Hollywood lost one of its own when actor Glenn ford passed away August 30th at the age of 90. Ford never enjoyed the kind of superstardom of say John Wayne or Gregory Peck, although he sure had his moments: an unforgettable performance along side Rita Hayworth in “Gilda” (1946), or supporting Sidney Poitier in the “Seeds of Violence” (1955). Glenn Ford played a variety of rolls in the more than 220 films he starred or co-starred in over the course of a 40-year career.
For me though, the Glenn Ford westerns are what made him stand out. He was a working-man’s cowboy. A blue-collar John Wayne if you will. You need only watch him in the “The Fastest Gun Alive” (1956) or the battle-of-wills classic “3:10 to Yuma” (1957) to see and appreciate Ford’s versatility. The seeds of these Westerns and others have been played out a hundred times before and after, but Ford managed to put his own unique spin on what could have been a by-the-numbers-role. He plays the hero in the first and the villain in the second and is endeared to the audience in both.
Take for example, “The Fastest Gun Alive”. When it becomes known how good he is with a sidearm, ex-gunman George and his wife Dora have to flee town – for fear of having to stand up against all the gunmen-wanna-be’s hoping to make a name for themselves at his expense. The townsfolk promise t keep his reputation a secret but word gets out and George is forced to strap on his six-shooter one last time. A lesser talent could have played that role with his eyes closed but Ford managed to imbibe a bit of himself in the underpinnings of the “man with a past”.
If his success suffered it was because Glenn Ford refused to be typecast. He didn’t walk with a swagger, didn’t talk with an accent and didn’t rely on props or special effects. Bogart had “Casablanca”, Brando had “On the Waterfront” and Ford hadÃ¢Â?Â¦.several strong performances waffled in between some really bad ones. He easily shifted throughout his career from genre to genre: romantic leading man in the 1940’s (Gilda)Ã¢Â?Â¦lonesome hero in the old west in the 1950’s (The Man from the Alamo)Ã¢Â?Â¦.sharp-willed leader of our fighting forces in the 1960’s and 1970’s (Midway). The roles may not have made him famous, but they kept him in the public eye, paid the bills and allowed him to live among the Hollywood elite.
Glenn Ford was smart enough to know that as he got older and leading man parts started to thin out; a switch to television could prove to be a career-saver. And in fact, Ford starred in several series over the years, most notably perhaps “Cades County” (1971 – 72) and “The Family Hovak” (1975) in which he played a priest. A laundry list of TV movies and special appearances kept him working right through the early 1990’s, and in Hollywood, that’s a good thing to be doing.
Glenn Ford had a down-to-earth demeanour and work ethic that seemed more and more out of place as the years wore on. He was a no bull-shit kind of guy. Ford also distinguished himself in military service, being the only actor ever to serve with both the Green Berets and the French Foreign Legion. He also served two tours of duty in Vietnam. His medals and commendations read like a who’s who. In the late eighties, President Mitterrand of France presented Ford with the Chevalier of the Legion of Honour, a decoration rarely given to Americans. The French Counsel General cited him for courageous service to the French people during World War II.
On May 1, 2006, a gala 90th birthday celebration was held at Grumman’s Egyptian Theatre – where a restored print of Gilda was screened on the 60th anniversary of its original release. Unfortunately, Ford was unable to attend; however in a videotaped message played at the tribute, he said “Ã¢Â?Â¦I wish I could thank every one of you personally with good wishes to all of you…. I wish I were up and around, but I’m doing the best that I can…. There’s so much I have to be grateful for.”
The same variety Glenn Ford enjoyed in his movie roles, he apparently enjoyed in his personal life as well: he was married four times – to actress-dancer Eleanor Powell (1943 -1959), to actress Kathryn Hays (1965-1977), to model Cynthia Howard (1977-1984) and briefly to Jeanne Baus in 1993. Until his death lived in Beverly Hills with his son Peter (from his marriage to Eleanor Powell) and his family.
And now Glenn Ford is gone – taking a place in that Pantheon of greats from Hollywood’s Golden Age. One thing for sure, he’s in good company.