John Farrow

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John Farrow
John Farrow family 1950.jpg
John Farrow and family in 1950
John Villiers Farrow

(1904-02-10)10 February 1904
Sydney, New South Wales, Australia
Died27 January 1963(1963-01-27) (aged 58)
Resting place Holy Cross Cemetery, Culver City
OccupationActor, director, producer, screenwriter
Years active1927–1962
Felice Lewin
(m. 1924;annulled 1934)

Maureen O'Sullivan
(m. 1936)
Children8, including Patrick, Mia, Prudence, Tisa Farrow, and John Villiers-Farrow

John Villiers Farrow, KGCHS (10 February 1904 27 January 1963) [1] was an Australian-born American film director, producer and screenwriter. In 1957, he won the Academy Award for Best Writing/Best Screenplay for Around the World in Eighty Days and in 1942, he was nominated as Best Director for Wake Island . He had seven children by his wife, actress Maureen O'Sullivan, including actress Mia Farrow.

Order of the Holy Sepulchre Roman Catholic order of knighthood

The Equestrian Order of the Holy Sepulchre of Jerusalem, also called Order of the Holy Sepulchre or Knights of the Holy Sepulchre, is a Roman Catholic order of knighthood under the protection of the Holy See. The Pope is sovereign of the Order. It is the only order of chivalry, together with the Sovereign Military Order of Malta, that is recognised and protected by the Holy See.

<i>Around the World in 80 Days</i> (1956 film) 1956 film by Michael Anderson, John Farrow

Around the World in 80 Days is a 1956 American epic adventure-comedy film starring Cantinflas and David Niven, produced by the Michael Todd Company and released by United Artists.

<i>Wake Island</i> (film) 1942 film directed by John Farrow

Wake Island is a 1942 American action drama propaganda war film directed by John Farrow, written by W. R. Burnett and Frank Butler, and starring Brian Donlevy, Robert Preston, Macdonald Carey, Albert Dekker, Barbara Britton, and William Bendix. The film tells the story of the United States military garrison on Wake Island and the onslaught by the Japanese following the attack on Pearl Harbor.


Early life

Farrow was born in Sydney, Australia, the son of Lucy Villiers (née Savage; 1881-1907), a dressmaker, and Joseph Farrow (1880-1925), a tailor's trimmer. His mother died when he was three years old. His parents were both of English descent. [2] Farrow was educated at Newtown Public School and Fort Street Boys' High School and then started a career in accountancy.

Sydney Metropolis in Australia

Sydney is the state capital of New South Wales and the most populous city in Australia and Oceania. Located on Australia's east coast, the metropolis surrounds Port Jackson and extends about 70 km (43.5 mi) on its periphery towards the Blue Mountains to the west, Hawkesbury to the north, the Royal National Park to the south and Macarthur to the south-west. Sydney is made up of 658 suburbs, 40 local government areas and 15 contiguous regions. Residents of the city are known as "Sydneysiders". As of June 2017, Sydney's estimated metropolitan population was 5,230,330 and is home to approximately 65% of the state's population.

Australia Country in Oceania

Australia, officially the Commonwealth of Australia, is a sovereign country comprising the mainland of the Australian continent, the island of Tasmania, and numerous smaller islands. It is the largest country in Oceania and the world's sixth-largest country by total area. The neighbouring countries are Papua New Guinea, Indonesia, and East Timor to the north; the Solomon Islands and Vanuatu to the north-east; and New Zealand to the south-east. The population of 26 million is highly urbanised and heavily concentrated on the eastern seaboard. Australia's capital is Canberra, and its largest city is Sydney. The country's other major metropolitan areas are Melbourne, Brisbane, Perth, and Adelaide.

Fort Street High School high school in Sydney, Australia

Fort Street High School (FSHS) is a government-funded co-educational academically selective secondary day school, located in Petersham, an inner western suburb of Sydney, New South Wales, Australia. Established in 1849, it is the oldest government high school in Australia, notably the first school not founded by a religious organisation, and today, it remains a public school operated by the New South Wales Department of Education. As a prominent selective school, it draws students from across greater metropolitan Sydney.

