Star of the Month: Glenn Ford

Glenn Ford Changes His Name, Has Boyish Charm, Almost Leaves Hollywood, Marries Eleanor Powell, and He's Got Rita Hayworth's Back!

Listen to my Classic Hollywood podcast, Vanguard of Hollywood , available everywhere you listen to podcasts!

Now streaming

Can you believe it’s already July?!!! What better way to start this month than by introducing our new Star of the Month, Glenn Ford!

Ford’s extensive career lasted the better part of seven decades.  Now that’s a long film career!  His boyish charm, tenacity, great talent, and dedication to his craft no doubt contributed to Glenn’s longevity in Hollywood.

Glenn Ford and one of his classic boyish grins!

I’ve never considered myself a Glenn Ford fan: he just never really stood out to me the way other actors of his generation, like Jimmy Stewart—another boyishly charming and very talented actor—have. I’ve seen a few of Ford’s films, but I’ve watched them because I’m a fan of his costars!  (Namely Rita Hayworth!)

So I’m really excited to have the chance to watch his films this month with the purpose of analyzing and enjoying Ford’s performances.  I’ve also learned so much about this man who, as it turns out, differed from his screen image in quite a few ways!  Here are a few of the most interesting facts from Glenn Ford’s life in my humble opinion:

He's Canadian

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

You’ll Never Guess His Real Name

Can you guess Glenn’s real name?  I sure couldn’t!  Glenn Ford was born Gwyllyn Samuel Newton Ford on May 1, 1916.

Ford officially changed his name in 1939, at the behest of the studio he was with at the time, Twentieth Century Fox.  In Glenn’s own words, though he was proud of his Welsh name,

“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 had been born in Glenford, a small Canadian village, and Glenn wished to keep some family significance behind his new name.  LOVE that!

Doesn't this photo just scream film noir? Glenn made a few films that became classics in this genre, my favorites being Gilda (1946) and The Big Heat (1953).

He Didn’t Have Success in Hollywood Right Away

After several false starts in “the business,” Glenn finally signed his first seven-year contract with Columbia in late 1939. Things were looking up, and he received great notices in his first films there.  But then WWII came, and in 1941, Glenn put his career on hold to enlist in the Coast Guard Auxiliary.

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.

Can you believe it?!!!  Glenn had yet to make his most iconic movies, including Gilda (1946), 3:10 to Yuma (1957), and Blackboard Jungle (1955), and yet it seemed in 1944 that his career was over.

Luckily, Bette Davis had seen some of his previous film work, and was dead set on getting Glenn for her leading man in A Stolen Life (1946).  Glenn also made Gilda that year with Rita Hayworth.  These roles were the boost Glenn’s career needed, and ended up catapulting him to stardom.   Finally!

Rita Hayworth was a Life-Long Friend

Glenn and Rita Hayworth made one of the most iconic films of their respective careers together, Gilda, in 1946.  (If you haven’t seen this classic, you need to!  You can find it here, or wait for next week when it plays on TCM! (Check out the TCM film calendar for details.)

Glenn and Rita first met back in the spring of 1940, when making their first film together, The Lady in Question (1940).  At the time, neither Glenn nor Rita were big stars. The pair would go on to make a total of five films together, and their meeting in 1940 was the beginning of a beautiful friendship that lasted until Rita’s untimely passing in 1987.

Glenn even stuck with Rita as her Alzheimer’s disease progressed, a time when many of Rita’s friends deserted her. Glenn’s publicist Bob Crutchfield recounted what a loyal friend Glenn remained to Rita in her difficult final years.  This anecdote in particular sticks with me:

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.”

Now THAT’S a true friend!

Glenn plays cards behind the scenes with good friend Rita Hayworth. He stuck with Rita through her difficult final years battling Alzheimer’s disease.

He Married Eleanor Powell

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

I’ll be completely honest, one of the things—if not the thing—I was most excited about when I found out Glenn Ford was Star of the Month was the chance to learn more about the great Eleanor Powell.  Glenn married a total of four times, but his first—and arguably most happy—marriage was to Eleanor.  

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

“In a class by herself.” 

And he’s right!  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.

LOOK AT THAT! Eleanor often incorporated moves that would showcase her great flexibility in her tap routines. Note that it's not just her leg that's flexible here, but her back too! She touches the floor!
Eleanor and Fred dance up a storm in the magnificent number, "Begin the Beguine" from Broadway Melody of 1940.

Watch one of her most iconic dances, with Fred Astaire, in Broadway Melody of 1940 (1940), here!   Ellie and Fred dance in at 1:00 on the dot, so skip ahead if you want to get right to the dancing!

When Glenn and Eleanor met, Eleanor was the superstar, 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.”

How romantic!!!!  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!

My goodness, I can’t believe the long string of actresses Glenn wooed!  From a Clark Gable persona, you’d expect a long list of lady friends, but from Glenn Ford, with his boyishness and the quite uniformly morally upright characters he made a career of playing onscreen, I was expecting a guy with a Jimmy Stewart-like, one-woman-man mentality.  But this was not how Glenn rolled!

Rita Hayworth, Joan Crawford, Stella Stevens, Eva Gabor, Gloria Grahame, Marilyn Monroe, Maria Schell, Hope Lang, Geraldine Brooks…this guy got around!

Although not associated with the genre to the degree of, say, John Wayne, Glenn made several Westerns over the course of his career. Son Peter said Westerns were one of Glenn's favorite film genres to make, and he did most of his own stunts!

He Never Won an Oscar

Hugely surprising!  Even more surprising, Glenn was never even nominated for an Oscar!  Oscar Injustice indeed.  To name just a few of Glenn’s films in which his performances were at the very least Oscar nomination worthy: Gilda (1946),The Big Heat (1953),The Blackboard Jungle (1955),The Teahouse of the August Moon (1956), and 3:10 to Yuma (1957). But no, the Academy snubbed him time and again!

An adorable family portrait! Glenn with Eleanor and Peter, circa late 1940s.

Enjoy July with Glenn Ford Films on TCM!

And there you have it!  A few facts from Glenn’s life that I found particularly interesting.  If you’re looking for a good book on Glenn Ford, I strongly recommend Glenn Ford: A Life, by his son, Peter.  Peter gives a brutally honest, yet kind and loving, factual account of his father’s life and career.  Definitely a must read for Glenn Ford fans, or those wishing to learn more about him.

Let’s enjoy all the Glenn Ford films on TCM this month!

Glenn with his son Peter. I can't get over how much Peter looks like both his parents! He's got his mom's eyes and his dad's smile. Lucky guy!!

Leave a Reply