August 31, 2006

Glenn Ford, longtime leading man in scores of films, dies at 90

Beverly Hills, Calif. -- Actor Glenn Ford, who played strong, thoughtful protagonists in films such as "The Blackboard Jungle,""Gilda" and "The Big Heat," died Wednesday, police said. He was 90.

Paramedics called to Ford's home just before 4 p.m. found Ford dead, police Sgt. Terry Nutall said, reading a prepared statement. "They do not suspect foul play," he said.

Ford suffered a series of strokes in the 1990s.

"It comes to mind instantly what a remarkable actor he was," actor Sidney Poitier, who also starred in "The Blackboard Jungle," said Wednesday evening. "He had those magical qualities that are intangible but are quite impactful on the screen. He was a movie star."

Failing health forced Ford to skip a 90th birthday tribute on May 1 at Hollywood's historic Grauman's Egyptian Theatre. But he did send greetings via videotape, adding, "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."

At the event, Shirley Jones, who co-starred with him in the comedy "The Courtship of Eddie's Father," called Ford "one of the cornerstones of our industry, and there aren't many left."

Ford appeared in scores of films during his 53-year Hollywood career. The Film Encyclopedia, a reference book, lists 85 films from 1939 to 1991.

He was cast usually as the handsome tough, but his acting talents ranged from romance to comedy. His more famous credits include "Superman,""Gilda,""The Sheepman,""The Gazebo,""Pocketful of Miracles" and "Don't Go Near the Water."

An avid horseman and former polo player, Ford appeared in a number of Westerns, "3:10 to Yuma,""Cowboy,""The Rounders,""Texas,""The Fastest Gun Alive" and the remake of "Cimarron" among them. His talents included lighter parts, with roles in "The Teahouse of August Moon" and "It Started With a Kiss."

On television, he appeared in "Cade's County,""The Family Holvak,""Once an Eagle" and "When Havoc Struck." He starred in the feature film "The Courtship of Eddie's Father," which later became a TV series featuring Bill Bixby.

A tireless worker, Ford often made several films a year, Ford continued working well into his 70s. In 1992, though, he was hospitalized for more than two months for blood clots and other ailments, and at one point was in critical condition

"Noel Coward once told me, `You will know you're old when you cease to be amazed.' Well, I can still be amazed," Ford said in a 1981 interview with The Associated Press.

After getting his start in theater in the 1930s, he got a break when he was signed by Columbia Pictures mogul Harry Cohn.

In 1940, he appeared in five films, including "Blondie Plays Cupid" and "Babies for Sale." After serving with the Marines during World War II, Ford starred in 1946 as a small-time gambler in "Gilda," opposite Rita Hayworth.

The film about frustrated romance and corruption in postwar Argentina became a film noir classic. Hayworth plays Ford's former love, a sometime nightclub singer married to a casino operator, and she sizzles onscreen performing "Put the Blame on Mame."

Ford speaks the memorable voiceover in the opening scene: "To me a dollar was a dollar in any language. It was my first night in the Argentine and I didn't know much about the local citizens. But I knew about American sailors, and I knew I'd better get out of there."

Two years later he made "The Loves of Carmen," also with Hayworth.

"It was one of the greatest mistakes I ever made, embarrassing," Ford said of the latter film. "But it was worth it, just to work with her again."

Among his competitors for leading roles was William Holden. Both actors, Ford said, would stuff paper in their shoes to appear taller than the other. "Finally, neither of us could walk, so we said the hell with it."

Ford also played against Bette Davis in "A Stolen Life."

One of his best-known roles was in the 1955 "The Blackboard Jungle," where he portrayed a young, soft-spoken teacher in a slum school who inspires a class full of juvenile delinquents to care about life.

"We did a film together, and it was for me a great experience because I had always admired his work," recalled Poitier. "When I saw him in films I had always marveled at the subtlety of his work. He was truly gifted."

In "The Big Heat," 1953, a gritty crime story, Ford played a police detective.

"Acting is just being truthful," he once said. "I have to play myself. I'm not an actor who can take on another character, like Laurence Olivier. The worst thing I could do would be to play Shakespeare."

He was born Gwyllyn Samuel Newton Ford on May 1, 1916, in Quebec, the son of a railroad executive. The first name reflected his family's Welsh roots. When Ford joined Columbia, Cohn asked him to change his name to John Gower; Ford refused but switched his first name to Glenn, after his father's birthplace of Glenford.

He moved to Southern California at 8 and promptly fell in love with show business, even sneaking onto a Culver City studio lot at night. He took to the stage at Santa Monica High School. His first professional job was as a searchlight operator in front of a movie house.

He started his career in theater, as an actor with West Coast stage companies and as Tallulah Bankhead's stage manager in New York. In 1939, he made his first Hollywood film opposite Jean Rogers in the romance "Heaven With a Barbed Wire Fence."

His director, Ricardo Cortez, told Ford he would never amount to anything and the actor returned to New York. He didn't stay away from Hollywood long, though, signing a 14-year contract with Columbia Pictures.

