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'Pocketful of Miracles' Actor Glenn Ford


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'Pocketful of Miracles' Actor Glenn Ford

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Glenn Ford

Glenn Ford, the rangy, laconic actor who in a long and prolific career in films and television portrayed characters from gallant leading men to saddle tramps, died Wednesday, August 30. He was 90. Ford, a top box-office draw in the 1950s whose career spanned more than five decades and more than 100 films, was found dead at his Beverly Hills home by Fire Department paramedics just before 4 p.m.

Largely out of the public eye since the early 1990s, Ford was saluted by American Cinematheque at Hollywood's Egyptian Theatre in May on his 90th birthday. Ford, who had suffered several strokes, had been expected to attend but ultimately missed the event because of fragile health.

In his prime, Ford posted a string of memorable credits that included "Gilda," "The Blackboard Jungle," "3:10 to Yuma," "The Teahouse of the August Moon," "Don't Go Near the Water," "The Courtship of Eddie's Father," "Pocketful of Miracles" and "The Rounders."

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Glenn Ford in 'Pocketful of Miracles'

As a youth, Ford portrayed a Depression-era store clerk who hitchhiked West in "Heaven With a Barbed Wire Fence," his first feature picture in 1939, and as a middle-aged character actor he was the surrogate father of "Superman" in 1978 in the first feature-length film treatment of the comic book character.

He could play an ambitious, crooked gambler with a soul-saving sense of honor as in "Gilda" or an idealistic yet tough-minded teacher in "Blackboard Jungle." And although he was never nominated for an Oscar, he was a longtime Hollywood favorite. Ford, who was under contract to Columbia Pictures for many years.

While at Columbia, he got along well with studio chief Harry Cohn, who was famous for his parsimonious purse strings and flaming temper. Ford recalled in a 1981 interview that Cohn had sent for him when he left Columbia after his contract had expired and that the studio boss shook his hand fondly and said: "You know why we always got along together, Glenn? Because you never were afraid of me."

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Glenn Ford and Rita Hayworth in 'Gilda'

In the 1970s, Ford began concentrating on television, portraying Sheriff Sam Cade in "Cade's County" and the narrator of the children's series, "Friends of Man."

He portrayed the Rev. Tom Holvak, a poverty-stricken preacher, in "The Family Holvak." The last character in the 1975-77 series was based, Ford told The Times in 1975, on his grandfather, Thomas Ford, a rural minister in Quebec, Canada, the actor's native land.

He was born Gwyllyn Samuel Newton Ford on May 1, 1916, the son of a railroad executive and mill owner and nephew of Sir John MacDonald, a former prime minister of Canada and the descendant of Martin Van Buren, eighth president of the United States.

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Glenn Ford

Ford spent his earliest years in Glenford, site of the family's paper mill, from which Ford took his professional name. By the time his family moved to California when he was seven, he had already developed a taste for performing. At Santa Monica High School, he ran track, played lacrosse and excelled in English and drama.

Ford worked with numerous little theater groups and California touring companies as an actor and stage manager before joining the Broadway-bound play, "Soliloquy," starring film actor John Beal, in 1938. But when the play reached Broadway, it closed after only two performances. Ford returned to Los Angeles.

Next, 20th Century Fox hired him for a fourth-billed role in the low-budget "Heaven With a Barbed Wire Fence." It was not the most auspicious of debuts. In a 1985 interview with The Times, Ford recalled that the film's director, Ricardo Cortez, told him he would never make it as a movie actor.

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Glenn Ford and Rita Hayworth in 'Gilda'

But soon after, Ford was signed by Columbia. Roles in a string of B pictures followed, until World War II service intervened. Ford enlisted in the Marine Corps in December 1942, after being a member of the Coast Guard auxiliary for a year.

After his discharge in 1945, he returned to the screen the next year in three notable pictures: "Gilda," starring with Rita Hayworth, "A Stolen Life," in which he played opposite Bette Davis and "Gallant Journey," a film biography of 19th-century flight pioneer John Montgomery.

In "Gilda," where Rita Hayworth performs one of the steamiest dances in movie history, Ford was praised by Variety as "a far better actor than the tale permits." In 1953, Ford had his Columbia contract rewritten so he could work for other studios.

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Glenn Ford

Metro-Goldwyn-Mayer featured him as the doctor-husband in "Interrupted Melody," the story of opera star Marjorie Lawrence, a polio victim. That picture and others, such as "Ransom" and "Don't Go Near the Water," brought him rave notices about his "recent mature and thoughtful performances" and his "sly and adept" comedy.

Off-screen, Ford played polo

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'Blackboard Jungle' Actor Glenn Ford

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Glenn Ford

BEVERLY HILLS, California -- Actor Glenn Ford, who played strong, thoughtful protagonists in films such as "The Blackboard Jungle," "Gilda" and "The Big Heat," died Wednesday, August 30, police said. He was 90.

Paramedics called to Ford's home just before 4 p.m. found Ford dead, police Sgt. Terry Nutall said, reading a prepared statement. "They do not suspect foul play," he said. Ford suffered a series of strokes in the 1990s.

"It comes to mind instantly what a remarkable actor he was," actor Sidney Poitier, who also starred in "The Blackboard Jungle," said Wednesday evening. "He had those magical qualities that are intangible but are quite impactful on the screen. He was a movie star."

