BEVERLY HILLS, Calif. — Actor Glenn Ford, who played strong, thoughtful protagonists in films such as “The Blackboard Jungle,” “Gilda” and “The Big Heat,” died Wednesday, police said. He was 90.
Paramedics called to Ford’s home just before 4 p.m. found Ford dead, police Sgt. Terry Nutall said, reading a prepared statement. “They do not suspect foul play,” he said.
Ford suffered a series of strokes in the 1990s.
“It comes to mind instantly what a remarkable actor he was,” actor Sidney Poitier, who also starred in “The Blackboard Jungle,” said Wednesday evening. “He had those magical qualities that are intangible but are quite impactful on the screen. He was a movie star.”
Failing health forced Ford to skip a 90th birthday tribute on May 1 at Hollywood’s historic Grauman’s Egyptian Theatre. But he did send greetings via videotape, adding, “I wish I were up and around, but I’m doing the best that I can.... There’s so much I have to be grateful for.”
At the event, Shirley Jones, who co-starred with him in the comedy “The Courtship of Eddie’s Father,” called Ford “one of the cornerstones of our industry, and there aren’t many left.”
Ford appeared in scores of films during his 53-year Hollywood career. The Film Encyclopedia, a reference book, lists 85 films from 1939 to 1991.
He was cast usually as the handsome tough, but his acting talents ranged from romance to comedy. His more famous credits include “Superman,” “Gilda,” “The Sheepman,” “The Gazebo,” “Pocketful of Miracles” and “Don’t Go Near the Water.”
No stranger to the saddle
An avid horseman and former polo player, Ford appeared in a number of Westerns, “3:10 to Yuma,” “Cowboy,” “The Rounders,” “Texas,” “The Fastest Gun Alive” and the remake of “Cimarron” among them. His talents included lighter parts, with roles in “The Teahouse of August Moon” and “It Started With a Kiss.”
On television, he appeared in “Cade’s County,” “The Family Holvak,” “Once an Eagle” and “When Havoc Struck.” He starred in the feature film “The Courtship of Eddie’s Father,” which later became a TV series featuring Bill Bixby.
A tireless worker, Ford often made several films a year, Ford continued working well into his 70s. In 1992, though, he was hospitalized for more than two months for blood clots and other ailments, and at one point was in critical condition
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“Noel Coward once told me, ‘You will know you’re old when you cease to be amazed.’ Well, I can still be amazed,” Ford said in a 1981 interview with The Associated Press.
After getting his start in theater in the 1930s, he got a break when he was signed by Columbia Pictures mogul Harry Cohn.
In 1940, he appeared in five films, including “Blondie Plays Cupid” and “Babies for Sale.” After serving with the Marines during World War II, Ford starred in 1946 as a small-time gambler in “Gilda,” opposite Rita Hayworth.
The film about frustrated romance and corruption in postwar Argentina became a film noir classic. Hayworth plays Ford’s former love, a sometime nightclub singer married to a casino operator, and she sizzles onscreen performing “Put the Blame on Mame.”
Ford speaks the memorable voiceover in the opening scene: “To me a dollar was a dollar in any language. It was my first night in the Argentine and I didn’t know much about the local citizens. But I knew about American sailors, and I knew I’d better get out of there.”
Two years later he made “The Loves of Carmen,” also with Hayworth.
“It was one of the greatest mistakes I ever made, embarrassing,” Ford said of the latter film. “But it was worth it, just to work with her again.”
Among his competitors for leading roles was William Holden. Both actors, Ford said, would stuff paper in their shoes to appear taller than the other. “Finally, neither of us could walk, so we said the hell with it.”
Ford also played against Bette Davis in “A Stolen Life.”
‘He was truly gifted’
One of his best-known roles was in the 1955 “The Blackboard Jungle,” where he portrayed a young, soft-spoken teacher in a slum school who inspires a class full of juvenile delinquents to care about life.
“We did a film together, and it was for me a great experience because I had always admired his work,” recalled Poitier. “When I saw him in films I had always marveled at the subtlety of his work. He was truly gifted.”
In “The Big Heat,” 1953, a gritty crime story, Ford played a police detective.
“Acting is just being truthful,” he once said. “I have to play myself. I’m not an actor who can take on another character, like Laurence Olivier. The worst thing I could do would be to play Shakespeare.”
He was born Gwyllyn Samuel Newton Ford on May 1, 1916, in Quebec, the son of a railroad executive. The first name reflected his family’s Welsh roots. When Ford joined Columbia, Cohn asked him to change his name to John Gower; Ford refused but switched his first name to Glenn, after his father’s birthplace of Glenford.
He moved to Southern California at 8 and promptly fell in love with show business, even sneaking onto a Culver City studio lot at night. He took to the stage at Santa Monica High School. His first professional job was as a searchlight operator in front of a movie house.
He started his career in theater, as an actor with West Coast stage companies and as Tallulah Bankhead’s stage manager in New York. In 1939, he made his first Hollywood film opposite Jean Rogers in the romance “Heaven With a Barbed Wire Fence.”
His director, Ricardo Cortez, told Ford he would never amount to anything and the actor returned to New York. He didn’t stay away from Hollywood long, though, signing a 14-year contract with Columbia Pictures.
He married actress-dancer Eleanor Powell in 1943; the two divorced in 1959. They had a son, Peter. A 1965 marriage to actress Kathryn Hays ended quickly. In 1977, he married model Cynthia Hayward, 32 years his junior. They were divorced in 1984.
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