by Jon Ted Wynne
One of the greatest stars to ever grace the silver screen is still living quietly in California, virtually forgotten by the current crop of Hollywood power-brokers and by many movie fans around the world.
Glenn Ford, whose seven-decade career includes numerous classic films and a seemingly endless parade of great performances, has never been honoured with an Academy Award nomination, let alone a win. Despite persistent lobbying by many within the industry today and a grassroots movement of impressive size and commitment, Glenn Ford has repeatedly been turned down for consideration for a Lifetime Achievement Award from both the Academy of Motion Pictures Arts and Sciences and the American Film Institute.
While some nominees of these prestigious awards are certainly deserving, such as 2003’s honourary Oscar recipient, Peter O’Toole, others, such as Tom Hanks, who received the 2002 AFI Life Achievement Award while still in his forties, seem a bit premature in light of the achievements of Glenn Ford.
In fact, the impetus for this article came about when I first wrote about the AFI’s decision to honour Hanks last year. I stated what I hope was a compelling case for more deserving recipients such as Glenn Ford, Richard Widmark or Tony Curtis to be honoured in their lifetime. In response to my article I received a number of emails—some very hostile in their ‘pro-Hanks’ viewpoint, accusing me of virtual sacrilege and blasphemy—and other more rational and appreciative readers who concurred with my assessment that a ‘Life Achievement Award’ should actually recognize a lifetime of achievement.
It is even worth considering that the Lifetime Achievement Awards of the Oscars and perhaps even the AFI, should in future go to artists who have been overlooked by the Academy in their active careers. Maybe even a Male/Female award should be considered? Worthy recipients such as Ford and, say, Maureen O’Hara are not getting any younger.
In the final analysis, awards will always be determined in large part by politics. Witness the concern raised when Miramax repeatedly published Robert Wise’s article in support of the film GANGS OF NEW YORK, crassly using it to urge Academy members to vote for Martin Scorsese for Best Director. While it was not Wise’s intention to politicize, Miramax used his writing for precisely that purpose. It’s good to see that there was a strong reaction to such blatant and arguably tasteless advertising (on the part of Miramax, not Wise or Scorsese). It is reminiscent of Chill Wills’ disastrous attempt to gain a Best Supporting Actor Oscar for THE ALAMO by appealing to voters’ sense of patriotism!
Fortunately, there is an aspect of recognition for artistic merit that will always be free from politics and popularity and that is the ‘test of time’ standard by which all great art—and artists—is measured. While the work itself must be seen to be appreciated, when discovered—or perhaps in Glenn Ford’s case re-discovered—there is virtually nothing short of prejudice and ignorance that can impede its positive reassessment.
The films of Glenn Ford stand as a daunting testament to the presence, power and popularity of this great artist. And it is my intention to introduce or re-introduce as the case may be, his outstanding body of work to discerning film fans everywhere.
In examining Ford’s films I will be less inclined to discuss each film as a whole and more concentrated on Glenn Ford’s development as a film artist of the highest calibre. As an actor myself, I hope to provide some insight into Ford’s technique and style, to help others appreciate his flawless ability to be truthful and real in front of a camera. Ford’s biggest drawback towards critical and mass appreciation for his outstanding talent was his inherent ability to make acting look easy. I can bear witness to the fact that it isn’t.
I invite you to join me in an attempt to rediscover and celebrate the career achievements and artistry of one of the greatest Hollywood stars and one of the finest screen actors of all time.
What do we need to know as our starting point? Biography* is not the point of this study, though it is worth noting that Ford was born in Quebec, Canada in 1916 and became an American citizen in 1939, having lived in California with his parents from the age of 6 on. Of Welsh heritage, Ford’s first name was Gwyllyn—you can’t get more Welsh than that—and in fact is listed as Gwyllyn Ford in his first film, a short entitled NIGHT IN MANHATTAN made in 1937.
Ford’s father worked for the Canadian National Railway and when he moved his family to California in the early 1920s, worked on the trams in Venice, California for a time. It was while in Venice that young Gwyllyn Ford first met a woman who would impact his life many years later in the movies—Rita Hayworth. They became life-long friends.
From his school days, when he first caught the acting bug, Gwyllyn Ford applied himself to everything he did with determination and fortitude. His father wouldn’t allow him to have a car until he could take one apart and put it back together by himself. Young Gwyllyn learned carpentry from his father as well, a skill put to good use when years later he would design and build the house he still lives in today.
As he pursued his theatrical vocation, Gwyllyn Ford served a considerable apprenticeship on the stage. According to son Peter, Gwyllyn was involved in as many as nine little theatre groups at one time, working behind the scenes as well as onstage. Groups like the Santa Monica Theatre Guild were a hotbed of activity and Ford applied himself studiously.
In addition to theatre, Gwyllyn also got involved in local radio, and it was in this capacity that he was first approached about doing a screen test for Paramount.
*Please note that the very first Glenn Ford biography is currently being written by Peter Ford and Christopher Nickens with plans to be published in the spring of 2004. The book is tentatively titled GLENN FORD: A LIFE IN FILMS and will be a sort of ‘film biography’, concentrating on Ford’s life as it centred around his career. Peter tells me the book will be limited to 100,000 words and approximately 180 photographs. The biggest challenge Peter and Chris face seems to be what to leave out!