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Actress Stella Stevens and a young Ronny Howard starred

with Glenn Ford in 'The Courtship of Eddie's Father'

Failing health forced Ford to skip a 90th birthday tribute on May 1 at Hollywood's historic Grauman's Egyptian Theatre. But he did send greetings via videotape, adding, "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."

At the event, Shirley Jones, who co-starred with him in the comedy, "The Courtship of Eddie's Father," called Ford "one of the cornerstones of our industry, and there aren't many left." Ford appeared in scores of films during his 53-year Hollywood career. The Film Encyclopedia, a reference book, lists 85 films from 1939 to 1991.

He was cast usually as the handsome tough, but his acting talents ranged from romance to comedy. His more famous credits include "Superman," "Gilda," "The Sheepman," "The Gazebo," "Pocketful of Miracles" and "Don't Go Near the Water."

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Ford appeared in the last scene shot on 'Cimarron' before

an actors' strike shutdown production

An avid horseman and former polo player, Ford appeared in a number of Westerns, "3:10 to Yuma," "Cowboy," "The Rounders," "Texas," "The Fastest Gun Alive" and the remake of "Cimarron" among them. His talents included lighter parts, with roles in "The Teahouse of August Moon" and "It Started With a Kiss."

On television, he appeared in "Cade's County," "The Family Holvak," "Once an Eagle" and "When Havoc Struck." He starred in the feature film, "The Courtship of Eddie's Father," which later became a TV series featuring Bill Bixby.

A tireless worker, Ford often made several films a year, Ford continued working well into his 70s. In 1992, though, he was hospitalized for more than two months for blood clots and other ailments, and at one point was in critical condition.

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Glenn Ford relaxes before a televised interview in 1985

"Noel Coward once told me, 'You will know you're old when you cease to be amazed.' Well, I can still be amazed," Ford said in a 1981 interview with The Associated Press. After getting his start in theater in the 1930s, he got a break when he was signed by Columbia Pictures mogul Harry Cohn.

In 1940, he appeared in five films, including "Blondie Plays Cupid" and "Babies for Sale." After serving with the Marines during World War II, Ford starred in 1946 as a small-time gambler in "Gilda," opposite Rita Hayworth.

The film about frustrated romance and corruption in postwar Argentina became a film noir classic. Hayworth plays Ford's former love, a sometime nightclub singer married to a casino operator, and she sizzles onscreen performing "Put the Blame on Mame."

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Rita Hayworth and Glenn Ford in 'Gilda'

Ford speaks the memorable voiceover in the opening scene: "To me a dollar was a dollar in any language. It was my first night in the Argentine and I didn't know much about the local citizens. But I knew about American sailors, and I knew I'd better get out of there."

Two years later he made "The Loves of Carmen," also with Hayworth. "It was one of the greatest mistakes I ever made, embarrassing," Ford said of the latter film. "But it was worth it, just to work with her again."

Among his competitors for leading roles was William Holden. Both actors, Ford said, would stuff paper in their shoes to appear taller than the other. "Finally, neither of us could walk, so we said the hell with it." Ford also played against Bette Davis in "A Stolen Life."

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Glenn Ford in 'The Blackboard Jungle'

One of his best-known roles was in the 1955 "The Blackboard Jungle," where he portrayed a young, soft-spoken teacher in a slum school who inspires a class full of juvenile delinquents to care about life.

"We did a film together, and it was for me a great experience because I had always admired his work," recalled Poitier. "When I saw him in films I had always marveled at the subtlety of his work. He was truly gifted."

In 1953's "The Big Heat," a gritty crime story, Ford played a police detective. "Acting is just being truthful," he once said. "I have to play myself. I'm not an actor who can take on another character, like Laurence Olivier. The worst thing I could do would be to play Shakespeare."

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Glenn Ford

He was born Gwyllyn Samuel Newton Ford on May 1, 1916, in Quebec, the son of a railroad executive. The first name reflected his family's Welsh roots. When Ford joined Columbia, Cohn asked him to change his name to John Gower; Ford refused but switched his first name to Glenn, after his father's birthplace of Glenford.

He moved to Southern California at 8 and promptly fell in love with show business, even sneaking onto a Culver City studio lot at night. He took to the stage at Santa Monica High School. His first professional job was as a searchlight operator in front of a movie house.

He started his career in theater, as an actor with West Coast stage companies and as Tallulah Bankhead's stage manager in New York. In 1939, he made his first Hollywood film opposite Jean Rogers in the romance, "Heaven With a Barbed Wire Fence."

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Glenn Ford

His director, Ricardo Cortez, told Ford he would never amount to anything and the actor returned to New York. He didn't stay away from Hollywood long, though, signing a 14-year contract with Columbia Pictures.

Ford was married to the late actress/dancer Eleanor Powell in 1943 but the two divorced in 1959. In 1945, they had a son, Peter, who is now a Los Angeles County deputy sheriff. Ford had a well publicized affair with actress Rita Hayworth through the 1960s.

A 1966 marriage to actress Kathryn Hays ended quickly in 1969. In 1974, Ford married model Cynthia Hayward, 32 years his junior, but that marriage ended in divorce in 1977. In 1993, Ford married and divorced Jeanne Baus within the same year.

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