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Glenn Ford | by Greenman 2008
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Glenn Ford

Glenn Ford

A studio star who moved effortlessly across genres in long

and productive career

 

The hairstyles signposted Glenn Ford's long and active career; from the full and

wavy to the sleek, dark gigolo look, to the short back and sides, to a severe

crewcut that gradually shrivelled like dry grass on the prairie. His face, that

began boyish in prewar B films, hovered somewhere between the rugged

handsomeness of William Holden and Tom Ewell's Thurberesque one, allowing him to

be extremely dour in films noirs or to display the righteous nobility of a lone

western hero, while also being able to play perplexed characters in comedies.

For Ford, who has died aged 90, was a versatile Hollywood star able to shift

genres while retaining his sincere screen persona. Although his realistic speech

and timing seemed to owe something to the Method - he often had a mumbled and

hesitant delivery - the closest he ever came to the Actors' Studio was as Marlon

Brando's co-star in The Teahouse of the August Moon (1956).

Born in Quebec of Welsh descent, he was the son of a railroad executive and mill

owner, the nephew of Sir John MacDonald, a former prime minister of Canada.

Another Ford kinsman was Martin Van Buren, the eighth president of the United

States. Ford had tried a variety of jobs, becoming interested in the theatre,

and was acting on stage in California when he was signed to a contract with

Columbia Pictures in 1939.

At the beginning of his career he was in a number of undistinguished B pictures

- an exception being John Cromwell's anti-Nazi drama So Ends Our Night (1941) -

but the films improved and Ford stayed with the studio until the mid-1950s. This

period was interrupted by war service in the US marines, part of his activities

consisting in the training of French Resistance fighters. (He later became a

commander in the US naval reserves and served in Vietnam from 1967 to 1968.)

Matured from his war experiences, Ford, and millions of hot-blooded men all over

the world, lusted after gorgeous Rita Hayworth in Gilda (1946), as she peeled

off her long black gloves in a symbolic striptease while singing Put the Blame

on Mame. The sexual chemistry between the two stars was so strong on the set

that Columbia mogul Harry Cohn, who considered Hayworth his private property,

had microphones hidden in her dressing room in case she started an affair with

her leading man. But they quickly found the mics and teased the eavesdropping

boss with risqué conversations.

At the time, Ford was married to leggy, toothy dancer Eleanor Powell, who

retired from the screen to become plain Mrs Glenn Ford in 1943. (They divorced

in 1959.) Yet Cohn paired Hayworth and Ford again in the listless and Bizet-less

The Loves of Carmen (1948), in which Rita was a sexy Gypsy to Ford's stiff Don

José, and also in Affair in Trinidad (1952), another exotic melodrama.

Among Ford's best films at Columbia were the two he made for Fritz Lang. In The

Big Heat (1953), the audience is made to discover and experience the events

subjectively as Ford's cop does, while he mercilessly conducts a retributive

investigation into the death of his wife in a car bomb explosion. Ford's

achievement was in the creation of a cold and calculating yet sympathetic

character, who permits himself some warmth on the death of the pathetic

gangster's moll (Gloria Grahame).

In the same team's Human Desire (1954), an updating of Zola's La Bête Humaine,

already filmed by Jean Renoir in 1938, Ford's steely passivity allowed the other

performances to bounce off him effectively.

In 1955, he gained a crewcut and went over to MGM, where he made an immediate

impact in The Blackboard Jungle as a novice New York schoolteacher confronted

with a class of hooligans. It was also the film which effectively launched Bill

Haley's Rock Around the Clock on the world. Ford's pipe-smoking intensity suited

the liberal worthiness of the picture, as did his lawyer defending a Mexican boy

accused of rape and murder in Trial, of the same year.

Ford then switched successfully to comedy as the affable, ineffectual occupation

army officer Fishy in The Teahouse of the August Moon, trying to bring

American-style democracy to Okinawa, but who goes native himself, and the

bumbling navy PR man trying to do likewise on a South Pacific island in Don't Go

Near the Water (1957).

At the same time, Ford made three Delmer Davies westerns. There was the brooding

Jubal (1956), in which he inspires the Othello-like jealousy of Ernest Borgnine;

3.10 to Yuma (1957), in one of his rare villain parts, and Cowboy (1958), as

Jack Lemmon's tough, drunken partner.

At his busiest in the 1950s and 1960s, Ford moved smoothly from the serious

rodeo drama The Violent Men (1955) and the horse opera The Fastest Gun Alive

(1956) to the biopic operatics of Interrupted Melody (1955) as the husband of a

Wagnerian soprano stricken with polio, to the comedy western The Sheepman (1958)

opposite Shirley Maclaine. He good-humouredly played Damon Runyon's bootlegger

Dave the Dude in Frank Capra's farewell film, A Pocketful of Miracles (1961).

However, in his autobiography, Capra petulantly blamed Ford for the heavy-handed

production's failure.

There followed two movies by Vincente Minnelli. The first was The Four Horsemen

of the Apocalypse (1962), in which he was unhappily cast in Rudolph Valentino's

old role, but he exuded charm in the title role of The Courtship of Eddie's

Father (1963) looking for a mother for the then nine-year-old future director

Ron Howard.

In the 1970s, Ford was more occupied as the hero of the series Cade's County on

TV than on the big screen, but nevertheless he cropped up from time to time to

walk down a dusty street with spurs jangling in minor westerns and cameos in TV

series and war pictures. One of his last feature film appearances was as Pa Kent

in Superman (1978), the muscle-bound hero's adopted father. The critic Pauline

Kael thought it inspired casting because Ford's resources as an actor had

contracted to the point where he had become a comic-book version of the good

American.

Ford, who was married and divorced four times, is survived by his son by Eleanor

Powell.

 

· Glenn (Gwyllyn Samuel Newton) Ford, actor, born May 1 1916; died August 30

2006

 

Ronald Bergan The Guardian 1 September 2006

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Taken on August 28, 2006