Early this morning, I was unable to sleep and turned to the television for company as I often do in these situations. I happened upon Cowboy, starring Glenn Ford and Jack Lemmon, two of my favorite actors. There was an odd set of coincidences at play, I thought, because 1) just yesterday, I was looking at two photos I'd taken of Ford's son Peter last month, and 2) I'd just edited an article mentioning Jack Lemmon.
Cowboy was more than just a movie at the moment, it was my friend, seeing me through a couple hours of pain and sleeplessness. In thinking of Glenn Ford, by way of his son, I wondered how he was doing these days. From all accounts, he was in great spirits, even if his health was keeping him home.
Then came the news this evening of Glenn Ford's death. A little piece of me, a piece of America is gone.
Many have long associated Ford with the grand Hollywood westerns of yesteryear, myself included. My two favorites of the bunch were Cowboy and Cimarron, but my admiration for Ford's acting career didn't end there.
As the embattled teacher in Blackboard Jungle, Glenn Ford fought to save young thugs from themselves as much as he fought to keep his own head above water. There was Gilda, in which Ford starred with Rita Hayworth and George Macready. When was the last time you saw such burning hatred and passion portrayed so elegantly? Speaking of burning, Ford's performance as the vengeful cop in The Big Heat simmered and seared its way into my memory. On TV, in The Sacketts (with Tom Selleck and Sam Elliott), Glenn Ford was the man who provided an education the Sackett brothers needed to survive.
From Rear Admiral Spruance in Midway to Julio Desnoyers in Four Horsemen of the Apocalypse, Glenn Ford was a strong dramatic presence. And yet, how could anyone overlook his more light-hearted roles in the comedy-drama Pocketful of Miracles (with Bette Davis), comedy-drama The Courtship of Eddie's Father (with Shirley Jones), the straight out comedy Imitation General (with Red Buttons), and a personal comedy favorite — Don't Go Near the Water?
Still, there is an entire generation of movie fans who would likely only recognize Glenn Ford as Jonathan Kent in 1978's Superman: The Movie, starring Christopher Reeve. Look closely in this year's Superman Returns and you'll catch a glimpse of Ford there, too. His photo rests on a piano in the reunion scene on the Kent farm.
Though I never met Glenn Ford in person, the stories his son shared with me over lunch one day will always make me remember Ford as more than an actor. He was also a father who obviously loved his son. I learned through Peter Ford of how his own record collection inspired the use of the Bill Haley & His Comets' "Rock Around The Clock" as the theme for his father's Blackboard Jungle. In Gilda, the photo of Johnny Farrell as a baby was really a photograph of Peter. It was also from Peter Ford that I first heard about the inclusion of Glenn Ford's picture in the most recent version of Superman. It seemed apparent, in these stories, Glenn's family was never far from his mind.
Born May 1, 1916, in Quebec, Canada, Glenn Ford's family moved to Santa Monica, California in the early 1920s, where he began his journey in film. Despite his birth in Canada, Ford's American roots ran deep. One of his ancestors was none other than Martin Van Buren, the eighth president of the United States. Patriotism ran strong, with Ford serving not only in the Marines, but in the Coast Guard and the Navy Reserves as well. I'm certain most fans don't realize that Glenn Ford saw two tours of duty in Vietnam. "Among his numerous medals and commendations are the Medal of Honor, presented by the Veterans of Foreign Wars, the French Legion of Honor Medal for his service in World War II, two commendation medals from the US Navy and the Vietnamese Legion of Merit."
In addition to his four marriages (Eleanor Powell – Peter Ford's mother, Kathryn Hays, Cynthia Hayward, and Jeanne Baus), Glenn Ford's romances with Judy Garland, Brigitte Bardot, Debbie Reynolds, Hope Lange, Connie Stevens, Rita Hayworth, Joan Crawford, and Maria Schell also made the news. All were discussed in the recent Glenn Ford: A Life In Film, which was shown on the actor's 90th birthday celebration earlier this year. Medically fragile after a series of strokes, Ford was unable to attend the celebration in person, but he did make an appearance via videotape.
Glenn Ford, an American hero on screen and off, was found dead in his home on August 30, 2006. He was 90 years old. He is survived by his son Peter and daughter-in-law Lynda, their children, and friends and fans the world over.
My deepest sympathies go out to the Ford family, as well as a great debt of gratitude to Peter for sharing some of his memories of his father with me.