He married actress-dancer Eleanor Powell in 1943; the two divorced in 1959. They had a son, Peter. A 1965 marriage to actress Kathryn Hays ended quickly. In 1977, he married model Cynthia Hayward, 32 years his junior. They were divorced in 1984.

Glenn Ford, Leading Man, Is Dead at 90

Glenn Ford, a laconic, soft-spoken actor with an easy smile who played leading roles in many westerns, melodramas and romantic films from the early 1940’s through the 60’s, died yesterday at his Beverly Hills home. He was 90.

Paramedics called to the home shortly before 4 p.m. found him dead, the police said. He had a series of strokes in the 1990’s.

Mr. Ford, who had the ability to project a taut resoluteness and inner strength along with affability and gentleness, was never nominated for an Academy Award, although his acting consistently won high praise from critics and he was popular with moviegoers, especially in the 1950’s. He started his Hollywood career seemingly typecast as an actor who could do well in undistinguished films. He thus made a series of B movies for Columbia Pictures, playing featured roles in such forgettable productions as “Men Without Souls” and “My Son Is Guilty” (both in 1940) and “Texas,” “The Desperadoes” and “Destroyer” (all in 1941).

He usually attracted critical praise even when the script, production and direction were anything but praiseworthy.

In 1946, for example, Mr. Ford starred opposite Rita Hayworth in “Gilda,” a film remembered mostly as the vehicle for her provocative rendition of a song called “Put the Blame on Mame.” Writing in The New York Times, Bosley Crowther praised Mr. Ford’s “stamina and poise in a thankless role.”

But in the 1950’s, Mr. Ford began to make pictures that were more consistent with the ability he had repeatedly demonstrated. In 1955, he played an idealistic, beleaguered teacher in “Blackboard Jungle,” which was about daily life in what was then regarded as a tough New York City high school.

Gwyllyn Samuel Newton Ford was born on May 1, 1916, in Quebec, the only child of Newton and Hannah Ford.

The Fords were of Welsh descent, and the family was quite prominent in Canada. Newton Ford was a railroad executive and mill owner who was a nephew of Sir John MacDonald, a former prime minister of Canada. Another Ford ancestor was Martin Van Buren, the eighth president of the United States.

Gwyllyn, soon to be called Glenn, was initially reared in Portneuf, Quebec, an hour away from the city. When he was 7, his family moved to Santa Monica, Calif., where Mr. Ford was educated.

After high school, he began working with small theater groups. He later said his father had no objection to his son’s 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.”

Mr. Ford listened to his father, and in the 1950’s, when he was one of the nation’s most popular actors, he regularly worked on plumbing, wiring and air-conditioning at home.

At various times, Mr. Ford worked as a roofer and installer of plate-glass windows. At one point, he worked in a Santa Monica bar, keeping it clean for $5 a week. Years later, as a successful actor, he would drive by that bar almost every day. “There are too many places here that won’t let me forget how I started,” he told an interviewer.

In the late 1930’s, he managed to get a screen test at 20th Century Fox but did not do well. A year later, he was given a second chance and won his first movie part in 1939 in “Heaven With a Barbed-Wire Fence.”

The B movies followed until 1943, when he joined the Marine Corps. While in the Marines, he met Eleanor Powell, the dancer, at a war-bond cavalcade. They were married in 1943. The marriage would end in divorce 16 years later. They had a son, Peter, who survives.

In 1966, Mr. Ford married Kathryn Hays, an actress, but the marriage ended quickly. In 1977, he wed Cynthia Hayward, a model 32 years his junior. They divorced in 1984. In 1993, he married his nurse, Jeanne Baus, but they soon divorced.

There were times when it seemed that Mr. Ford was averse to vacations. In 1960 and ’61, he worked on four overlapping projects: “The Four Horsemen of the Apocalypse,” “Cry for Happy,” “Cimarron” and “Pocketful of Miracles.” When someone noted in Mr. Ford’s heyday that in five years, he had taken off an average of only 21 days between films, Mr. Ford replied, “I like to work.”

By 1965, all that work enabled him to build a $400,000 home in Beverly Hills, featuring an atrium over which hung a 900-pound artificial sun that could be switched on whenever Mr. Ford wanted to feel drenched with light. The house also held a replica of an English pub, to which he retreated when he preferred the shadows.

Mr. Ford’s better known films included “Don’t Go Near the Water” (1957), “Imitation General” (1958), “The Teahouse of the August Moon” (1956), “The Courtship of Eddie’s Father” (1963), “The Rounders” (1965) and “Heaven With a Gun” (1969).

As Mr. Ford grew older, he was cast less frequently, but in “Superman” (1978) he appeared in a brief scene as Superman’s Earth father. He also did some television work, including the series “Cade’s County” (1971); “Punch and Jody” (1974); “The Disappearance of Flight 412” (1975); “Evening in Byzantium” (1978) and “The Sacketts”(1979). In 1978, he was the host of a television series, “When Havoc Struck.”

Glenn Ford: Edginess exemplified

As a popular alternative to the burgeoning rebellion of the Marlon-Elvis-James Dean '50s, Glenn Ford was, for a while, a Cadillac at the box office. But for an actor who frequently played cowpokes, he didn't project an easygoing nature.

