Gwyllyn Samuel Newton "Glenn" Ford (May 1, 1916 – August 30, 2006) was a Canadian-born actor who held dual Canadian and American citizenship. His career lasted more than 50 years. Although he played many different roles, Ford was best known for playing ordinary men in unusual circumstances. He was most prominent during Hollywood's Golden Age.
Gwyllyn Samuel Newton Ford was born on May 1, 1916 in Sainte-Christine-d'Auvergne, Quebec, the son of Hannah Wood (née Mitchell) and Newton Ford, an engineer with the Canadian Pacific Railway. Through his father, Ford was a great-nephew of Canada's first Prime Minister, Sir John A. Macdonald, and also related to U.S. President Martin Van Buren. In 1922, when Ford was 6, the family moved first to Venice and then to Santa Monica, California; Newton became a motorman for the Venice Electric Tram Company, a job he held until he died at age 50 in 1940.
After Ford graduated from Santa Monica High School, he began working in small theatre groups. While in high school, he took odd jobs, including working for Will Rogers, who taught him horsemanship. Ford later commented that his father had no objection to his growing interest in acting, but told him, "It's all right for you to try to act, if you learn something else first. Be able to take a car apart and put it together. Be able to build a house, every bit of it. Then you'll always have something." Ford heeded the advice and during the 1950s, when he was one of Hollywood's most popular actors, he regularly worked on plumbing, wiring, and air conditioning at home.
Ford acted in West Coast stage companies before joining Columbia Pictures in 1939. His stage name came from his father's hometown of Glenford, Alberta. His first major movie part was in the 1939 film, Heaven with a Barbed Wire Fence. Top Hollywood director John Cromwell was impressed enough with his work to borrow him from Columbia for the independently produced drama, So Ends Our Night (1941), where Ford delivered a poignant portrayal of a 19-year-old German exile on the run in Nazi-occupied Europe.
Working with Academy Award-winning Fredric March and wooing (onscreen) 30-year-old Margaret Sullavan, recently nominated for an Oscar, Ford's shy, ardent young refugee riveted attention even in such stellar company. "Glenn Ford, a most promising newcomer," wrote The New York Times's Bosley Crowther in a review on February 28, 1941, "draws more substance and appealing simplicity from his role of the boy than any one else in the cast."
After the film's highly publicized premiere in Los Angeles and a gala fundraiser in Miami, President Franklin Roosevelt saw the film in a private screening at the White House, and admired the film greatly. Ford was invited to Roosevelt's annual Birthday Ball. He returned to Los Angeles and promptly registered as a Democrat, a fervent FDR supporter. "I was so impressed when I met Franklin and Eleanor Roosevelt," recalled Glenn Ford to his son decades later, "I was thrilled when I got back to Los Angeles and found a beautiful photograph personally autographed to me. It always held a place of high honor in my home."
After 35 interviews and glowing reviews for him personally, Glenn Ford had young female fans begging for his autograph, too. However, the young man was disappointed when Columbia Pictures did nothing with this prestige and new visibility and instead kept plugging him into conventional films for the rest of his 7-year contract. His next picture, Texas, was his first Western, a genre with which he would be associated for the rest of his life. Set after the Civil War, it paired him with another young male star under contract, Bill Holden, who became a lifelong friend. More routine films followed, none of them memorable, but lucrative enough to allow Ford to buy his mother and himself a beautiful new home in the Pacific Palisades.
So Ends Our Night also affected the young star in another way: in the summer of 1941, while the United States was still technically neutral, he enlisted in the Coast Guard Auxiliary, though he had a class 3 deferment (for being his mother's sole support). He began his training in September, 1941, driving three nights a week to his unit in San Pedro and spending most weekends there.
Ten months after Ford's portrait of a young anti-Nazi exile, the United States entered World War II. After playing a young pilot in his 11th Columbia film, Flight Lieutenant (1942), Ford went on a cross-country 12-city tour to sell war bonds for Army and Navy Relief. In the midst of the many stars also donating their time – from Bob Hope to Cary Grant to Claudette Colbert – he met the popular dancing star, Eleanor Powell. The two soon fell in love; they attended the official opening of the Hollywood USO together in October. Then, while making another war drama, Destroyer, with Edward G. Robinson, an ardent anti-Fascist, Glenn impulsively volunteered for the United States Marine Corps Reserve on December 13, 1942. The startled studio had to beg the Marines to give their second male lead four more weeks to complete shooting. In the meantime, Ford proposed to Eleanor Powell, who subsequently announced her retirement from the screen to be near her fiancé as he started boot camp.
