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Glenn Ford in the '40s
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Glenn Ford Profile

He was called the fastest gun in Hollywood. Able to draw his weapon in .04 seconds - faster than John Wayne or Gunsmoke's James Arness. Thanks in part to these quick hands Glenn Ford was often cast in Westerns - including the appropriately titled The Fastest Gun Alive (1956). But his career highlights also include a number of memorable comedies, crime dramas and war movies. It was the appeal of his screen persona - an average Joe - that made him a popular star. He never won an Oscar®, but in 1958, Glenn Ford was voted Hollywood's number one box office attraction.

Ford was born Gwyllyn Samuel Newton Ford on May 1, 1916 in Sainte-Christine, Quebec, Canada. His father was a railroad executive who moved the family to California when Glenn was eight years old. Ford got his first taste of acting at age four in community theater and continued to perform in high school productions. He joined a West Coast touring company in 1934 - as a stage manager. In a short time, Ford was performing with the company on stage in a production of The Children's Hour. He was soon discovered by a talent scout for 20th Century Fox and made his screen debut in Heaven with a Barbed Wire Fence (1939). In his first film, Ford played a department store clerk, who must marry a girl to save her from deportation. The film was based on a story by Dalton Trumbo and directed by silent star Ricardo Cortez.

Fox may have seen him first, but Ford signed with Columbia Pictures. He spent the next few years in small roles at the studio before WWII interrupted. Ford served in France during the war, building safe houses with the Marines. He would retain his officer's commission at war's end, later making goodwill visits to Korea and Vietnam. And in 1992, he would be awarded the French Legion of Honor Medal by the country of France for his WWII service. During the war years, Ford also got married - to dance star Eleanor Powell. This would be the first of four marriages.

After the war Ford tried to resume his Hollywood career but it was a slow process. It was through Bette Davis that he got his big postwar break. She approved him as her romantic lead in A Stolen Life (1946). But it was another film that same year that would change Ford's career forever. The classic film noir Gilda (1946) costarring Rita Hayworth pushed Glenn Ford into the spotlight. The Hayworth-Ford pairing proved so popular that they were reteamed in three more pictures including: The Loves of Carmen (1948), Affair in Trinidad (1952) and The Money Trap (1965).

Over half of Ford's films were Westerns. The genre kept him especially busy during the 1950s and '60s. There were The Violent Men (1955) with Barbara Stanwyck and Edward G. Robinson and 3:10 to Yuma (1957) with Ford as an outlaw being escorted to jail by Van Heflin. Ford played a sheep farmer in The Sheepman (1958) with Shirley MacLaine and a tough trail boss in Cowboy (1958), teaching Jack Lemmon about life on the range. Cimarron (1960) was a Western drama about the Oklahoma land rush based on a novel by Edna Ferber. And in The Last Challenge (1967), Ford faced a duel with a young gunslinger to defend his reputation as a gunslinger.

Ford also excelled in contemporary dramatic roles. One of his best-remembered films, Blackboard Jungle (1955), pitted him as a teacher up against a group of inner city delinquents. In Ransom! (1956), Ford played the father of a kidnapped boy, who turns the tables on the kidnappers when he decides to offer the ransom money as a reward for their capture (Ford's role would be reprised by Mel Gibson in the 1996 remake). Terror on a Train (1953) saw Ford in action as a bomb expert who must race the clock to defuse a bomb on a train.

Ford's military training often came in handy on the big screen. He played Captain Fisby in the Marlon Brando film The Teahouse of the August Moon (1956), which is set in post V-J Day Okinawa. And in Torpedo Run (1958) he played an obsessed submarine commander determined to sink the Japanese ship that had killed his wife and daughter. Much later, Ford joined Charlton Heston, Henry Fonda and Robert Mitchum in the Pacific war epic Midway (1976).

Ford also made his share of comedies. In The Courtship of Eddie's Father (1963) Ford played a widowed father, whose son (a young Ron Howard) is determined to find him a new bride. He also made several military comedies -- such as Don't Go Near the Water (1957), Imitation General (1958), Cry for Happy (1961) and Advance to the Rear (1964). And Ford co-starred with Debbie Reynolds in two films: the comedy-thriller The Gazebo and the light sex comedy It Started with a Kiss (both 1959).

In his later career, Ford turned his attention to television. He appeared in numerous TV movies and starred in two short-lived series in the 1970s -- Cade's County where he played a sheriff in the modern west and The Family Holvak which cast Ford as a Reverend and family man in 1930s Tennessee. He also made time for the occasional feature appearance - including his turn as Pa Kent in Superman: The Movie (1978). A cameo in Tombstone (1993) was to serve as Ford's Hollywood swansong but failing health forced him to withdraw from the project. He passed away on August 30, 2006.

While he never won an Oscar®, Glenn Ford was a three-time Golden Globe nominee - the first two nominations were for his roles in The Teahouse of the August Moon and Don't Go Near the Water. His third nomination came in 1961 for Pocketful of Miracles, Frank Capra's remake of his own Lady for a Day (1933). This time Ford won the Golden Globe for Best Actor Musical or Comedy. Not bad for a guy who by his own account wasn't an actor. As Ford put it, "people laugh when I say I'm not an actor, but I'm not. I play myself."

by Stephanie Thames

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