He claimed to have run away to sea in an American barquentine, sailed "all over the Pacific", and fought in revolts in Nicaragua and Mexico. Reaching California, he enrolled at St. Ignatius College (later known as the University of San Francisco) in 1923, but left after one month. [3]

Barquentine sailing vessel

A barquentine or schooner barque is a sailing vessel with three or more masts; with a square rigged foremast and fore-and-aft rigged main, mizzen and any other masts.

California U.S. state in the United States

California is a state in the Pacific Region of the United States. With 39.6 million residents across a total area of about 163,696 square miles (423,970 km2), California is the most populous U.S. state and the third-largest by area. The state capital is Sacramento. The Greater Los Angeles Area and the San Francisco Bay Area are the nation's second- and fifth-most populous urban regions, with 18.7 million and 9.7 million residents respectively. Los Angeles is California's most populous city, and the country's second-most populous, after New York City. California also has the nation's most populous county, Los Angeles County, and its largest county by area, San Bernardino County. The City and County of San Francisco is both the country's second-most densely populated major city after New York City and the fifth-most densely populated county, behind only four of the five New York City boroughs.

The University of San Francisco (USF) is a Jesuit university in San Francisco, California. The school's main campus is located on a 55-acre (22 ha) setting between the Golden Gate Bridge and Golden Gate Park. The main campus is nicknamed "The Hilltop", and part of the main campus is located on Lone Mountain, one of San Francisco's major geographical features. Its close historical ties with the City and County of San Francisco are reflected in the University's traditional motto, Pro Urbe et Universitate.

He traveled throughout the Pacific, including Fiji, Hawaii and Guam. [4] On arrival in Hollywood, Farrow fabricated his education, saying he had attended Newington College in Sydney, Australia (he lived in a street below its ovals), Winchester College in England and the US Naval Academy. Many publications and websites still contain this information. [5]

Fiji Country in Oceania

Fiji, officially the Republic of Fiji, is an island country in Melanesia, part of Oceania in the South Pacific Ocean about 1,100 nautical miles northeast of New Zealand's North Island. Its closest neighbours are Vanuatu to the west, New Caledonia to the southwest, New Zealand's Kermadec Islands to the southeast, Tonga to the east, the Samoas and France's Wallis and Futuna to the northeast, and Tuvalu to the north. Fiji consists of an archipelago of more than 330 islands—of which 110 are permanently inhabited—and more than 500 islets, amounting to a total land area of about 18,300 square kilometres (7,100 sq mi). The most outlying island is Ono-i-Lau. The two major islands, Viti Levu and Vanua Levu, account for 87% of the total population of 898,760. The capital, Suva, on Viti Levu, serves as the country's principal cruise-ship port. About three-quarters of Fijians live on Viti Levu's coasts, either in Suva or in smaller urban centres such as Nadi—where tourism is the major local industry—or Lautoka, where the sugar-cane industry is paramount. Due to its terrain, the interior of Viti Levu is sparsely inhabited.

Hawaii U.S. state in the United States

Hawaii is a state in the Pacific United States. It is the most recent state to join the United States, on August 21, 1959. Hawaii is the only U.S. state geographically located in Oceania, although it is governed as a part of North America, and the only one composed entirely of islands. It is the northernmost island group in Polynesia, occupying most of an archipelago in the central Pacific Ocean.

Guam Island territory of the United States of America

Guam is an unincorporated and organized territory of the United States in Micronesia in the western Pacific Ocean. It is the westernmost point and territory of the United States, along with the Northern Mariana Islands. The capital city of Guam is Hagåtña and the most populous city is Dededo. The inhabitants of Guam are called Guamanians, and they are American citizens by birth. Indigenous Guamanians are the Chamorros, who are related to other Austronesian natives of Eastern Indonesia, the Philippines, and Taiwan. Guam has been a member of the Pacific Community since 1983.


Farrow started writing while working as a sailor and became interested in screenwriting after a chance voyage in the South Seas with the film-maker Robert J. Flaherty. Re-entering the United States, allegedly by jumping ship at San Francisco, he found his way to Hollywood where from 1927, his nautical expertise brought him work as a script consultant and technical adviser. He had already earned minor recognition as a poet and writer of short stories.

Robert J. Flaherty American documentary filmmaker

Robert Joseph Flaherty, was an American filmmaker who directed and produced the first commercially successful feature-length documentary film, Nanook of the North (1922). The film made his reputation and nothing in his later life fully equaled its success, although he continued the development of this new genre of narrative documentary with Moana (1926), set in the South Seas, and Man of Aran (1934), filmed in Ireland's Aran Islands. Flaherty is considered the "father" of both the documentary and the ethnographic film.

