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John Farrow

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Title: John Farrow  
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John Farrow

John Farrow
Born John Villiers Farrow
(1904-02-10)10 February 1904
Sydney, New South Wales, Australia
Died 27 January 1963(1963-01-27) (aged 58)
Beverly Hills, California, U.S.
Occupation Actor director, producer and screenwriter
Years active 1927–62
Religion Roman Catholic
Spouse(s) Felice Lewin (1924-1934) (divorced) (1 child)
Maureen O'Sullivan (1936–1963; his death; 7 children)

John Villiers Farrow, CBE 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 was the father of Mia Farrow.


  • Early life 1
  • Career 2
    • Writing work 2.1
    • Film director 2.2
    • War service 2.3
    • Return to directing 2.4
    • Later years 2.5
  • Personal life 3
    • Death 3.1
  • Awards and honours 4
  • Australian connection 5
  • Filmography 6
    • Writer only 6.1
    • Director 6.2
    • Unmade Screenplays 6.3
  • Books 7
  • Play 8
  • References 9
  • External links 10

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.[2][3] His mother died when he was three years old. He was of English descent.[4] Farrow was educated at Newtown Public School and Fort Street Boys' High School, then passed the exams to get into the Australian Naval College at aged 12.[5] Farrow claims the Navy was downsizing and demobbing so he decided to join the Merchant Service as a cadet instead. He traveled throughout the Pacific, including New Zealand, Fiji, Hawaii and Canada.[6] He studied at St Ignatius College of the University of San Francisco in 1923 for one month, and resumed his travels.[2] On arrival in Hollywood, Farrow fabricated his education, saying he attended Newington College (he lived in a street below its ovals), Winchester College and the Royal Naval Academy, when he had only passed exams for its Australian counterpart. Many publications and websites still contain this information.[7]


Writing work

Farrow started writing while working as a sailor and became interested in screenwriting after meeting Robert J. Flaherty. In 1927 it was reported he was working on a story called The Blue Danube, set in Austria.[8]

Farrow returned to the US in 1927 and began working in Hollywood as a technical adviser on ship-related movies. He soon established himself as a notable screenwriter.[9] He worked for DeMille Productions, Paramount Pictures Inc. and RKO Radio Pictures Inc. He also compiled an English-French-Tahitian dictionary and wrote a novel, Laughter Ends (1933), In 1932 he went to England where he worked as a writer and assistant director on a film of Don Quixote, and briefly visited Tahiti again.[10]

Farrow returned to Hollywood and re-established himself as a screenwriter. On 27 January 1933 he was arrested while dancing at the Cocoanut Grove nightclub for breach of his visa. This was part of a general crackdown against illegal immigrants in the film industry.[11] Farrow was charged with making a false statement while entering the US, claiming he was Romanian.[12] Although threatened with deportation in the end he was only given five years probation,[13] before being acquitted in 1934.[14]

Farrow received a plum appointment to work on Tarzan Escapes (1936) but the film wound up being rewritten and reshot.[15]

Film director

In 1930, it was announced that Farrow would direct his own story First Love but this did not eventuate.[16] 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.[17] Farrow finally made his directorial debut in 1937 with Men in Exile. 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, and receiving a Papal knighthood.[18]

On his return to Hollywood, Farrow resumed working as a director for Warners. He made several movies with Kay Francis and discovered a young Peggy Ann Garner.[19] 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 of Kay Francis's Women in the Wind.[20] However he soon re-emerged as a contract director for RKO.[21] While there he made a number of highly successful B movies, notably The Saint Strikes Back (1939) and Five Came Back (1939).

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.[22] 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.[23] It was announced he would direct a Canadian war film starring his wife Maureen O'Sullivan while on leave, but this did not eventuate.[24]

Farrow was invalided out of the Canadian Navy with typhus in January 1942 at the rank of Commander but remained in the naval reserve.[25] In July 1943 he served as technical consultant for the proposed Royal Canadian Navy show. In May 1945 he was briefly recalled to active duty, travelling to Britain for work in connection with the Director of Special Services.[6][26]

Return to directing

Farrow resumed his directing career with Paramount for whom he made Wake Island (1942), which earned him an Oscar nomination. The success of this saw him make a series of war pictures including China.[27] He went on to become one of the leading filmmakers for Paramount Pictures, working several times with Alan Ladd.

Farrow became an American citizen in July 1947.[28]

Later years

Farrow's films became less distinguished towards the end of the 1950s. 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 made the first one - John Paul Jones - and was replaced as director on the second by Nicholas RayKing of Kings (1961).

Personal life

Farrow was a notorious playboy in his youth, being linked to Dolores del Río and Diana Churchill[29] among others.[30] He married Felice Lewin in 1924.

In 1934 he became engaged to actress Maureen O'Sullivan[31] and they married on 12 September 1936. Farrow and O'Sullivan had four daughters: actresses Mia (born 1945), Prudence (born 1948), Stephanie (born 1949), Tisa (born 1951); and three sons: Michael Damien (1939–1958), Patrick Joseph (1942–2009), and John Charles (born 1946).[32] Maureen O'Sullivan was his second wife, after he converted to Catholicism and he received an annulment of his first marriage.[33]


Farrow died from a heart attack in Beverly Hills, California 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),[35] met Australian Senator Richard Keane, the Minister for Trade and Customs, when he visited Hollywood during the war[36] and offered to assist in the establishment of an Australian information service in the US.[37] He also often expressed a desire to make a film back in Australia[38] and later made two films with Australian connections, Botany Bay (1953) and The Sea Chase (1955), despite having ceased to be an Australian citizen in 1947.

