From his time in WWII to his many…and we mean many Hollywood romances, Ford lived a life marked by both glamour and heartbreak. And all the while, he kept a dark secret that he didn’t tell anyone—not even his lovers and close confidantes. Here are devious facts about Glenn Ford, the star with a secret.
Glenn Ford was born Gwyllyn Samuel Newton Ford on May Day in a working class town in Quebec, Canada—but that doesn’t mean he had a hardscrabble upbringing. Ford’s father was a railroad executive who could count a Canadian prime minister and an American president as relatives. Plus, Ford didn’t exactly tough out the Canadian winters. When Ford’s father found a job in California, they all went to Santa Monica.
From an early age, Ford took an interest in the stage, appearing in high school plays and joining local theater groups after graduation. At first, he worked as a stage manager, until Ford realized that he’d make ten times as much as an actor than he ever would as a stage manager. After that epiphany, he was determined to turn the tide—and he did.
Ambition is important, but so is prudence. Ford’s father was supportive, but he also insisted that his son learn trades so that he would have a backup if he didn’t make it as an actor. Ford made the ultimatum work for him, and took jobs as a roofer, window installer, and bartender before he was a star. All that knowledge would come in handy later…
You can chalk up Ford’s Hollywood discovery to simply being in the right place at the right time. Columbia Pictures studio head Harry Cohn was finally looking to hire his own stable of stars after years of accepting cast-offs from other, more profitable studios. But, Cohn was a penny pincher. He wanted actors who were young, attractive, and talented—but not famous, so he didn’t have to pay them much.
Cohn offered Ford a contract to become one of Columbia Picture’s first stars—but that doesn’t mean he shot to success right away. Instead, Cohn made him work for it. The studio head pitted Ford against another young star named William Holden. Knowing what kind of mischief actors got up to in their spare time, Cohn figured that either Ford or Holden would crash and burn in some kind of scandalous controversy before too long.
Glenn Ford made his feature film debut in the 1939 drama Heaven With a Barbed Wire Fence. The experience should’ve felt like a triumph—instead, it was sheer agony. The film’s director, Ricardo Cortez, bullied Ford the whole time. The harassment culminated in a mortifying incident where Cortez dressed Ford down in front of the whole crew, telling him that he was a bad actor and that he wished he’d never hired him.
Ford’s disastrous experience on his first film was deeply discouraging. It was so bad that he briefly left Hollywood after the incident. However, years later, when Ford was a major star, he ran into Ricardo Cortez at a Los Angeles restaurant. Remembering his humiliation at the hands of the director, Ford very nearly attacked Cortez. These type of macho man antics actually became pretty common throughout Ford’s life…and they, uh, didn’t always go well.
Heaven With a Barbed Wire Fence was the first in a string of forgettable B movies that Columbia Pictures put Ford in—but one was much more remarkable than the rest. 1940’s The Lady in Question may not have been a hit, but it was an important turning point for Ford. It was the first time that he met up-and-coming young starlet Rita Hayworth. They had undeniable chemistry—both onscreen and off.
Columbia Pictures studio head Harry Cohn hired Glenn Ford because too many other stars were mired in scandal. However, with Ford, he got more than he bargained for. Ford may not have made his name in the movies yet, but he was certainly working hard on his reputation as a ladies’ man. In The Lady in Question, he appeared opposite Hayworth and starlet Evelyn Keyes—and had affairs with both women. And that was just him getting started…
Cohn may not have given Ford any shining opportunities to make a star of himself, but someone else saw the young actor’s potential. Director John Cromwell cast Ford in the WWII drama So Ends Our Night, and the film was a huge hit—but not without its fair share of controversy. Even though the conflict had already begun, the US had yet to pick a side. So Ends Our Night was Hollywood’s first explicitly anti-Nazi film.
At the time, film censors tried to forbid negative portrayals of what was happening in Germany. While the studios followed their rules, independent producers had to go around their orders to make So Ends Our Night. Their gambit paid off in more ways than one.