He soon established himself as a notable screenwriter. [6] He worked for DeMille Productions, doing titles for White Gold (1927) and The Wreck of the Hesperus (1927). [7]

Cecil B. DeMille American filmmaker

Cecil Blount DeMille was an American filmmaker. Between 1914 and 1958, he made a total of 70 features, both silent and sound films. He is acknowledged as a founding father of the American cinema and the most commercially successful producer-director in film history. His films were distinguished by their epic scale and by his cinematic showmanship. His silent films were more diverse in genre, among which included social dramas, comedies, Westerns, farces, morality plays, and historical pageants.

White Gold is a 1927 silent film dramatic western produced and distributed by Cecil B. DeMille and directed by William K. Howard.

<i>The Wreck of the Hesperus</i> (1927 film) 1927 film by Elmer Clifton

The Wreck of the Hesperus is a 1927 American silent film based on the famous poem. It was an early screenplay credit for later film director John Farrow.

He adapted Richard Connell's A Friend of Napoleon [8] but it does not appear to have been made. He also wrote the original story for The Blue Danube (1928) and the script for The Bride of the Colorado (1929). At Warner Bros he wrote A Sailor's Sweetheart (1927) for director Lloyd Bacon.

Paramount and RKO

At Paramount Farrow worked a series of "woman's pictures" Three Weekends (1928), with Clara Bow; The Woman from Moscow (1928) for Pola Negri; The First Kiss (1928), with Fay Wray and Gary Cooper, and Ladies of the Mob (1929) with Bow. At that studio he also made The Showdown (1928), The Four Feathers (1929), The Wheel of Life (1929), A Dangerous Woman (1929) and Wolf Song (1929) with Gary Cooper.

He wrote The Bad One (1930) for United Artists. Shadow of the Law (1930) and Seven Days' Leave (1930) (with Cooper) were for Paramount.

Farrow began to work increasingly at RKO: Inside the Lines (1930); The Common Law (1931), with Constance Bennett, and a big hit; A Woman of Experience (1931) with Helen Twelvetrees;


He compiled an English-French-Tahitian dictionary and wrote a novel, Laughter Ends (1933). In 1932 he went to England where he wrote The Impassive Footman (1932) for Basil Dean. He worked as a writer and assistant director on G. W. Pabst's film of Don Quixote , and briefly visited Tahiti again. [9]

Return to Hollywood and arrest

Farrow returned to Hollywood and re-established himself as a screenwriter. On 27 January 1933, while dancing at the Cocoanut Grove nightclub, he was arrested for breach of his visa, as part of a general crackdown against illegal immigrants in the film industry. [10] Farrow was charged with making a false statement while entering the US, having claimed he was Romanian. [11] Although threatened with deportation, eventually he was given five years' probation, [12] before being acquitted of the charges the following year. [13]

At MGM Farrow wrote Last of the Pagans (1935), partly set in Tahiti, and directed a short, The Spectacle Maker (1934). He received a plum appointment to work on Tarzan Escapes (1936) but the film was subsequently rewritten and reshot. [14]

Film director

Warner Bros

In 1930, it was announced that Farrow would direct his own story First Love but this did not materialize. [15] He signed to Warner Bros in 1936 looking to direct and was linked with a number of projects, including a foreign legion story and an adaptation of The Pit and the Pendulum . [16] Farrow finally made his directorial debut in 1937 with Men in Exile , a remake of Safe in Hell (1931).

Following this, he accompanied his wife to Europe, where she was making A Yank at Oxford (1938), lecturing on Father Damien, about whom Farrow had written a book (published in 1937), and receiving a Papal knighthood. [17]

On his return to Hollywood, Farrow resumed working as a B-picture director for Warners with West of Shanghai (1937) with Boris Karloff and She Loved a Fireman (1937) with Dick Foran and Ann Sheridan. He was reunited with Karloff in The Invisible Menace (1938) then made Little Miss Thoroughbred (1938) with John Litel and Sheridan, the first film for Peggy Ann Garner. [18]

Farrow followed this with Broadway Musketeers (1938) with Margaret Lindsay and Sheridan, a remake of Three on a Match , and My Bill (1938) with . Kay Francis, the first of Francis' B movies for Warners. He did some uncredited work on Comet Over Broadway (1938), starring Francis, when Busby Berkeley fell ill.

