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Star of the Month: Glenn Ford
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Glenn Ford - Mondays in July

Glenn Ford, TCM Star of the Month for July, was always good company onscreen. An actor with naturalism who never pushed too hard, Ford mastered a relaxed, "less-is-more" style that engaged audiences and put them at ease. Although his technique was all but invisible, he was, as costar Debbie Reynolds once pointed out, a "master of his craft." Ford would insist that he always played himself, but that likeable, understated "Glenn Ford character" proved quite versatile, fitting smoothly into a number of genres - romance, comedy, action, film noir and, of course, Westerns.

He was born Gwyllyn Samuel Newton Ford on May 1, 1916, in Sainte-Christine-d'Auvergne, Quebec, Canada, the son of Hannah Wood Mitchell and Newton Ford, an engineer for the Canadian Pacific Railway. Through his father, Glenn was a great-nephew of Canada's first Prime Minster, Sir John A. Macdonald. He would take his stage name from Glenford, the village where his father was born and his family had owned a paper mill.

Ford moved to California with his family at age six and later attended Santa Monica High School. After acting in school productions, he signed with a traveling theater company and worked as both actor and stage manager. He made an inauspicious film debut as Gwyllyn Ford in a musical short, Night in Manhattan (1937), in which he played an emcee.

In 1939, the same year he became a naturalized citizen of the U.S., Ford was spotted by a 20th Century-Fox talent scout and filmed a screen test for the studio. He made his first feature there, Heaven with a Barbed Wire Fence (1939).

Ford then signed with Columbia Pictures, which would be his home studio over the next two decades. Studio head Harry Cohn, who previously had depended upon loan-outs from other studios for his star personalities, had decided to develop some of his own talent beginning with Ford, Rita Hayworth, William Holden and Rosalind Russell. Ford and Holden would become close and lifelong friends.

The Lady in Question (1940) was notable among Ford's early films for Columbia because it introduced him to costar Rita Hayworth and director Charles Vidor, later to be his collaborators on the hit film noir Gilda (1946). The chemistry between Ford and Hayworth proved remarkable, and they would make a total of five films together, including: The Loves of Carmen (1948), Affair in Trinidad (1952) and The Money Trap (1965). Ford would acknowledge in later years that he and Hayworth had at one time enjoyed a tempestuous affair. They remained close until her death in 1987.

On loan to Warner Bros., Ford was leading man to Bette Davis in A Stolen Life (1946), in which she played twins, one good and one evil. Davis had specifically asked for Ford as her costar. His star was rising and Columbia kept him busy in a series of melodramas and Westerns in the late 1940s and early '50s. Among the former was The White Tower (1950), a mountain-climbing adventure costarring Alida Valli.

In perhaps his best roles at Columbia, Ford starred opposite sultry Gloria Grahame in two outstanding films noir directed by Fritz Lang: The Big Heat (1953), in which he plays a cop bent on avenging the death of his wife; and Human Desire (1954), where he's a war veteran drawn into a murder plot.

Westerns were a natural fit for Ford, with the laconic demeanor of his characters usually hiding a will of iron. He had learned to ride as a youth while working as a stable boy for Fox star Will Rogers, and he was always at ease on a horse. Ford was considered the fastest draw among Hollywood's cowboy set. At Columbia, Ford often competed for starring roles in Westerns with his pal Bill Holden, and the pair acted together in two of them, Texas (1941) and The Man from Colorado (1949).

In the early 1950s Ford had done a couple of films for MGM, including the British-made Terror on a Train (1953), in which he is a Royal Canadian Engineer attempting to foil a saboteur intent on bombing a train. By now, he was close to the top of the Hollywood heap, and MGM gave his career a major boost by awarding him a star contract.

Ford had a huge hit at MGM with Blackboard Jungle (1955), an edgy drama in which he plays a dedicated teacher coping with high-school delinquents. Also at MGM, Ford impressed with strong performances in two more hard-hitting contemporary dramas, Trial (1955) and Ransom! (1956), along with the excellent Western The Fastest Gun Alive (1956).

A major breakthrough in comedy came with his role as a well-meaning but bumbling American captain in post-WWII Okinawa in MGM's The Teahouse of the August Moon (1956). Many felt that Ford outshone his costar of the film, Marlon Brando who played the native interpreter Sakini. Ford's own evaluation: "Frankly, I plucked Marlon's feathers."

Also at MGM, Ford made a popular service comedy, Don't Go Near the Water (1957); a comic Western, The Sheepman (1958), costarring Shirley MacLaine; a WWII submarine drama, Torpedo Run (1958); and two sprightly comedies opposite Debbie Reynolds, It Started With a Kiss and The Gazebo (both 1959).

Ford's MGM contract allowed him the freedom to do outside films, and he returned to his home studio, Columbia, for some well-made and increasingly adult Westerns including, Jubal (1956); 3:10 to Yuma (1957), in which Ford again excelled as the villain; and Cowboy (1958). During this period Ford was often in the list of Top Ten box-office stars, and in 1958 he registered as No. 1.

In the early 1960s, two expensive but unsuccessful remakes at MGM--Anthony Mann's Cimarron (1960) and Vincente Minnelli's The Four Horsemen of the Apocalypse (1962)--slowed Ford's momentum. But he enjoyed success through United Artists with the Frank Capra comedy Pocketful of Miracles (1961), a remake of Capra's Lady for a Day (1933) with Bette Davis as Apple Annie. He also made the tense thriller Experiment in Terror (1962) at Columbia with Lee Remick and the MGM comedy The Courtship of Eddie's Father (1963), again directed by Minnelli.

Ford's films of the 1960s also included Fate Is the Hunter (1964), an aviation disaster film from 20th Century-Fox; Dear Heart (1964), a gentle romantic comedy from Warner Bros. in which he is charmingly paired with Geraldine Page; and Columbia's Rage (1966, a TCM premiere), in which Ford offers an incisive character study of a man seeking treatment after being bitten by a rabid dog.

Ford continued to appear in feature films through the 1970s with a notable turn as the superhero's father in Superman (1978), which confirmed his status as an iconic American Everyman. He also turned his attention to television, where he kept busy with a number of TV movies and two short-lived series, Cade's County (1971-72) and The Family Holvak (1975).

Ford's schedule slowed in the 1980s, although he remained active. He made his last film appearance in the TV movie Final Verdict (1991). In addition to his considerable television work, he had appeared in some 90 feature films.

In his often-unsettled private life, Ford had four marriages: MGM dancing star Eleanor Powell (1943-1959), the mother of his son, Peter; actress Kathryn Hays (1966-69); Cynthia Hayward (1977-84); and Jeanne Baus (briefly in 1993). Ford suffered a series of minor strokes that left him in frail health leading up to his death on August 30, 2006, at the age of 90. In 2011, Peter published a biography of his father, Glenn Ford: A Life (2011).

Ford served in the U.S. Marine Corps during World War II and, in 1958, joined the U.S. Naval Reserve where he was commissioned as a lieutenant commander, then promoted to commander and captain. In 1992, he was awarded the French Legion of Honor Medal for his service in France during the war.

In Ford's heyday, critic Jack Moffit wrote in The Hollywood Reporter of his string of "historic" performances, noting the many years when, "with patience, perseverance and humility [he] struggled to make something out of every lousy script this town could throw at him." Moffitt noted that, when Ford did break through with outstanding work, some people attributed it to luck. "But luck had very little to do with it. Every fragment of that triumph has been honestly earned and unremittingly worked for."

by Roger Fristoe

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