HomeEntertainmentThe True Story Behind That Amazing The Fabelmans Cameo

The True Story Behind That Amazing The Fabelmans Cameo

It’s also worth noting that Ford didn’t just make Westerns. He won one of several Best Director Oscars for How Green Was My Valley (1941), but that felt like a make-up after the traditionally conservative and patriotic Ford soberly adapted John Steinbeck’s anti-capitalist The Grapes of Wrath in 1940—which did not win the biggest Oscars of its night. And after serving as a World War II filmmaker, where he was essentially a battle photographer, Ford grew wearier of his own mythmaking later in his career. Arguably his best Western is an indictment of frontier racism by American settlers: The Searchers (1956). And in The Man Who Shot Liberty Valance, Jimmy Stewart’s onscreen icon of the Old West is revealed to be a fraud; a fella who took credit for his romantic rival (John Wayne) shooting the outlaw Liberty Valance (Lee Marvin) dead.

Whether 15-year-old Spielberg was aware of these contradictions and paradoxes in Ford’s character is hard to say. However, he soon learned that the Golden Age director truly was as mercurial as his politics.

According to Spielberg, in his real-life encounter with Ford, the then-68 and cycloptic Ford came in not only drunk and smoking a cigar, but with lipstick kiss marks all over his face, which his secretary hurriedly brushed off before Spielberg entered the legend’s office. When the young aspirant came in, Ford had his legs up on the desk and asked, “So I hear you want to be a picture-maker?” He then gave Spielberg the test we see in The Fabelmans, demanding him to spot the horizon.

“When you’re able to distinguish the art of the horizon at the bottom of a frame or at the top of a frame, but not going right through the center of a frame,” Ford said, “when you’re able to appreciate why it’s at the top and why it’s at the bottom, you might make a pretty good picture-maker. Now get the fuck out of here!

It’s certainly not the tact that the now elder statesman Spielberg would take with younger filmmakers, but one senses he’s quite proud that he got one of Pappy Ford’s famed “f-bombs” hurled his way back in ‘62.

For the record, another important difference between reality and The Fabelmans is that Spielberg didn’t begin his career on Hogan’s Heroes. In one of Spielberg’s own little legends, the once aspiring filmmaker managed to talk his way onto the Universal Pictures lot after taking the tour once, and then pretended to work there for upwards of half a year before folks realized he wasn’t an employee. Rather than being arrested though, the chutzpah of the kid got him a job at the studio where he worked his way up within a few years to be directing television, albeit on Rod Serling’s Night Gallery in 1969 instead of Hogan’s Heroes.




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