Ford recalled to his son that Bill Holden, who had joined the Army Air Corps and he, "talked about it and we were both convinced that our careers, which were just getting established, would likely be forgotten by the time we got back ... if we got back."  He was assigned in March 1943 to active duty at the Marine Corps Base in San Diego. With his Coast Guard service, he was offered a position as an officer, but Ford declined, feeling it would be interpreted as preferential treatment for a movie star and instead entered the Marines as a private. He trained at the Marine base in San Diego, where Tyrone Power, the number-one male movie star at the time, was also based. Power suggested Ford join him in the Marine's weekly radio show, Halls of Montezuma broadcast Sunday evenings from San Diego. Ford excelled in his training, winning the Rifle Marksman Badge and named "Honor Man" of the platoon and promoted to sergeant by the time he finished.
Awaiting assignment at Camp Pendleton, Marine Corps base, Camp Lejeune, Ford volunteered to play a Marine raider – uncredited – in the film Guadalcanal Diary, made by Fox, with Ford and others charging up the beaches of Southern California. He later showed this to his little boy, Peter, along with his many other black-and-white battle scenes in other films. Frustratingly for Ford, filming battle scenes was the closest he would ever get to any action. After being sent to Marine Corps Schools Detachment (Photographic Section) in Quantico, Virginia, three months later, Ford returned to the San Diego base in February 1944 and was assigned to the radio section of the Public Relations Office, Headquarters Company, Base Headquarters Battalion, where he resumed work on Halls of Montezuma.
Unfortunately – just as Eleanor, now his wife, was expecting the birth of their child, and Ford himself was looking forward to Officers Training School – he was felled by inexplicable abdominal pain and hospitalized at the U.S. Naval Hospital in San Diego with what turned out to be duodenal ulcers, an affliction for the remainder of his life. He was in and out of the hospital for the next five months, and finally received a medical discharge on the third anniversary of Pearl Harbor, December 7, 1944. Though his time in the Marines was without the combat duty he had been hoping for, Ford had been serving his country for longer than it had technically been at war and was awarded several service medals for his three years in the Marines Reserve Corps: American Campaign Medal and Asiatic-Pacific Campaign Medal, and the World War II Victory Medal, created in 1945 for anyone who had been on active duty since December 1941.
The most memorable role of Ford's career came with his first postwar film in 1946, starring alongside Rita Hayworth in Gilda. This was Glenn Ford's second pairing with Hayworth; his first was in The Lady In Question (1940), a well-received courtroom drama in which Glenn plays a boy who falls in love with Rita Hayworth when his father, Brian Aherne, tries to rehabilitate her in their bicycle shop. Directed by Hungarian emigre Charles Vidor, the two rising young stars instantly bonded. Their on-screen chemistry was not immortalized, however, until Gilda, also directed by Charles Vidor, who knew a good thing when he saw it.
The New York Times movie reviewer Bosley Crowther did not much like, or, as he freely admitted, even understand, the movie, but he noted that Ford "just returned from war duty," did show "a certain stamina and poise in the role of a tough young gambler." Reviewing the film in 1946, the venerable Crowther had no way of knowing that Gilda was the herald of a new, hard-bitten, steamy genre that frequently flouted logic to make its dark points about the human heart. He, in fact, did not yet have the phrase by which Gilda would soon after be associated, a term that the French critics had not, in 1946, even invented: film noir, with Rita, that genre's most remarkable femme fatale. The erotic sadism and covert homoeroticism were actively encouraged on set by director Vidor, a sophisticated Vienna-born expatriate, though Glenn Ford always denied any awareness of the latter in his character's fervent loyalty to his boss, who had unwittingly married the love of Johnny's life.
The film was entered in the Cannes Film Festival, then in its first year. Ford went on to be a leading man opposite Hayworth in a total of five films. and the two, after their location romance (his marriage survived, hers did not) became lifelong friends and next-door neighbors. Beautifully shot in black-and-white by cinematographer Rudolph Mate, Gilda has endured as a classic of film noir. It has a 96% rating on Rotten Tomatoes, and, in 2013, was selected for preservation in the United States National Film Registry by the Library of Congress as being "culturally, historically, or aesthetically significant".
