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(Courtesy of Virgil Johnson)

Above - a crop/blowup of O'Brien from one of the photos below. George was about 59 years old when he worked on these documentaries with John Ford.

Ye Old Corral webmaster asked Virgil about O'Brien's eye patch: "I was pretty much in awe of what was going on, and I was reluctant to ask him. I did not hear any of the camera/production crew mention the eye patch. My assumption now was that he probably had cataract surgery, or some other kind of eye surgery prior to coming to Taiwan."
Virgil Johnson remembers George O'Brien


"I first met George O'Brien and Academy Award winning director John Ford in 1958 when I was selected to play the principal role in a documentary that was filmed on the Island of Taiwan. Both John Ford (a two-star Admiral) and O'Brien (a Commander) were in the U.S. Navy Reserve. Both had agreed to come on 'active duty' long enough to film a documentary in Taiwan and in Korea for the U.S. Department of Defense. While Ford directed some of the scenes, other scenes were directed by another naval reservist, Eric Strutt (also a Commander). The film crew was composed of three civilians employed by the U.S. Air Force Photography Center in Hollywood.

I was stationed at the American Embassy as a Marine Security Guard at this time. During my off hours I was active in the local amateur theatre group made up of American civilian and military personnel. My name was suggested to Ford by someone in the group, and I was subsequently called in for an interview with Ford and O'Brien. After a short conversation, they said I would do.

Not to mislead the dear reader, let me clarify that this documentary was filmed without sound. The voice over for the film was done by another U.S. Navy reservist, Commander Glenn Ford, who appears in the opening scenes of the film. The film, which was processed in Hollywood, was entitled TAIWAN - ISLAND FORTRESS, and was primarily used as an indoctrination film that was shown to Americans arriving on Taiwan for military and/or civilian duty. Ford left Taiwan for Korea to film a similar documentary there.

I am very pleased to report that under these rather unusual circumstances, George O'Brien acted as my stand-in for lighting purposes in many interior scenes. This was quite an honor, needless to say. While "Pappy" Ford lived up to his reputation as being grumpy and cantankerous, George O'Brien was just as friendly and down-to-earth as he appears in his many films. It was a great honor for me, and is still one of my most cherished recollections that happened almost exactly 50 years ago."

Virgil Johnson
October, 2009





(Courtesy of Virgil Johnson)

Above from left to right are co-director Eric Strutt, unidentified camera crew / production crew member, George O'Brien and unidentified camera crew / production crew member.



(Courtesy of Virgil Johnson)

Above are George O'Brien and an unidentified camera crew / production crew member.



(Courtesy of Virgil Johnson)

Above - Director John Ford and Virgil Johnson.


After finishing TAIWAN - ISLAND FORTRESS, Ford and O'Brien went to Korea to film another documentary. The Internet Movie Database (IMDb) has information on the John Ford directed KOREA (1959) which was narrated by George O'Brien: http://us.imdb.com/title/tt0052974/

Material relating to the documentaries "Taiwan - The Island Fortress" and "Korea" are among the John Ford Papers at the Lilly Library Special Collections at Indiana University, Bloomington, Indiana: http://www.indiana.edu/~liblilly/guides/ford/ford10.shtml



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