Friday, June 20, 2008

Field Photo Farm (UPDATED)

After World War II, Movie director, John Ford created the "Field Photo Home" aka Field Photo Farm for the members of his unit the "Field Photographic Division" of the Offices of Strategic Services the forerunner of the CIA. During the war,John Ford had been in charge of a photographic unit made up of Hollywood cameramen and other movie crew members who filmed the war. After the war he wanted to create a memorial to the members of his unit who had died in the war and a place where the veterans of the unit could come with their families and enjoy the comradeship they had enjoyed during the war. Thus, he bought some farm land with a house. He then used his salary from "They Were Expendable" to improve the property. He built a chapel on the property and inside was inscribed the words of A.E. Housman:

"Here dead lie we because we did not choose to live and shame the land from which we sprung."

In the house were separate glass case memorials for each of the thirteen men of the unit killed in the war.

In the house was a well used bar! With John Ford, how could there not be one. The property was used for the annual Christmas party, Saint Patrick's' Day parties,weddings, funerals and of course Memorial Day commemorations. There were also picnics, square dances, barbeque's and a rodeo. In 1946 there were 176 active members. John Ford loved to plan ceremonies with military precision reminiscent of the ceremonies you see in his "cavalry trilogy" movies made about the same time.(Fort Apache, She Wore a Yellow Ribbon" and Rio Grande)Dan Ford, his grandson in "Pappy" his excellent biography of his grandfather writes:
In a very real way my grandfather recreated the world of his pictures at the farm; the gatherings had the same sense of community that his films had. Everyone that was close to him, whether they were veterans of his unit or actors from his troupe, became involved with the Farm. It was a cult, a true community and one of the most unique institutions ever created in Hollywood."

The house also had a bedroom permanently reserved for Will Bill Donovan,the head of the OSS during the war.

Nothing stays the same forever and by 1965 the members of the Field Photo Home had moved on with their lives and the property became a financial burden on John Ford. It was little used except for funerals. The land was sold to a San Fernando real-estate developer and the proceeds donated to the Motion Picture Relief Fund. The chapel was moved to the Woodland Hills Country Home.

UPDATE: I found this on a blog about the San Fernando Vallley History

After his service in World War II, director John Ford wished to honor thirteen colleagues who did not return from overseas service in the Naval Field Photographic Reserve. The unit, which Ford commanded, was made up mostly of cinematographers, actors and writers such as Garson Kanin and Budd Schulberg who traveled the world chronicling the war on film. Many others, including Ford’s good friend John Wayne, tried to get in but were turned away.

Ford raised the money to purchase a twenty-acre ranch at 18201 Calvert Street in Reseda for the use of Field Photo veterans and their families. Field Photo Memorial Farm and its bar, the Starboard Club, became their private postwar drinking hole and a center of Valleywood socializing around the pool and horse barn.

Christmas parties at the farm were famous. A stagecoach might rattle up the long driveway with Jimmy Stewart up top playing "Jingle Bells" on the accordion and accompanied by a Santa played by Burl Ives, Andy Devine or another large-bodied actor. But the farm had a more somber side.

Each Memorial Day, members dressed in their old Navy uniforms, stood in formation and recited the names of the fallen, muttering after each name, "died for his country." When actor Harry Carey died in 1947, his body lay in state in the farm chapel for two days, with an honor guard and his horse Sunny hitched outside.

Before long, however, some members tired of the club and Ford’s insistence on certain rituals, which actor Robert Parrish complained was like an "all-male extension of the Navy." The farm fell into disuse and closed in 1965. The site is now a housing tract.

(For more information read "Pappy The Life of John Ford" a loving biography by his grandson Dan Ford and click on the title for more information on the history of the San Fernando Valley)