With a return like this, Glenn Ford, not to mention his friend Bill Holden, need not have worried about their future careers after the war. Both men flourished throughout the 1950s and 1960s as male icons for those decades, but Ford was frustrated that he was not given the opportunities to work with directors of the caliber that led Holden to his Oscar-winning career, such as Billy Wilder and David Lean. Glenn Ford missed out on From Here to Eternity – as did Rita Hayworth – when production was stalled by Columbia studio head, Harry Cohn. He also made the mistake, which he bitterly regretted later, of turning down the lead in the brilliant comedy Born Yesterday (also planned with Rita Hayworth) which Holden then snatched up.
He instead continued to bring in solid performances in thrillers, dramas, and action films such as A Stolen Life with Bette Davis, memorable film noir: The Big Heat directed by Hitler refugee Fritz Lang, co-starring Gloria Grahame, and reteamed with the same in the following year in Human Desire, loosely based on La Bete Humaine, the 1870 Emile Zola novel. Framed, Experiment in Terror with Lee Remick, and Four Horsemen of the Apocalypse were other dramas, often expensive and high-profile projects, if not always profitable, from the studio.
Blackboard Jungle (1955) was a landmark film of teen angst. Unlike the comparatively white-bread Rebel Without A Cause and The Wild One, Blackboard Jungle tackled racial conflicts head-on as Ford played an idealistic but harassed teacher of an urban high school that included a very young Sidney Poitier and other black and Hispanic cast members. Messed-up white kids were there, too, particularly one played by Vic Morrow, depicting that new phenomenon, the juvenile delinquent. Bill Haley's "Rock Around The Clock" under the opening credits was the first use of a rock and roll song in a Hollywood film. Richard Brooks, the film's writer and director, had discovered the music when he heard Ford's son, Peter, playing the record at Glenn's home.
In Interrupted Melody, he starred with Eleanor Parker, and the Westerns with which he would always be associated included Jubal, The Fastest Gun Alive, Cowboy, The Secret of Convict Lake with Gene Tierney, and what would become a classic 3:10 to Yuma, and Cimarron.
Ford's versatility also allowed him to star in a number of popular comedies, almost always as the beleaguered, well-meaning, but nonplussed straight man, set upon by circumstances, as in The Teahouse of the August Moon, in which he played an American soldier sent to Okinawa to convert the occupied island natives to the American way of life, and is instead converted by them. Also, he starred in The Gazebo, Cry for Happy, The Courtship of Eddie's Father, and the naval-themed Don't Go Near The Water with Gia Scala.
In 1978, Ford had a supporting role in Superman, as Clark Kent's adoptive father, Jonathan Kent, a role that introduced Ford to a new generation of film audiences. In Ford's final scene in the film, the theme song from Blackboard Jungle, "Rock Around the Clock", is heard on a car radio.
Unusual for a World War II veteran, most of whom were only too happy to be finished with the war, Ford joined up for yet a third time in 1958. He entered the U.S. Naval Reserve, was commissioned as a lieutenant commander and made a public affairs officer – ironically, the very position he had portrayed the previous year in the successful comedy Don't Go Near the Water. During his annual training tours, he promoted the Navy through radio and television broadcasts, personal appearances, and documentary films.
Ford continued to combine his film career with his military service, and was promoted to commander in 1963 and captain in 1968, after he went to Vietnam in 1967 for a month's tour of duty as a location scout for combat scenes in a training film entitled Global Marine. In support of Democrat President Lyndon Johnson's escalation of the Vietnam War, he traveled with a combat camera crew from the demilitarized zone south to the Mekong Delta. For his service in Vietnam, the Navy awarded him a Navy Commendation Medal. He finally retired from the Naval Reserve in the 1970s at the rank of captain. He was awarded the Marine Corps Reserve Ribbon, which recognizes those who spend 10 years of honorable reserve service.
In 1971, Ford signed with CBS to star in his first television series, a half-hour comedy/drama titled The Glenn Ford Show. However, CBS head Fred Silverman noticed that many of the featured films being shown at a Glenn Ford film festival were Westerns. He suggested doing a Western series, instead, which resulted in the "modern-day Western" series, Cade's County. Ford played southwestern Sheriff Cade for one season (1971–1972) in a mix of police mystery and western drama.