Ford's characters often looked uncomfortable, but the nervous edginess the actor projected adapted smoothly to Westerns, film noir, service comedies (he specialized in frazzled officers) and regular-guy roles that called for earnest intensity. On Wednesday, Ford was found dead at 90 in his Beverly Hills home.

Among the roles that played to Ford's intensity were his inexperienced lawyer in Trial, the father who battles kidnappers in the original Ransom! and, of course, as star of the pop culture sensation that put him front and center in the decade's most indelible movie moments.

It came in 1955's Blackboard Jungle, which gave Ford his signature role in a 52-year career.

As Jungle instructor Richard Dadier, Ford tries to teach and reach a class of a class of memorable malcontents (Vic Morrow, Sidney Poitier, Jamie Farr) who respond by co-opting his last name into "Daddy-O." With chalk in hand, he's humiliated by a blackboard BAM! — an NBA-caliber eraser bank shot lofted by one of the sinister class clowns. The scene became a '50s clip-reel classic.

Though strikingly handsome in his youth, the Canadian-born actor also adapted well to sleazy turmoil. In The Big Heat, hoods blow up Ford's wife, and he sleeps himself into deep trouble in director Fritz Lang's follow-up Human Desire. Ford also got famously twisted with Rita Hayworth in Gilda, the one standout in their five teamings and her most famous role.

Ford also co-starred twice early on with William Holden, an actor whose career his own curiously paralleled. Both started out at Columbia Pictures in the late '30s, quickly became leads in minor movies, had careers interrupted by war service (Ford's in the Marines, which helped turn him into a public patriot), and both treaded postwar waters before hitting it really big in the '50s.

But whereas Holden eventually starred in household names (Sunset Boulevard, Stalag 17 and so many more), Ford graced some creditable Westerns when the genre was going strong and walked through a lot of mediocre ones when all but the best fell out of favor in the late '60s. There were also the popular comedies now misnamed as Turner "Classics": It Started with a Kiss, The Gazebo, the now laborious The Teahouse of the August Moon.

Ford co-starred in Columbia Pictures' first color feature (1943's The Desperadoes) and had a sweet bit as the young Clark Kent's adoptive father in 1978's Superman. Between these milestones lie about 20 years of peak work. Those who want to view and re-view will want to start with these, all but the last on DVD:

Gilda (1946). Ford's "Johnny" has divided loyalties when a twisted casino owner (George Macready) hires him for goon duties that involve slapping around Johnny's singing ex-flame (Rita Hayworth). An unhealthy trio's tale was expertly wrapped in film noir trimmings and became a huge post-war hit.

The Big Heat (1953). His wife (Jocelyn Brando, sister of Marlon) steps on the family car's accelerator and goes boom. With that motivation, ex-cop Ford takes on the mob responsible, meeting a moll (Gloria Grahame) and a sadistic hood flunkie (Lee Marvin) who pretty well steal what is director Fritz Lang's best Hollywood film.

Blackboard Jungle (1955). Ford manages to redeem a classroom soul or two — but only after members of a punk student body assault a female teacher and send another colleague's collection of rare jazz recordings flying. Ford's most famous movie and perhaps most prototypical performance predated Rebel without a Cause in juvenile delinquent cinema by seven months. It's been said that director Richard Brooks slapped Bill Haley's Rock Around the Clock on the soundtrack — which did as much as any single gesture to ignite rock 'n' roll — when he heard Ford's son Peter playing it at home.

Jubal (1956). In what some have tagged "Othello on the Range," drifter Ford gets involved with his rancher/employer's hottie wife (Valerie French), which agitates a bunkmate (Rod Steiger) who also spent some time secretly sleeping on better sheets up at the house. This was the first in a fine series of Ford Westerns directed by Delmer Daves — followed in yearly succession by 3:10 to Yuma (1957; Ford as an easygoing outlaw facing arrest) and Cowboy (1958; a sturdy cattle drive saga that also gave co-star Jack Lemmon one of his most unusual roles).

Experiment in Terror (1962). Extortion, an asthmatic villain mouthing orders on the phone and a memorable climax during a Giants-Dodgers game at Candlestick Park. A career aberration curio for director Blake Edwards, it cast Ford as Mr. FBI, Lee Remick and Stefanie Powers as sister victims and Ross Martin as the heavy-breather.

The Rounders (1965). Two modern-day cowpokes spend time in bars and swim nude with good-time women, though their major interest comes to be an alcoholic horse they suddenly want to own. Easy to take and recipient of good reviews at the time, this Ford-Henry Fonda comic Western elected to mosey in the "year of Mod," and MGM cruelly dumped it at the bottom of a drive-in double bill with Nancy Sinatra and Chad Everett in Get Yourself a College Girl.


David said...

Glenn Ford was a wonderful actor that only we older people truly appreciate.

Anonymous said...

I became a Glenn Ford fan,only about 3 years ago,when I first started watching westerns. I soon realized how great an actor Glenn Ford really was. Now,I watch all his movies! He really was a very special person on & off screen. Gil