Rob Price
Gutbrain Records
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2013 November 13 • Wednesday

Who was Glenn Ford? I always call him Gloomy Glenn Ford since, with the exception of the classic 3:10 to Yuma (which should never have been re-made), he seems always to play a saturnine sort of character.

The Big Heat, The Courtship of Eddie's Father, Plunder of the Sun, Gilda—he never has a happy or light-hearted role. (His desperado in 3:10 to Yuma isn't happy or light-hearted either, though he does seem to be enjoying himself a lot more than the usual Glenn Ford character.)

And so I turned to this biography of the actor, Glenn Ford: A Life, written by the subject's son, Peter Ford, the only child of Glenn Ford and the great dancer Eleanor Powell.

The author traces his father's birth and upbringing in Canada to Glenn's move to California and struggle to become an actor. Glenn Ford became a huge star in the middle of the century, even though he not, I think, as well remembered as many of his peers.

Peter Ford's own story is runs through the book, for the personal connection he has with his subject, of course, but also because of their professional association. Glenn was a distant father during Peter's childhood, often literally as well as emotionally, but Glenn frequently got the adult Peter gigs as an actor or dialogue director on films Glenn was doing.

As a child, however, Peter got very little from his dad.

To commemorate my fifth birthday my parents took me to Beverly Ponyland, a small but well-known local amusement park that boasted horse rides around an enclosed ring. These sorts of family occasions were not spontaneous but arranged photo opportunities to create publicity for the various movie magazines of the time. Often, a press crew from Photoplay, Movie Stars Parade, Modern Screen, or some other fan magazine would come by our home, and we would gather together, make statements to the reporters about how much fun it was to be the Ford family, then pose by the swimming pool or other places in the yard, happily smiling as the photogs snapped our pictures. As soon as the press people departed, we'd return to our real lives. As a youngster I never had the pleasure of being with either of my parents on a celebratory occasion without it being documented by the press.

Most weekends at home were spent either doing chores to "toughen me up" per Dad's instructions or photo layouts for photographers and film crews; I had little time to be with friends or to see a movie. Dad and I had graced the cover of Movie Stars Parade in January 1949, and now I smile to look at it, because I'm holding a fishing rod while seated next to him. I actually never did go fishing with my father until I was twenty-three—there were no camping trips, no sitting by the campfire, nor any other ordinary father-son bonding adventures. Once again, for my fifth birthday, we were back in Movie Stars Parade (the May issue) in an article titled "Spree for Two." It was a sweet story about a father and son having the time of their lives, documented by thirteen photos of the happy day—no friends or birthday cake, but I guess it must have been swell.

The picture that emerges of Glenn Ford is of a hard-working and talented actor who was a consummate professional and very generous to his friends and co-workers. At home he seems to be a little boy, unruly and aggressive when he's not the center of attention or the first priority in everybody's lives. In his later years, as he works less and finds himself alone more, this tendency leads to some very bad choices and leaves him vulnerable to manipulative and parasitic oportunists.

The book itself is a breeze to read, well written and an enjoyable look into the world of Hollywood royalty with its attendant excesses, excitements and memorable anecdotes.