The landmark film was Ford’s breakout role, with many critics saying that he stole the show from his Oscar-nominated co-stars—and the critics weren’t the only ones who noticed Ford. No
less a figure than the President of the United States, Franklin Delano Roosevelt, arranged for a private screening of the film in the White House. The film moved FDR so much that he invited Ford to his Birthday Ball, where he introduced the young actor to his wife, Eleanor.
The experience dazzled Ford. When he went home after the Ball, he immediately registered as a Democrat. However, after all this fanfare, the film’s reception wasn’t the life-changing experience that it should’ve been.
After the amazing success of So Ends Our Night, Glenn Ford’s studio celebrated their new star by…completely neglecting him. They put Ford in a slew of mediocre and forgettable flicks, leading his status as Hollywood’s new It Boy to fizzle out. But on the bright side, Ford used his earnings to buy his mother and sister a house in the Pacific Palisades.
In 1941, Ford joined the Coast Guard Auxiliary and began training while appearing in films part-time. Then, within months, it happened: The US joined WWII. Like many stars of the era, Ford traveled the country while promoting the sale of war bonds. And, like so many stars of the era, Ford mixed business with pleasure.
While helping out with the war effort, Glenn Ford met a beautiful young actress named Eleanor Powell. They fell hard and fast for each other—but a passionate new romance wasn’t the only thing that Ford was rushing into. After a full year of USO events and middling movies, he was frustrated
While in the middle of filming the movie Destroyer, Ford impulsively enlisted in the US Marine Corps Reserve—leaving his friends and family shocked, and his studio in the lurch.
When Ford volunteered, he forced Columbia to plead with the Marines for four more weeks of his time so that they could complete Destroyer—and that wasn’t the only thing that was changing. Ford capped it all by proposing to Powell, who made an impulsive move of her own. She immediately announced that she was going to stop acting in order to support Ford.
When the Marine Corps had Ford training at their base in San Diego, he quickly found his footing, and a confidence that the film biz had never provided him. They immediately offered him a position as an officer, but the humble Ford insisted that he work his way up the ranks instead—and that’s exactly what he did. By the time he had finished training, he’d earned numerous honors, and the rank of sergeant.
Ford and Hayworth began a friendship that would last a lifetime on the set of Gilda, but behind closed doors, they were hiding a dark secret. They began a passionate affair soon after they met for the first time, even though both parties were married at the time—Ford to Powell, and Hayworth to Orson Welles. In fact, her troubled marriage to Welles was already a sticking point for studio exec Harry Cohn—so when he found out about Ford and Hayworth’s affair, he saw red.
Soon, Cohn’s worst nightmare came true—the gossip mags began publishing rumors about Ford and Hayworth’s behind-the-scenes activities. He was furious, and constantly demanded that Ford stop the affair. Though those calls went unheeded, Cohn had a devious plan up his sleeve. He set up recording devices in Ford and Hayworth’s dressing rooms to spy on the cheating stars.
Ford and Hayworth had some unlikely allies on the set of Gilda. The sound department, who Cohn had ordered to install the audio equipment, actually tipped the stars off to the fact that they were being recorded. With this knowledge, they were able to get their suspicious boss off their back. Gilda was completed without any more issues, and Ford and Hayworth were able to continue their affair away from prying ears.
Regardless, Cohn continued the practice of recording his studio’s stars, and later, Ford would take what he learned from the experience and put it to devious use…
When Ford enlisted in the Marines during WWII, he expected that it might end his acting career—but with Gilda, Ford became an overnight sensation, and other stars, studios, and directors clamored to work with him. He finished out the decade in a number of hit films, including one that paired him with his old flame, Rita Hayworth.
They continued their affair under the studio’s nose, and, presumably, his wife’s. In fact, their whole relationship was pretty steady and smooth—but the same could not be said of Ford’s other activities.
Considering that he’d suffered no consequences for his ongoing affair with Rita Hayworth, Glenn Ford didn’t really learn any lessons from the experience—so he continued to cheat on his wife with whatever starlet was ready and willing. But just because he was a womanizer didn’t mean that Ford didn’t have feelings. On the set of The Green Glove, Ford fell for his co-star Geraldine Brooks, and he fell hard.
by Samantha Henman
proc. BY MOVIES