John Wayne Spoke With Frequent Collaborator John Ford The Day of Mentor’s Death: All About The Heartbreaking Conversation

by Matthew Wilson

John Wayne and John Ford were one of cinema’s most successful partnerships. Ford played a significant role in Wayne’s career as one of Hollywood’s leading men. When Ford passed away in 1973, Wayne gave the eulogy at the director’s funeral.

He reflected on a conversation that he had with Ford on the day of his death. Ford, in his weakened state, realized that he was dying. Ford was slowly succumbing to stomach cancer, an ailment that would kill Wayne as well a few years later. Wayne sat with Ford and the two reflected on their deceased friend Ward Bond.

“I got word that he wanted to see me at his home in Palm Springs, and when I got there, he said, ‘Hi Duke, down for the deathwatch?’ ‘Hell no,’ I said, ‘you’ll bury us all,'” Wayne said reportedly during the eulogy. “But he looked so weak. We used to be a triumvirate — Ford and me and a guy named Ward Bond. The day I went to Palm Springs, Ford said, ‘Duke, do you ever think of Ward?’ ‘All the time,’ I said. ‘Well, let’s have a drink to Ward,’ he said. So I got out the brandy, gave him a sip, and took one for myself. ‘All right, Duke,” he said finally, ‘I think I’ll rest for a while.’ I went home, and that was Pappy Ford’s last day.”

John Wayne and John Ford

By 1973, Wayne had lost two of his closest friends and creative associates. Wayne, John Ford, and actor Ward Bond produced numerous films together during their career. Ford recruited both Wayne and Bond around the same time for a film. The two had played college football together and initially hated each other. But Wayne and Bond became good friends on the set of Ford’s movie. Bond passed away from a heart attack in 1960.

Ford and Wayne always had a complicated friendship and mentorship. The director was often critical of Wayne and the choices he made during his career. He also ragged on the actor for never serving in the military as well. Wayne served as a prop hand under Ford early in his career. But it took director Raoul Walsh to give him his big acting break in “The Big Trail,” something Ford later falsely claimed for himself with “Stagecoach.”

But Ford directed some of Wayne’s most seminal movies of his career. The director helped make Wayne the star that he later became. In total, they collaborated on 14 movies together. Wayne always held a deep respect for the director, who was a mentor for most of his life.