Glenn Ford – Biography
by Ralph Lucas – Publisher
The town of Sainte-Christine, in Portneuf county, Québec, lies just west of Québec City along the north shore of the St.Lawrence River. The highway into and out of town is sometimes called “le chemin du Roy,” or the King’s Road. It was Canada’s first carriageway and it was opened in 1734 as a link between Québec City and Montréal. Blessed by a river to provide power, Sainte-Christine was an early industrial town and it was here that Gwyllyn Samuel Newton Ford spent the first years of his life. His dad was a railway executive and most likely the young Gwyllyn would have followed in his father’s footsteps but for a few odd tricks of fate and quirks of timing. The first came when Gwyllyn was just four years old. He was cast in a community production of Tom Thumb’s Wedding and it made a lasting impression on the very young lad. Then when he was just eight years old the family moved to California.
Ford’s high school years were spent in one production after another, and by time he was 18 years old he had landed his first professional job as a stage manager. Within a year he was acting in the West Coast company of Lillian Hellman’s The Children’s Hour and later acted on Broadway. His first film, 1939’s Heaven with a Barbed Wire Fence, was made for 20th Century-Fox but he was quickly signed by Columbia, where he stayed for the next 14 years. His first films at Columbia were the so-called “B” movies, which included titles such as Blondie Plays Cupid in 1940 or The Adventures of Martin Eden in 1942. Just as Ford was promoted to Columbia’s “A” films and his career seemed ready to take off, the United States entered the Second World War, and Ford enlisted in the Marines. During his service he helped build safe houses in France for those hiding from the Nazis. In 1992 Ford was awarded the Legion d’Honneur Medal for his action in the Second World War.
After the war his career seemed to be in low gear but two movies, both made in 1946, catapulted him into the ranks of stardom. The first was Gilda, which co-starred Rita Hayworth (pictured above), quickly followed by A Stolen Life opposite Bette Davis. He would go on to make over 100 films in a career that would continue for another 45 years.
It is odd, in retrospect, to realize that about half of his films were Westerns, a genre that has all but died out in Hollywood. He always said his favorite movies were Westerns and some of his best include excellent performances in The Fastest Gun Alive in 1956, 3:10 to Yuma in 1957 and Cowboy in 1958. That was the year he was voted “the number one male box-office attraction.” And no wonder. Mixed in with the Westerns, Ford starred in The Big Heat in 1953, The Blackboard Jungle in 1955 and Trial, also in 1955.
The onslaught of television and a new era, which saw the collapse of the studio system, marked the end of some careers but it seemed like Ford was just warming up. He made the Westerns, Heaven with a Gun and Smith, with Chief Dan George (pictured below) in 1969, then Santee with Jay Silverheels in 1973, and continued to make movies while at the same time gravitating to the small screen. Although his television series, Cade’s County, lasted only one season, he went on to star in another series, The Family Holvak, and to host a weekly syndicated documentary series titled When Havoc Struck in 1978. He also starred in a number of television movies through the 1970s and in the mini-series Once an Eagle in 1976.
In 1980 he delivered a stunningly strong performance as an Irish-American patriarch in the made-for-television feature The Gift. The following year he co-starred in Happy Birthday to Me, working with Lawrence Dane and Sharon Acker among other Canadian actors. It wasn’t one of his best movies, but untouched by the reviews he looked forward to his next project and the one after that and the one after that. As it turned out he had another decade ahead of him before illness began to make it impossible for him to work.
In 1970 he published, Glenn Ford RFD Beverly Hills. Ford was married to actress Eleanor Powell from 1943 to 1959. He also married Kathryn Hays and later Cynthia Hayward. He made his last screen appearance in 1991. Later that decade he suffered a series of strokes which essentially sidelined him. He had been living with his son, Peter, in Beverly Hills for a few years. There were elaborate plans for a 90th birthday celebration on May 1st of 2006, but Ford’s failing health meant he would have to miss the birthday tribute held at Hollywood’s Grauman’s Egyptian Theatre.
He did manage to send a video, however, in which he said, “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.” There had been efforts by Peter Ford to have his father’s Canadian birth recognized at some level in Canada but, according to an exchange of emails with Northernstars.ca, those efforts were met with silence.
This biography is Copyright © 2006 by Ralph Lucas and may not be reproduced without written permission. Click here for more information about copyright.
All of the Glenn Ford images on this page were scanned from originals in the Northernstars Collection.