses, Ford decided to make an expensive adaptation of a Graham Greene novel about a priest in an atheistic Latin American country. Ford's unconventional feature, known as known as The Fugitive (1947), became a costly fiasco for the producer-director unaccustomed to the lack of mooring that brought down many other independents like him. Some historians have speculated that Ford's previous fights with the studio system had actually served as one of the dynamics of his filmmaking, and that many of the director's independent films were lacking in comparison with his own studio pictures that were born out of a creative struggle with the system.

In an effort to strengthen Argosy's finances, Ford returned to his signature genre with Fort Apache (1948) and She Wore a Yellow Ribbon (1949). But he also had to make outside pictures for studios like Twentieth Century-Fox to keep his independent company solvent. Regardless, Argosy was dropped by RKO, so Ford and Cooper released their next films through Republic Pictures. The independent distributor was eager to establish an A-picture reputation, and offered Argosy a deal with a favorable 15 percent distribution fee and 50 percent of the profits.

John Ford - RKO publicity photo 1936. (Aberdeen collection). To purchase Aberdeen photos for reprint purposes click here.

Ford made his long time pet project The Quiet Man (1952), but despite the enormous popularity of the film, it became the final Argosy production as Ford entered into a legal dispute over the notorious bookkeeping of the Poverty Row studio. Subsequently Ford had a falling-out with Merian C. Cooper when Cooper left Argosy in May 1952 to become the head of the Cinerama Corporation. Cooper left a financial void that was difficult for Ford to fill. Argosy was eventually dissolved in January 1956.







Argosy (John Ford and Merian C. Copper): Sinclair, John Ford, pp. 135-146 ; Ford, Pappy, pp. 209-218, 227-232, 250-251; Bernstein, Walter Wanger, Hollywood Independent, pp. 146-150, 163-169; Renowned Artists mentioned in Gallagher, John Ford, p. 119-220. John Ford Productions: see Davis, John Ford, pp. 194-199, 278.

See Bibliography.


John Ford in 1944.

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