Farrow left his contract for a number of months, ostensibly to finish a book he was writing on the history of the papacy, and also due to disputes over the script for his next film, another starring Kay Francis, Women in the Wind . [19] He then re-emerged as a contract director for RKO. [20]


Farrow's tenure at RKO began well with the highly profitable The Saint Strikes Back (1939), the second in the "Saint" series and the first to star George Sanders in the lead. He followed it with Sorority House (1939), from a script by Dalton Trumbo and produced by Robert Sisk. RKO then announced Farrow would direct a film version of the director's book Damien the Leper produced by Sisk and starring Joseph Calleia [21] but it was never made. Instead he directed Five Came Back (1939), which, although a "B", became a surprise hit and received excellent reviews.

"I deliberately set out to become the damndest commercial director in the business," he said later. "The only way to get anywhere in Hollywood is to make money pictures. Then you can get some measure of respect and authority from the studio bosses, and little by little you get to do more of the things you want to do." [22]

Farrow went on to direct Full Confession (1939), with Victor McLaglen; Reno (1939); Married and in Love (1940); and A Bill of Divorcement (1940), a remake of the 1932 Katharine Hepburn film with Maureen O'Hara in the lead. All these films were produced by Sisk. Bill of Divorcement was Farrow's first "A" as director.

War service

Despite his flourishing career and recently having become a father for the first time, Farrow was keen to be involved in World War II. He went to Vancouver in November 1939 and enlisted in the Canadian Navy. [23] He went back to RKO to finish Bill of Divorcement then joined the navy. RKO promised to hold his job when he returned. [24]

Farrow was appointed lieutenant in March 1940 and assigned to Naval History and the Controller of Information Unit. He worked on anti-submarine patrols and in April 1941 was loaned to the Royal Navy and appointed to HMS Goshawk naval base in Trinidad, and served as assistant to the Senior British Naval Officer, Curaçao. He contracted typhus fever and returned to Naval Headquarters, Ottawa, in late 1941. [25]

It was announced he would direct a Canadian war film starring his wife Maureen O'Sullivan while on leave, but this did not eventuate. [26]

Farrow was invalided out of the Canadian Navy with typhus in January 1942 at the rank of Commander but remained in the naval reserve. [27] He was gravely ill when he returned but was nursed back to health by his wife. His illness meant he was unable to return to active service. [28]


Farrow resumed his directing career at Paramount, whose then-head of production, Buddy de Sylva, had been impressed by Five Came Back and offered Farrow a contract. [29] For the first time, Farrow was directing nothing but "A" movies. The association began brilliantly with Wake Island (1942), which earned him an Oscar nomination for Best Director, and was one of the year's biggest hits.

Farrow followed it with another war film, Commandos Strike at Dawn (1942), which also proved popular. China (1943), with Alan Ladd and Loretta Young,was another big hit. [30]

In February 1943, Farrow signed a long term contract with Paramount. [31] In July 1943 he served as technical consultant for the proposed Royal Canadian Navy show. [4] He directed The Hitler Gang (1944); Two Years Before the Mast (filmed 1944, not released until 1946), with Ladd; and You Came Along (1945), from a script co-written by Ayn Rand.

In May 1945, Farrow was briefly recalled to active duty, travelling to Britain for work in connection with the Director of Special Services. [4] [32] Shortly after he made Calcutta (1947) with Ladd, though it was not released until two years later, to strong box office.

Two Years Before the Mast was released in 1946 and became the tenth most popular movie of the year. In 1946 Farrow was reportedly writing a biography of Junipero Serra but it appears to have never been made. [33]

Ladd was meant to star in Farrow's California (1947) but dropped out over money and was replaced by Ray Milland. It was a big hit. Less popular were two films with Sonny Tufts: Blaze of Noon (1947), about flyers, and Easy Come, Easy Go (1947), with Barry Fitzgerald.

Farrow became an American citizen in July 1947. [34]

Film noir and westerns

In 1947, Farrow made one of his most highly regarded films, the noir The Big Clock (1948) with Ray Milland and O'Sullivan. He was reunited with Ladd for a military drama, Beyond Glory (1948), then returned to noir with Night Has a Thousand Eyes (1948), starring Edward G. Robinson from a Cornell Woolrich novel, and Alias Nick Beal (1949), with Milland.

