MovieChat Forums > The Searchers (1956) Discussion > Was Ethan Debbie's father?

Was Ethan Debbie's father?


I have not seen the movie in a few years. But, I read somewhere that it was hinted at in the movie.

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It's been hinted at only on these boards. He wasn't her father. No indication of it.

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She's too young. She would have been conceived during the early part of the Civil War when Ethan was busy killing "Yankees."

There is clearly a love interest between Ethan and Martha. I think they were deeply in love, but Martha saw him consumed by hate and lust for revenge. So, she avoided him and married his brother instead. Ethan has too much honor and respect to cut in on his brother. Martha, too would never let herself go there, so their love remains unrequited.

Nevertheless, Debbie is blood kin. She is his brother's daughter, so she's a niece, the next best thing to a daughter.

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According to John Wayne in a 1974 interview, John Ford hinted throughout the movie that Ethan had had an affair with his brother's wife, and was possibly the father of Lucy and Debbie. This meant Ethan's thirst for vengeance stemmed not from the murder of his brother, but of the woman Ethan had loved. This was so subtle that many viewers at the time missed it altogether.

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MycroftHolmes says > This meant Ethan's thirst for vengeance stemmed not from the murder of his brother, but of the woman Ethan had loved. This was so subtle that many viewers at the time missed it altogether.
I hadn't noticed it when I watched the movie last night but after reading the Trivia section I watched the beginning of the movie and a few other scenes again. It was subtle but, watching both Ethan and Martha's behavior; Clayton's reaction to Martha holding Ethan's coat; and what the Jorgenson mother said to Ethan after the attack; it makes sense that there had been something between Ethan and Martha.

That information, along with the possibility that Debbie is Ethan's child helped, in my opinion, make the movie plot work a lot better than if that was not their back story. I wondered why such an important plot point would be omitted; that did not make sense at first but the more I thought about the more I realized there was a reason. It's possible certain key scenes were edited out; possibly for time or to avoid certain difficult topics or to avoid negative audience reactions. John Wayne was a big star so it's possible some viewers might have been turned off by the idea his character had betrayed his brother. That might have been taking it too far.

By the way, someone said Debbie could not have been Ethan's child due to her age. I don't think that's true. Ethan had been gone during the war, which lasted four years, plus three additional years after the war ended. When he saw Debbie he mistook her for Lucy who would have been around the age Debbie is at that point, or a bit younger. Lucy is older than fourteen so Debbie would have to be at least seven. She would have been conceived before the war when Ethan was still around.

Even if Debbie's not Ethan's daughter, the possibility exists and his affection for her mother would have made him care for her all the more; not just as a niece but as his beloved's daughter. The movie works with either interpretation.


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If Ethan might possibly be the father of Lucy and/or Debbie, what about Ben?

Pippa Scott turned 21 in 1956, So Lucy would have been born about 1846 if her age in 1867.

Robert Lyden turned 14 in 1956, so Ben would have been born about 1853 if his age in 1867. (Some sources say he quite acting because of how John Ford treated him in this movie.)

Lana Wood turned 10 in 1956, so Debbie would have been born in 1857 if her age in 1867.

Natalie Wood turned 18 in 1856, so Debbie would have been born in 1855 if her age in 1873.

But Natalie Wood is listed as 15-year-old Debbie, so Debbie would have been born in 1857 to 1858 if age 15 during some moment in 1873.

And any of the kids might have have been a year or two younger depending on when their scenes were filmed.

So Ben chronologically could have been the child of any hypothetical affair between Ethan and Martha. And so Ethan could have been seeking to avenge Ben's murder and save his sisters, if the theory is correct.

By the way, there is a story that Ford had Walter Coy film the scene where he pulled on his boots over and over again. Finally Coy asked Ford what was up with putting on his boots. Ford said "You are putting on your boots while John Wayne is in the next room with your wife." Coy said "why didn't you say so the first time." and did the scene just like Ford wanted.

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