Saturday, May 30, 2020

Pa Kent

"There's one thing I do know,
Son, and that is you are here for a reason."
     -- Glenn Ford, Superman (1978)

Gwyllyn Samuel Newton "Glenn" Ford was born in Quebec on May 1, 1916.  When he was just six years old, his family relocated to California, where his father took a position with the railroad.  Ford attended Santa Monica High School, where he first became interested in acting.

After a few years with the theatre, Ford signed with Columbia Pictures when he was 23.  His first film, released in 1939, was called Heaven With a Barbed Wire Fence.  Here's a scene from the film.  He followed it up with the 1941 feature So Ends Our Night, in which he played a German exile on the run in Nazi-controlled Europe.  Here's that film in its entirety. 

President Franklin Roosevelt screened the film at the White House and was so impressed by it that he invited Ford to his birthday celebration.  Ford was equally impressed by the President and First Lady Eleanor, and upon his return from Washington, he immediately registered as a democrat.  Later that year, he'd enlist in the Coast Guard Auxiliary.

On December 7, 1941, America officially entered World War 2 following the attack on Pearl Harbor.  While on a cross-country tour selling war bonds for Army and Navy relief, Ford decided to make it official, enlisting in the Marine Corps Reserve.  He was assigned to San Diego's Camp Pendleton, along with Hollywood heavyweight Tyrone Power, who had also enlisted.  The two co-hosted a weekly radio program called "The Halls of Montezuma."  After three years of service, he was given a medical discharge in 1944, after being diagnosed with duodenal ulcers, a condition that would affect him for the rest of his life.

Upon his discharge, Ford returned to Hollywood, and stepped into the biggest role of his career thus far, opposite Rita Hayworth in Gilda, in which he played a young thug.  Today, historians and critics credit the film with creating the genre of film noir.  Feel free to watch the trailer here.

In 1955, Ford starred in another landmark film, Blackboard Jungle, which highlighted racial conflicts at an urban high school.  A young Sidney Poitier appeared as one of Ford's students, as did future M*A*S*H star Jamie Farr, as well as future Combat! star Vic Morrow, a prior subject of this blog.

Ford's popularity continued to grow, and in 1958, he was the biggest box office draw in America.  Despite that, he longed to return to active duty, this time enlisting in the Navy as a public affairs officer.  Ironically, he had portrayed one just a year earlier in the film Don't Go Near the Water.  He would continue to serve until 1970, when he retired at the rank of captain, having spent several years supporting President Johnson's efforts during the Vietnam War.
Ford with Superman co-star Jeff East.

Ford continued to act, and in 1977, he was cast in Superman, a film that introduced him to a new generation of fans.  He portrayed Jonathan Kent, the humble Kansas farmer who finds the orphaned Kal-El of Krypton and raises him as his son, Clark Kent.

Ford continued to act until 1991 when he retired following heart and circulatory problems.  Over the next 15 years, he would suffer a series of strokes, which ultimately took his life on August 30, 2006.  He was 90 years old.

Ford was interred at Woodlawn Cemetery in Santa Monica. 
Bottom Floor
Twilight Corridor

Rest in peace, Pa.

  • Ford was a relative of U.S. President Martin Van Buren as well as Canada's first Prime Minister, John A. MacDonald.

  • While in high school, Ford worked for Will Rogers, who taught him horsemanship.

  • Ford had a short-lived TV series in 1971 called Cade's County, in which he played a sheriff.  Check out the series intro here.  In 1978, he hosted a documentary series entitled When Havoc Struck.  Watch an episode in its entirety here.  Believe it or not!

  • Ford switched political parties in the 1980s, becoming a republican and an ardent supporter of President Ronald Reagan.

  • Ford was quite the ladies man, married and divorced four times.  Along the way, he had a string of affairs with such Hollywood starlets as Marilyn Monroe, Rita Hayworth, Stella Stevens, Joan Crawford and Maria Schell, an actress who also appeared in Superman as a Kryptonian elder named Vond-Ah.

  • The film Superman Returns (2006) featured a photo of Ford as Pa Kent.  Look for it on the living room mantle at the Kent Farm.

  • Five of Ford's films have been preserved by the Library of Congress's National Film Registry for being culturally, historically or aesthetically significant.  These include Gilda (1946), The Big Heat (1953), Blackboard Jungle (1955), 3:10 to Yuma (1957) and Superman (1978).

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