What Happened to Glenn Ford?
Ford in 1955
Gwyllyn Samuel Newton “Glenn” Ford (May 1, 1916 – August 30, 2006) was a Canadian 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 (néeMitchell) and Newton Ford, a railway man. 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 1924, at the age of eight, Ford moved to Santa Monica, California with his family. He became a naturalized citizen of the United States in 1939.
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 railroad executive 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. At times, he worked as a roofer and installer of plate-glass windows.
Career – Early Career
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 a highly publicized premiere in Los Angeles and a gala fundraiser in Miami, the White House hosted a private screening of So Ends Our Night for President Franklin Roosevelt, who admired the film greatly. The starstruck youngster 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.
World War II
Captain Glenn Ford, United States Naval Reserve
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, whMarksman Badgeich 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 won several commemorative 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.
Acting in Films
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. To read more go to the link below.