“I’ve never played anyone but myself on screen.” –Glenn Ford
Glenn Ford was among the many Golden Age actors to enjoy a prolific career and several iconic roles. Best remembered for his film noir roles in Gilda (1946) and The Big Heat (1953), Ford offered many praiseworthy performances.
Gwyllyn Samuel Newton Ford was born in Canada in Sainte-Christine-d’Auvergne, Quebec. His father was an engineer with the Canadian Pacific Railway. Ford happened to be related to Canada’s first Prime Minister and U.S. President Martin Van Buren on his paternal side. By the time Ford turned six, his family relocated to Venice, California, and then to Santa Monica, California, where Ford would graduate from Santa Monica High School.
During his high school years, Ford enjoyed participating in drama productions. Once he graduated, he worked in different theater groups, in addition to working several odd jobs. One job, however, had him working with Will Rogers, who taught him horsemanship. While pursuing acting, Ford also learned several other trades and tasks thanks to the advice of his father. As a result, Ford had knowledge of plumbing, wiring, and air conditioning, while he was working steadily as an actor.
Ford began working for Columbia Pictures in 1939 and became a naturalized citizen of the U.S. in the same year. When he was hired at Columbia, he took on the stage name of Glenn Ford as a tribute to his father’s hometown of Glenford, Alberta.
Ford’s first film appearance was as an emcee in a short called Night in Manhattan (1937), followed by his first major role as Joe Riley in Heaven with a Barbed Wire Fence (1939). After impressing directors and critics with his first few roles alongside major actors such as Margaret Sullavan and Fredric March, Ford was displeased with Columbia’s lack of focus on his newfound prestige as an actor. Ford found himself starring in films which he felt were lackluster.
When World War II occurred, Ford enlisted in the Coast Guard Auxiliary and went on a 12-city tour to sell war bonds. During his tours to promote bonds for Army and Navy Relief, he met popular dancer and actress Eleanor Powell. The two formed a relationship and attended the official opening of the Hollywood USO as a couple. As their relationship progressed, Ford decided to volunteer for the U.S. Marine Corps Reserve, putting the studio in the position of asking the Marines to give their star more time to finish filming the war drama, Destroyer (1943). In the meantime, Ford proposed to Powell, who announced her retirement from films in order to devote her time to her marriage and a family. The couple would have one son: Peter Ford. Their marriage, in addition to Ford’s next three marriages, ended in divorce.
Ford trained at the Marine base located in San Diego, where actor Tyrone Power was also training. Power invited Ford to join him in the Marines’ weekly radio show, Halls of Montezuma. At the same time, Ford fared well in his training and earned a Rifle Marksman Badge. He would eventually be promoted to sergeant.
While Ford was preparing for Officers Training School and the birth of his son, he was hospitalized with ulcers. After struggling with his health, he received a medical discharge. Though he did not gain experience in combat with the Marines, he earned many services medals for his time in the Marine Reserves Corps.
Ford’s most iconic role arrived in Gilda, which was also his first film after World war II. Ford had previously worked with Rita Hayworth in The Lady in Question (1940) but the pairing’s on-screen chemistry was especially well portrayed in Gilda. Ford would go on to work with Hayworth in a total of five films and he and Hayworth became lifelong friends and neighbors. Likewise, Ford and William Holden also maintained a close friendship throughout their careers and beyond.
Ford worked in a wide range of genres and offered several strong performances in the film noir genre. Nonetheless, he also appeared in thrillers, dramas, comedies, and action films. He worked in the social drama Blackboard Jungle (1955) and in the musical Interrupted Melody (1955), among several other films that showcased the breadth of his talents as a performer. He would also appear as Superman’s adoptive father in Superman (1978), allowing him to connect with another generation of audience members.
After World War II, Ford blended his film career with military services. In 1958, he joined the U.S. Naval Reserve, where he was commissioned as a lieutenant commander and later became a public affairs officer. Interestingly, he had portrayed a public affairs officer one year prior to this next step in his military career in Don’t Go Near the Water (1957). In 1963, he was promoted to commander and became a captain in 1968.
Ford received additional awards during this part of his service. The Navy awarded him the Navy Commendation Medal for his service in Vietnam. He retired in the 1970s as a captain and received the Marine Corps Reserve Ribbon.
In addition to films, Ford made television appearances and had his own show on CBS. Ford worked on shows such as The Glenn Ford Show, the Family Holvak, and many others while making guest appearances or finding work as a host or narrator for other shows. He also worked in radio, playing the lead role in The Adventures of Christopher London.
Ford passed away at age 90 on August 30, 2006.
Today, there are few tributes to Ford. Many of his personal items were sold at auction by his son.
According to the 1921 Canadian census records, Ford lived on 328 Ogiburg, Notre Dame de Graces Ward, Bordeaux, sub-district in Montreal, Quebec. There is no plaque to Ford in his native country, Canada.
In the U.S., Ford does have a star on the Hollywood Walk of Fame at 6933 Hollywood Blvd.
His alma mater, Santa Monica High School, stands at 601 Pico Blvd. in Santa Monica.
His 1935 home at 1423 Arizona Ave. in Santa Monica no longer stands. Here is the property today:
Ford, however, does have a tribute at the National Cowboy and Western Heritage Museum at 1700 NE 63rd St. in Oklahoma, City, Oklahoma. In 1978, he was inducted into the Western Performers Hall of Fame, though his trophy and membership were auctioned.
While the tributes to Ford are minimal, his contributions to the film industry were many and he left behind an entertaining filmography for audiences to remember and enjoy.