In 1927 he was described as an Australian member of Hollywood, along with May Robson, the New Zealander Rupert Julian, Franklin Pangborn, Josephine Norman and E.O. Gurney.[39]


Writer only


Unmade Screenplays

  • A Friend of Napoleon (1927) – adapted from story by Richard Connell for director William K Howard and produced Cecil B de Mille[54]


  • The Bad Ones (1930) – novel
  • Laughter Ends (1933) – novel
  • Damien the Leper (1937) – biography of Damien of Molokai
  • The Royal Canadian Navy 1908–1940 (1940) – history
  • Pageant of the Popes (1950) – history of the papacy[55]
  • Seven Poems in Pattern (1955) – collection of poetry
  • Story of Sir Thomas More (1956) – biography of Thomas More


  • A Registered Woman (1931)


  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. ^ a b Hazlehurst, Cameron (2006). "Farrow, John Villiers (1904–1963)". Australian Dictionary of Biography. Retrieved 15 October 2010. 
  3. ^ Who's who in Australia, Volume 14. The Herald. 1950. p. 252. 
  4. ^
  5. ^ "WEST'S OLYMPIA.".  
  6. ^ a b CFB Esquimalt Naval & Military MuseumJohn Farrow: "Commander Hollywood",
  7. ^ Turner Classic Movies Retrieved 3 May 2014.
  8. ^ "Cinema Notes.".  
  10. ^ "Letter from London.".  
  12. ^ "GENERAL CABLE NEWS.".  
  13. ^ "U.S.A. IMMIGRATION.".  
  14. ^ "U.S.A. IMMIGRATION.".  
  17. ^ "Hollywood Roundabout.".  
  18. ^ "Studio Gossip.".  
  19. ^ "A talented twelve-year-old.".  
  20. ^ SCREEN NEWS HERE AND IN HOLLYWOOD: Edward Small Plans to Make 'The Maginot Line'--Louis Hayward Will Be Star IF I WERE KING' TO OPEN Premiere at Paramount Today to Feature Ronald Colman and Basil Rathbone Jack London Story for Screen Of Local Origin Special to THE NEW YORK TIMES.. New York Times (1923-Current file) 28 Sep 1938: 29.
  21. ^ "FILM FOLK and Talkie Shots.".  
  22. ^ "War News In Brief.".  
  23. ^ "GENERAL CABLE NEWS.".  
  24. ^ "Hollywood has its patriots...".  
  26. ^ "Hollywood's New Romantic Team.".  
  27. ^ "Town Called Hollywood" Scheuer, Philip K. Los Angeles Times (1923-Current File) 08 Nov 1942: C3.
  29. ^ "Secret Marriage Denial.".  
  30. ^ "SCREEN SHORTS.".  
  32. ^ California Births 1905–1995
  33. ^ "GENERAL CABLE NEWS.".  
  34. ^ "£3 A Week Waitress To Star?.".  
  35. ^ "Flag dipped to honor film servicemen.".  
  37. ^ "Australia Blows Hard On its Publicity Tin Trumpet.".  
  38. ^ "Kennedys Home From Hollywood.".  
  39. ^ "BRAINS ENHANCES HER PULCHRITUDE: BEAUTIFUL AUSTRALIAN GIRL ARRIVES Antipodean Prize Winner Comes to Woo Fame as Picture Actress" Los Angeles Times (1923-Current File) 14 June 1927: A8.
  40. ^ "The World of Pictures.".  
  41. ^ "AMUSEMENTS.".  
  42. ^ "AMUSEMENTS.".  
  43. ^ "AMUSEMENTS.".  
  44. ^ "SNIPING THE SHOWS.".  
  45. ^ "Aimee McPherson Would Convert World By Talkies: Movie News.".  
  47. ^ "PICTURE THEATRES.".  
  48. ^ "LONDON NOTES.".  
  49. ^ "PERIL ON THE HIGH SEAS.".  
  50. ^ "FILM REVIEWS.".  
  51. ^ "Australian Directors At Work.".  
  52. ^ "FILM REVIEWS.".  
  53. ^ "THE NEW HITLER FILM.".  
  54. ^ "French Actress Has Major Role in Gish Picture" Los Angeles Times (1923-Current File) 27 Feb 1927: C11.
  55. ^ "PAGEANT OF THE POPES", by John Farrow. Sheed & Ward. 394 pp. $4.50. The Washington Post (1923-1954) [Washington, D.C] 12 Mar 1950: B6.

External links

  • John Farrow at the Internet Movie Database
  • John Farrow at Find a Grave
  • Australian Dictionary of Biography
  • The Story of Sir Thomas MoreComplete text of
  • An inventory of the John Villiers Farrow Papers at The American Catholic History Research Center and University Archives
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