As a change of pace he produced and directed a comedy with Betty Hutton, Red, Hot and Blue (1949), followed by a popular Western with Milland, Copper Canyon (1950). Farrow did some uncredited work on the Ladd Western, Red Mountain (1951), with William Dieterle fell ill. He also published a history of the papacy, Pageant of the Popes (1950).

For Howard Hughes at RKO he directed Robert Mitchum in a noir, Where Danger Lives (1950). Hughes liked Farrow's work enough to hire him again for His Kind of Woman (1951), also with Mitchum, although the film would be extensively re-shot by Richard Fleischer.

Back at Paramount he made Submarine Command (1951) with William Holden. He wound up his contract with a final movie with Ladd, Botany Bay (1952), a half-successful attempt to repeat Two Years to the Mast.


Farrow directed Robert Taylor and Ava Gardner in the MGM Western, Ride, Vaquero! (1953), which was a hit. He made two produced by John Wayne for Wayne's company, Batjac: Plunder of the Sun (1953), an adventure story with Glenn Ford, and Hondo (1953) with Wayne, from a story by Louis L'Amour; the latter especially was popular at the box office.

He made A Bullet Is Waiting (1954) at Columbia, then he had another big hit with Wayne, The Sea Chase (1955), where Wayne played a German sea captain in World War Two. The early part of the film was set in Sydney, Australia, although not filmed there.

Farrow was the original director of Around the World in 80 Days (1956) but was fired by producer Michael Todd shortly after filming commenced. However Farrow remained credited for his contribution to the screenplay, which won an Oscar in 1956. [35]

He also published a collection of poetry and a biography of Sir Thomas More.


Farrow signed a three-picture deal with RKO. [36] He only made two of them, neither successful: Back from Eternity (1956), a remake of Five Came Back, and The Unholy Wife (1957), a failed attempt to launch Diana Dors to US audiences.

Samuel Bronston

He received an offer from Samuel Bronston to make two films, a biography of John Paul Jones and a story of the life of Jesus Christ, which Farrow had been trying to make for years. He directed the first one - John Paul Jones. However he was replaced as director on the second by Nicholas Ray – it was released as King of Kings (1961).

Personal life

Farrow was a notorious playboy in his youth, being linked to Dolores del Río and Diana Churchill [37] among others. [38] He married Felice Lewin in 1924. They had one daughter, Felice Patricia Farrow.

In 1934, he became engaged to actress Maureen O'Sullivan [39] and they married on 12 September 1936. Farrow and O'Sullivan had seven children: four daughters, who became actresses, Mia (born 1945), Prudence (born 1948), Stephanie (born 1949), Tisa (born 1951); and three sons, Michael Damien (1939–1958), Patrick Villiers (1942–2009), and John Charles (born 1946). [40] Maureen O'Sullivan was his second wife, after he converted to Catholicism and received an annulment of his first marriage. [41] Farrow often wrote about Catholic themes. [42]


Farrow died in Beverly Hills, California on January 27, 1963 at the age of 58 and was buried in the Holy Cross Cemetery, Culver City.

Awards and honours

Australian connection

As one of the few high-profile Australians in Hollywood during the 1930s, Farrow's activities were well covered by the Australian media. He accepted the Oscar won by the Australian documentary Kokoda Front Line! (1943), [44] met Australian Senator Richard Keane, the Minister for Trade and Customs, when he visited Hollywood during the war [45] and offered to assist in the establishment of an Australian information service in the US. [46] He also often expressed a desire to make a film back in Australia [47] and later made two films with Australian connections, Botany Bay (1953) and The Sea Chase (1955), despite having ceased to be a British subject in 1947 and thus never acquired Australian citizenship when it was created in 1949.

In 1927 he was described as an Australian member of Hollywood, along with May Robson, the New Zealander Rupert Julian, Josephine Norman and E.O. Gurney. [48]


Writer only


Screenplays for unrealized films



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  1. According to the State of California. California Death Index, 1940–1997. Center for Health Statistics, California Department of Health Services, Sacramento, California. Searchable at
  2. "Mia Farrow's Interactive Family Tree". PBS. 9 March 2016. Retrieved 16 June 2016.
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