PRINT THE LEGEND: THE LIFE AND TIMES OF JOHN FORD, by Scott Eyman, Simon & Schuster, 656 pages, $40.00.

Born John Martin Feeney in Portland, Maine, on February 1, 1895 (for the rest of his life Ford would claim his given name was Sean Aloysius O’Fearna), the future director followed his older brother Francis to Hollywood, where he took his brother’s adopted name of Ford and entered the movie business himself. Although Ford would make a wide spectrum of films, he is best remembered for his westerns, especially those starring a former propman named Marion Morrison–whom Ford helped transform into a star named John Wayne–and the breathtaking vistas of Utah’s Monument Valley.

Eyman manages to portray Ford’s monstrous side without alienating the reader, and he also finds evidence of the man’s better nature, which the director tried stubbornly to conceal. More importantly, Eyman never loses sight of the man’s artistry. With films like The Searchers, Fort Apache, and The Man Who Shot Liberty Valence, Ford created an iconic vision of America that has not been equaled. (The book’s title comes from that last film, when a newspaper editor declares, “When the legend becomes fact, print the legend.”) The book slows somewhat towards the end, as Eyman outlines Ford’s declining years in too much detail, but Print the Legend is a riveting case study of the often troubled relationship between genius and humanity.

Tom Huntington .

Talking with Scott Eyman