Gwyllyn Samuel Newton Ford (known more succinctly as Glenn Ford, a stage name derived from his father’s Canadian hometown, Glenford) was one of Hollywood’s most prosperous and versatile actors. His capacity to fill the shoes of any character – a hardy cowboy, charming lover, dedicated teacher, or caring father – made him a favorite among filmgoers. He has often been described as both quiet and intense on-screen, and has received great praise for his ability to be hilariously comedic or darkly captivating; meeting the needs of each role he has played in his own unique way.
Throughout his distinguished career, which lasted an incredible seven decades (from 1937 to 1992), Ford appeared in over one hundred films and several popular television series. He has received numerous awards for his performances, including a Golden Globe as Best Actor for his work in the 1961 film Pocketful of Miracles (after being nominated on two prior occasions – once in 1957, and again in 1958). He also received his own star on the Hollywood Walk of Fame and was given a place in the National Cowboy & Western Heritage Museum’s Western Performers Hall of Fame.
Glenn Ford was born in Jeffrey Hale Hospital in Quebec City to parents Hanna Wood Mitchell and Newton Ford. Ford nurtured his pervasive interest in acting and film early in life - he began performing with theatrical groups immediately following his graduation from high school. His father, a railroad executive, did not discourage him from aspiring to become an actor, but insisted that he also learn to work with his hands so that he would “always have something.” This additional education suited Glenn Ford well; he was known to frequently work on the plumbing and wiring in his own home, even while he was one of Hollywood’s most famous faces. He also occasionally worked roofing jobs and installed windows.
Glenn Ford began his acting career with West Coast stage companies and got his first recognizable part in the major motion picture Heaven with a Barbed Wire Fence (1939). He had already enjoyed performances in over a dozen films when he decided to volunteer with the U.S. Marine Corps Reserve in 1942, during World War II. His work with the Marines included photographic, production, and radio broadcasting assignments. Ford was honorably discharged in December of 1944, and continued his work in Hollywood shortly thereafter.
The role that sent Glenn Ford on his way to the top was that of the narrator, Johnny Farrell, in the film Gilda. He played opposite Rita Hayworth, and their on-screen chemistry was so impressive that they were paired together in another four films afterward. Although the film itself didn’t receive the best reviews, Ford’s performance was noticed by critics and he received great praise for his poise and dedication to his role. This marked the onset of the best years of his career, which bloomed in the 1950s and 1960s and earned him a steady flow of work up through the early 1990s. He held major roles in films of nearly every genre: action movies (such as The Green Glove), thrillers, dramas (including The Disappearance of Flight 412), and comedies.
The Green Glove, an action movie in which Ford starred, was released in 1952. The film follows an American paratrooper who attempts to reclaim a religious relic – a bejeweled glove – that was stolen from a rural church during World War II. His journey takes him to France, where the ex-soldier encounters a beautiful love interest working as a tour guide and, not so pleasantly, a Nazi collaborator with whom he had previously sparred in the field. The film was directed by Rudolph Maté and received modest praise.
In the science fiction film The Disappearance of Flight 412, which debuted on television in 1972, Glenn Ford played U.S. Air Force Colonel Pete Moore. In the film, two jets vanish without warning while in pursuit of what appear to be UFOs. As Commander of the Whitney Radar Test Group, Moore is floored when he discovers that the government is effectively hiding the disappearance of the jets by essentially brainwashing his men into believing that they had witnessed nothing out of the ordinary and destroying every trace of their mission. Disobeying his commands, Moore delves deep into the mystery in order to discover what really happened and why his superiors are so intent on keeping it under wraps.
Eight years later, Glenn Ford appeared in the Japanese science fiction film Virus (also known as Fukkatsu no hi, which literally translates as ‘Day of Resurrection’). At the time, it was the most expensive Japanese film ever produced. The plot involves a horrendous virus that is accidentally discovered by a geneticist and later stolen by spies for the American government for its own militaristic purposes. The spies’ plane crashes and the virus is released, killing off virtually the entire population of the earth. The only survivors are a small multinational group of scientists and their personnel in Antarctica; since the virus cannot become active at such low temperatures, their lives are spared. The survivors form their own government and attempt to save their planet from further destruction.
Glenn Ford’s romantic life involved four marriages that all ended in divorce. His first wife was famous actress Eleanor Powell. In 1945, two years after they were wed, she gave birth to Ford’s only son, Peter. Ford’s other three wives – Kathryn Hays, Cynthia Hayward, and Jeanne Baus – never bore him any children. His final marriage dissolved in 1994 after lasting just one year. It has been said that Ford was not on good terms with any of his ex-wives. Peter Ford, his son, went on to become an actor and business contractor. Although the relationship between father and son had high and low points (with Glenn Ford briefly becoming estranged from his son), the two eventually became close. Peter is now in the process of writing his father’s biography, Glenn Ford: A Life in Film.
Glenn Ford died on August 30, 2006, after suffering a series of strokes. He was 90 years old when he expired and was interned at the Woodlawn Cemetery in Santa Monica, California.
- Watch The Green Glove with Glenn Ford for Free on FMO.
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- Watch Virus with Glenn Ford for Free on FMO.