Oddly enough, the first biography on Ford was only published in 2011. Peter authored “Glenn Ford: A Life” which is an insightful Hollywood bio filled with stories of the actor’s life and career (see peterford.com).
“It was published by the University of Wisconsin Press, and they tell me it’s been the best-selling movie book they’ve ever produced,” said Peter proudly.
Also known for many classic western features such as “The Fastest Gun Alive,” “3:10 to Yuma,” and “Cimarron,” Ford was a natural cowboy.
“He could draw and shoot in three-tenths of a second,” said Peter, who remembers as a kid pretending to be Broderick Crawford, Ford’s villain co-star from “The Fastest Gun Alive.”
“He would put a holster on me, and we’d practice drawing down on each other. He was also a gun collector and used the same gun in most of his movies.”
Actor Paul Petersen co-starred with Ford in the 1967 western “A Time for Killing” and remembers his weapons skill.
“What I most recall is how soft spoken he was … how observant … how professional,” recalled Petersen. “It was that same easy manner when they passed out the weapons and checked out the actors who would handle them. No fuss, no hysterics, just a man who knew and appreciated weaponry.”
And Ford knew his horses, too, according to Petersen.
“On the first day on location we had to pick our horses, and I ended up with a goofy pinto that didn’t like cameras and lights and crewmen,” recalled Petersen. “This was outside Kanab, Utah. I was riding around getting to know my movie horse when Glenn ambled over to a horse trailer nearby, and when the tail gate dropped, out backed this magnificent quarter-horse.”
Petersen says within minutes Ford had the horse saddled, and mounted with ease like a genuine cowboy.
“He had that horse moving around like a dancer, backing up, tracing sideways, and ever alert. I said something like, ‘That’s a great horse,’ and Glenn replied ‘His name is Tops….Arizona’s top cutting horse. Proud to say I own him.’ Glenn Ford was no rookie.”
Nor was Ford a rookie when it came to romance off the screen. He was involved with many of his leading ladies, according to Peter, including Angie Dickinson.
“We worked on the western ‘The Last Challenge’ (1967) and hooked up again and dated in the 80s for a while,” recalled Ms. Dickinson from her home in Los Angeles. “Westerns were still popular but on their way out.”
She recalls preparing for a riding scene with Ford in a horse and buggy.
“He was in charge of the horses, and I was sitting beside him,” said Dickinson. “He looked at me and said ‘You’re sitting too tall!’ I was sitting up straight but he was pulled forward to manage the horses. So I had to slouch a bit.”
Later, as a couple, Dickinson found Ford rather quiet.
“He was a stay-at-home guy and when we were together he just didn’t talk a lot which made it difficult to keep the relationship going. I’m a very talkative person. But on screen he was charismatic and sexy, and a terrific actor with a quiet power that the screen just loves.”
It was Ford’s professionalism that inspired director Richard Donner to recruit Ford, in his early 60s at the time, for the role of Jonathan Kent in the 1978 blockbuster, “Superman.”
“As a kid, he was one of my favorite actors, just awe-inspiring,” said Donner from his Los Angeles office. “I had directed several episodes of his TV series ‘Cade’s County’ in the 70s and got to know him a little. When ‘Superman’ came along I thought he’d be perfect for the role of Pa Kent. I called him personally, and he thought about it a minute and said ‘Sight unseen, for you I’ll do it.’ So he jumped on-board and loved it.”
Donner recalls Ford preparing for his character’s final heart-attack scene. “I vividly remember him telling me he did some research for the role and learned that people sometimes feel the first signs of a heart-attack in their forearm. So he decided to grab his arm before falling to the ground.”
In the final scene at the Kent farm, the young Clark Kent character comes running to Ford slumped on the ground, seen from afar. While some big stars might demand a stand-in for a wide shot like that, Ford did not.
“That was Glenn lying on the dirt,” noted Donner. “He was just an extraordinarily professional guy, disciplined, and the personification of old school actors from an earlier era. He also had a great sense of humor and was full of wonderful stories. And I remember when we would go out to eat, he would do everything possible to avoid paying the restaurant bill, including the old trick of disappearing into the bathroom just before it arrived! I always kidded him about that.”
Jeff East played the youthful Clark Kent in the farm scene with Ford.
“When I worked with Glenn, I was so relaxed by his demeanor and his professionalism, it was just easy to get into the scene with him,” writes East in an email. “I think we did the walk up the road scene in one take and it felt so real. He was very cordial to me an
d the crew and I loved that afternoon on the Kent farm and will never forget working with such a pro.”
So if Ford were alive and healthy today at 100, would he still be acting?
“I’m sure he would,” said Peter Ford. “He loved to act and he especially liked to be paid for doing it.”
But towards the end of his career, Ford “did some less than stellar films” says Peter, who once asked his dad why he took roles in forgettable movies like 1989’s “Casablanca Express.” Ford explained for that role, the producers provided him and a companion with first-class airfares to Morocco for filming, with 5-Star accommodations along the way.
He worked only three days acting his part and flew home with a briefcase stuffed with $50,000 in cash,” recalls Peter. “I can see why acting was so much fun for him!”
In addition to his father, Peter’s mother (Eleanor Powell) was a noted dancer and actress from Hollywood’s Golden Age and Peter, himself, appeared in over a dozen films and many TV series. When he and his wife moved from Beverly Hills to Montana in 2014, they also brought a little Hollywood history to town.
“I have the awards my parents won, and on the walls are autographed photos of Jane Russell, Henry Fonda, David Niven and others I met through the years, so I have lots of mementos and memories,” said Peter. “We’re on 25 acres surrounded by trees, deer and wild turkeys, and it’s wonderful. And last October, I was invited to talk when they showed ‘Gilda’ at the local playhouse in Bigfork and it was packed. People still remember Glenn Ford.”
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