Childhood & Early Life
Farrow was born on 10 February, 1904 in Sydney, Australia. He was the son of Lucy Villiers (née Savage), a dressmaker and Joseph Farrow, a tailor's trimmer. He lost his mother when he was only three years old.
His parents were of English descent. He was educated at Newtown Public School and Fort Street Boys' High School in Sydney. He became a sailor at an early age and travelled across the Pacific region, including Fiji and Hawaii.
When he reached the U.S., he enrolled at the Jesuits' St Ignatius College, University of San Francisco. However, he discontinued the course soon after.
Upon his arrival in Hollywood, it is believed that he made-up his educational credentials, claiming he had attended Newington College in Sydney, Australia, Winchester College in England and the US Naval Academy.
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Farrow embarked on his career as a writer while working as a sailor. Later, a chance encounter with film-maker Robert J. Flaherty aroused his interest in screenwriting.
He found his way into Hollywood and in 1927, landed himself a job as a script consultant and technical adviser. By then, he was a fairly successful poet and short story writer. Very soon, he established himself as a distinguished screenwriter in Hollywood.
He worked for DeMille Productions, Paramount Pictures, and RKO Radio Pictures Inc. and wrote the scripts for films like ‘Ladies of the Mob’ (1928) and ‘The Wolf Song’ (1929).
In 1932, he wrote a novel, ‘Laughter Ends’ and visited England to work as a Writer (English version) and Assistant Director on G. W. Pabst's film ‘Don Quixote’ (1933).
On 27 January 1933, he was arrested in the U.S. on grounds of entering the country as an illegal immigrant and breaching his visa. He was threatened with deportation but was set free the following year.
Recovering from the legal set-back, he wrote and directed ‘Tarzan Escapes’ (1936) but since the film was afterwards re-written and re-shot, his contribution was uncredited. Later that year, he signed a contract with Warner Bros and made his directorial debut with ‘Men in Exile’ (1937). He followed it up with ‘West of Shanghai’, and ‘She Loved a Fireman’.
Following this, he visited Europe to give lectures on Father Damien, about whom he had authored a book and received a Papal knighthood. On his return he directed ‘The Invisible Menace’, ‘Little Miss Thoroughbred’, ‘Broadway Musketeers’ and ‘My Bill’ for Warners in 1938.
After directing ‘Women in the Wind’ (1939), he moved on to RKO the same year and directed B-films like, ‘Full Confession’, ‘The Saint Strikes Back’, ‘Five Came Back’, ‘Reno’, and ‘Sorority House’. Some of these were highly successful. In 1940, he directed two films ‘Married and in Love’ and ‘A Bill of Divorcement’.
Despite his flourishing career and blossoming family, he was keen to take part in World War II. In November 1939, he enlisted in the Canadian Navy at Vancouver. He was appointed Lieutenant in March 1940 and assigned to Naval History and the Controller of Information Unit.
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Eventually, he contracted typhus fever and was declared unfit by the Canadian Navy. In 1943, he served as technical consultant for the Royal Canadian Navy show. Later in 1945, he was required to travel to Britain with the Director of Special Services.
He resumed his film making career in 1942 by signing a long term contract with Paramount Pictures and went on to become one of the leading directors for the studio.
He began his tenure at Paramount by directing the patriotic film ‘Wake Island’ (1942), which earned him an Oscar nomination. It was his biggest hit and the success of the film led him to make several other World War II movies such as ‘Commandos Strike at Dawn’ (1942), ‘China’ (1943), ‘The Hitler Gang’ (1944), ‘You Came Along (1945)’, etc.
These were followed by an adventure film ‘Two Years before the Mast’ (1946) and a western ‘California’ (1947). He also directed ‘Easy Come, Easy Go’, ‘Blaze of Noon’, and crime drama ‘Calcutta’, all in 1947.
The following year in 1948, he produced and directed the classic film noir ‘The Big Clock’, an adaptation of Kenneth Fearing’s novel. He also directed ‘Beyond Glory’ and ‘Night Has a Thousand Eyes’ in 1948. His last film of the decade was ‘Alias Nick Beal’ and the comedy ‘Red, Hot and Blue’.
In 1950, he directed ‘Copper Canyon’ and ‘Where Danger Lives’. The following year he made ‘His Kind of Woman’ and ‘Submarine Command’. Films like ‘Ride, Vaquero!’, ‘Plunder of the Sun’, ‘Botany Bay’ were made in 1953.
In 1953 he also directed ‘Hondo’, which was shot in 3-D. ‘A Bullet is Waiting’ (1954) and ‘The Sea Chase’ (1955) followed next.
In 1956, he took time off to co-script the adventure-comedy ‘Around the World in 80 Days’, which won him his only Oscar. His last few films failed to create an impact. He remade ‘Five Came Back’ as ‘Back from Eternity’ in 1956 and directed ‘The Unholy Wife’ in 1957 followed by ‘John Paul Jones’ in 1959, which was his last film before retirement.
Awards & Achievements
Farrow was honoured with several decorations and awards throughout his lifetime. Starting in 1937, he received the Knight Grand Cross of the Order of the Holy Sepulchre by Pope Pius XI.
His film ‘Wake Island’ (1942) was a huge success. He won the New York Critics Award for Best Direction and was also received Academy Awards nomination in Best Director category.
In 1951, he received the Order of St John of Jerusalem and in 1953 he became Honorary Commander of the Order of the British Empire (CBE).
In 1957, he won the prestigious Academy Award and the Writers Guild of America Award for Best Screenplay (adapted) for ‘Around the World in Eighty Days’.
He has a Star on the Hollywood Walk of Fame at 6304 Hollywood Blvd.
Personal Life & Legacy
Farrow got married twice. First, he married Felice Lewin in 1924 and had a daughter with her the following year. The couple eventually got divorced in 1934.
In 1934, he got engaged to actress Maureen O'Sullivan. The couple married on 12 September, 1936 after he converted to Catholicism. He became an American citizen in July 1947.
With Maureen, he had seven children; four daughters, who grew up to become celebrated 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).
He died on 27 January, 1963 from a heart attack in Beverly Hills, California. He was buried at the Holy Cross Cemetery, Culver City.