Glenn Ford: The Canadian Boy Next Door

July 3, 2019     Updated January 23, 2022

Glenn Ford Changes His Name, Almost Leaves Hollywood, Marries Eleanor Powell, & Proves He's Got Rita Hayworth's Back.

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TCM named Glenn Ford our July Star of the month.

The extensive career of Glenn Ford lasted the better part of seven decadesGlenn’s boyish charm, tenacity, and talent contributed in no small part to his longevity in Hollywood.

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To celebrate him this month, here are a few things about Glenn Ford you didn’t know:

Glenn Ford is Canadian

Glenn Ford, the actor with the all-American persona, was actually born in Quebec City, Canada.  It wasn’t until 1922, when Glenn was almost six, that the Ford family moved to Los Angeles.  Glenn lived in California the rest of his life, and officially became a US citizen in 1939.

glenn ford

Glenn Ford Wasn't His Real Name

Glenn Ford was born Gwyllyn Samuel Newton Ford on May 1, 1916.

Ford officially changed his name in 1939, at the behest of Twentieth Century Fox, the studio he worked for at the time.  As Glenn put it, though he was proud of his Welsh name [aff. link],

“People had frequently told me it sounded like a girl’s name…or that it always looked like a spelling error.”

He chose his new name, “Glenn Ford,” because his father was born in Glenford, a small Canadian village, and Glenn wished to keep some family significance behind his new name.

glenn ford

He Wasn't Successful in Hollywood At First

After several false starts, Glenn finally signed his first seven-year contract with Columbia Pictures in late 1939. He received positive reviews for his first few films at the studio.

But Glenn put his career on hold in 1941 to serve in the Coast Guard Auxiliary during WWII.

When he was honorably discharged in December 1944, Columbia didn’t have any roles lined up for him.  Glenn worried that the studio didn’t want him back, so much so that he decided to look for a job at Douglas Aircraft.

Glenn Ford, in uniform on his wedding day in 1943, with first wife, the lovely Eleanor Powell.

Luckily, Bette Davis was impressed with Glenn’s previous film work, and wanted him to star opposite her in A Stolen Life (1946).  Also in 1946, Glenn made Gilda  with Rita Hayworth.  Both films were successful, and boosted Glenn Ford to stardom.

Rita Hayworth was a Life-Long Friend

Glenn and Rita Hayworth made Gilda together in 1946, but the two first met back in the spring of 1940, when they made their first film together, The Lady in Question (1940). 

The pair ultimately made a total of five films together, becoming great friends along the way.  Glenn and Rita remained close until Rita’s untimely passing in 1987.

Glenn was one of the few friends who stuck by Rita as her Alzheimer’s disease progressed. Glenn’s publicist, Bob Crutchfield, recounted what a loyal friend Glenn remained to Rita in her difficult final years:

Glenn and Rita in the classic 1946 film noir, Gilda.

“I was at his house a lot in those years, and Rita of course lived next door…He was always tender and sweet with her, no matter how she acted…I made a terrible mistake one day.  Glenn was doing an interview.  They were taping, and the phone rang.  I answered it right away so it wouldn’t interfere with the interview.  I told the caller that I was sorry, Glenn was doing a radio interview.”

Before hanging up, Crutchfield got the caller’s name.  It was Rita Hayworth, and she seemed desperate to talk to Glenn.  Crutchfield continued,

“I quickly mumbled her name to Glenn, and he immediately stopped the interview.  The tape recorder was turned off, and he excused himself to grab the phone…‘What’s wrong?  Yes…yes…I’ll come over right away!’  He was very caring and sweet with her always.”

Glenn Ford Married Eleanor Powell

eleanor powell
The great Eleanor Powell dances with Fred Astaire in Broadway Melody of 1940 (1940).

Glenn Ford married a total of four times, but his first—and arguably most happy marriage—was to Eleanor Powell.  

Eleanor Powell was the best tap dancer of her generation.  She was also one of the most versatile.  Fred Astaire once said that Ellie was:

“In a class by herself.” 

And he’s right.

eleanor powell
Eleanor frequently showed her great flexibility in her tap routines. Note how flexible both her leg and her back are here.

Though best known for her machine gun taps, Eleanor’s ballet training is evident in the grace and flexibility she incorporated into her often self-choreographed dance routines.

eleanor powell
Eleanor and Fred dance the classic "Begin the Beguine" from Broadway Melody of 1940.

Watch one of Eleanor’s most iconic numbers, Begin the Beguine, with Fred Astaire, below.

When Glenn and Eleanor met, Eleanor was a superstar, while Glenn was still a “B” actor.  Glenn sweetly recalled the first time he saw his future wife:

“I saw her from across the room.  She was wearing a lavender cocktail suit, I remember.  She had a wonderful figure…her chestnut hair, worn in soft waves to her shoulders, this glowing complexion, and beautiful cornflower blue eyes.  And when she smiled I was just captivated.”

Glenn and Eleanor’s marriage lasted 16 years, and the couple had one son, Peter.

Glenn with Maria Schell in Cimarron (1960). According to his son Peter, Maria was one of the loves of Glenn's life. He always viewed her as one of "the ones that got away."

He was a Ladies' Man

Despite his nice guy looks and persona, Glenn Ford got around.

The short list of Glenn’s conquests includes:

Rita Hayworth, Joan Crawford, Stella Stevens, Eva Gabor, Gloria Grahame, Marilyn Monroe, Maria Schell, Hope Lang, and Geraldine Brooks.

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He Never Won an Oscar

Despite his lengthy career and solid performances, Glenn Ford never won an Oscar.  Even more surprising, Glenn was never even nominated.

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Glenn with Eleanor and Peter, circa late 1940s.

More Glenn Ford Next Week!

And that wraps up my introduction to Glenn Ford.

Join me next week for all about Glenn, Rita Hayworth, and Gilda (1946).

glenn ford
Glenn with his son, Peter.

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