In The Family Holvak (1975–1976), Ford portrayed a Depression-era preacher in a family drama, reprising the same character he had played in the TV film, The Greatest Gift.
In 1978 Ford was host, presenter and narrator of the disaster documentary series 'When Havoc Struck'.
In 1981, Ford co-starred with Melissa Sue Anderson in the slasher film Happy Birthday to Me.
In 1991, Ford agreed to star in a cable network series, African Skies. However, prior to the start of the series, he developed blood clots in his legs which required a lengthy stay in Cedars-Sinai Medical Center. Eventually, he recovered, but at one time his situation was so severe that he was listed in critical condition. Ford was forced to drop out of the series and was replaced by Robert Mitchum.
The 2006 movie Superman Returns includes a scene where Ma Kent (played by Eva Marie Saint) stands next to the living room mantel after Superman returns from his quest to find remnants of Krypton. On that mantel is a picture of Glenn Ford as Pa Kent.
In 1950, Ford played the title role in The Adventures of Christopher London, created by Erle Stanley Gardner and directed by William N. Robson. London was a private investigator in the weekly adventure series, which ran on Sundays at 7 p.m. on the NBC radio network between January and April of 1950.
Ford's first wife was actress and dancer Eleanor Powell (1943–1959), with whom he had his only child, actor Peter Ford (born 1945). The couple appeared together on screen just once, in a short film produced in the 1950s entitled Have Faith in Our Children. When they married, Powell was more famous than Ford. Ford dated Christiane Schmidtmer during the mid-1960s, but subsequently married actress Kathryn Hays (1966–1969); Cynthia Hayward (1977–1984), and Jeanne Baus (1993–1994). All four marriages ended in divorce. Ford was not on good terms with his ex-wives, except for Cynthia Hayward, with whom he remained close until his death. He also had a long-term relationship with actress Hope Lange in the early 1960s, although they never married.
At the height of his stardom, Glenn Ford supported the Democratic Party. He supported Franklin D. Roosevelt in the 1940s, Adlai Stevenson II in 1956, and John F. Kennedy in 1960. Ford later switched his support to the Republican Party. He campaigned for his old friend and fellow actor Ronald Reagan, who would become the successful Republican candidate in the 1980 and 1984 presidential elections.
Ford attempted to purchase the Atlanta Flames in May 1980 with the intention of keeping the National Hockey League team in the city. He was prepared to match a $14 million offer made by Byron and Daryl Seaman, but was outbid by an investment group led by Nelson Skalbania and included the Seaman brothers which acquired the franchise for $16 million on May 23 and eventually moved it to Calgary.
Ford was listed in Quigley's Annual List of Top Ten Box Office Champions in 1956, 1958 and 1959, topping the list at number one in 1958.
For his contribution to the motion picture industry, Ford has a star on the Hollywood Walk of Fame at 6933 Hollywood Blvd. In 1978, he was inducted into the Western Performers Hall of Fame at the National Cowboy & Western Heritage Museum in Oklahoma City, Oklahoma. In 1987, he received the Donostia Award in the San Sebastian International Film Festival, and in 1992, he was awarded the Légion d'honneur medal for his actions in the Second World War.
Ford was scheduled to make his first public appearance in 15 years at a 90th-birthday tribute gala in his honor hosted by the American Cinematheque at Grauman's Egyptian Theatre in Hollywood on May 1, 2006, but at the last minute, he had to bow out. Anticipating that his health might prevent his attendance, Ford had the previous week recorded a special filmed message for the audience, which was screened after a series of in-person tributes from friends including Martin Landau, Shirley Jones, Jamie Farr, and Debbie Reynolds.
On October 4, 2008, Peter Ford auctioned off some of his father's possessions, including Ford’s lacquered cowboy boots (opening bid $2,500), Ford's jacket and cap from The White Tower ($400), his wool trench coat from Young Man With Ideas ($300), and his United States Naval Reserve uniform cap ($250). The auction also offered the sofa where the senior Ford allegedly claimed to have had a romantic encounter with Marilyn Monroe ($1,750).
For several years the Quigley Publishing Company's Poll of Film Exhibitors ranked Ford as one of the most popular stars in the US:
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