Sunday April 30, 2006

         Marking Ford's long embrace of stardom

On Monday, the American Cinematheque at the Egyptian Theatre is throwing a 90th birthday party for veteran actor Glenn Ford with a screening of one of his most beloved films

By Susan King
Times Staff Writer

Glenn FORD was a major Hollywood movie star for nearly half a century. Handsome and charming, he was a dependable leading man, at home in practically every film genre.

He excelled at playing the everyman who had to deal with dangerous situations, as in 1955's "The Blackboard Jungle," in which he was a sensitive Navy veteran assigned to teach at a tough inner-city New York high school.

Ford also worked with some of the preeminent directors of his time, including Fritz Lang ("The Big Heat," "Human Desire"), Richard Brooks ("Blackboard Jungle"), Vincente Minnelli ("The Courtship of Eddie's Father"), Frank Capra ("A Pocketful of Miracles") and Delmer Daves ("3:10 to Yuma").

  
Glenn Ford and 'Gilda'
On Monday, the American Cinematheque at the Egyptian Theatre is throwing a 90th birthday party for the veteran actor with a screening of one of his most beloved films, the 1946 romantic drama "Gilda," which solidified his position as a leading man and costar Rita Hayworth's status as sex goddess. The two, who previously had appeared in the long-forgotten 1940 film "The Lady in Question," would go on to make three more films together.

The reclusive Ford, who uses a wheelchair, will be making his first public appearance in several years.

"He's not wanted to be out in public just because he felt he didn't want people to feel sorry for him," says his son, Peter Ford. "He has dined with presidents, dated the most beautiful movie stars, made dozens of films and traveled the world many times. He said he didn't need to go out - 'I am very content to be at home.' "

But Peter Ford told his father that for his 90th birthday he owed it to his fans to appear. Ford, who made his last film in 1991, still receives a healthy amount of fan mail every week. "There is a tremendous amount from Europe, and he gets it from young people as well as older people. I know he's well regarded. So I said, 'Come on, Dad.' He said, 'OK, I'll go.' "

Besides "Gilda," the birthday salute will feature an ultra-rare Ford short from 1937. "It was kind of a screen test, really," says Peter Ford. "It was something that was done at Paramount. He is the MC and is wearing a top hat. He introduced these different acts."

Ford, who is writing a biography on his father, discovered in his father's diaries that his dad was taken aback when he saw the short for the first time. "He said: 'I'll never be able to get a job in film again. I am going back to the stage,' which is where he started and honed his skills."

Several of Ford's friends and costars will be appearing at the birthday bash, including Angie Dickinson, Ernest Borgnine, Debbie Reynolds and Martin Landau.

Landau appeared in Ford's 1959 mystery comedy "The Gazebo." Though he didn't have any scenes with the actor, Landau recalls watching him on the set. "He was incredibly professional," says Landau. "I think that was always the case. He came prepared, ready to do it, and he did it well. He was a pro."

Despite the quality of his work, Ford never received an Oscar nomination.

"I think he is almost unsung," says Landau. "I think he's overlooked and underrated. It's peculiar because he was a major movie star. There's no question about it."

Landau believes the reason could be that Ford was more of an "actor and less a 'personality.' He didn't repeat the same role over and over again."

"He is so good you don't see him acting," offers Peter Ford. "You look at 'Teahouse of the August Moon,' and there's no question he stole the film from Marlon Brando. You look at 'Blackboard Jungle' and '3:10 to Yuma' - very few actors could do all of those different genres. I am very respectful of his career and marvel at the body of his work."

Ford - at least photos of the actor - will be seen in the new "Superman" movie this summer. Ford played the Man of Steel's adoptive father in the 1978 version, which starred Christopher Reeve.

"He died in 'Superman' - he had a heart attack," says Ford. "He was on film for three minutes, but he was just captivating in that. They wanted to have his pictures on the walls of the farmhouse [in the new film], so director Bryan Singer very kindly put Dad in the film."

Where: American Cinematheque at the Egyptian Theatre, 6712 Hollywood Blvd., Hollywood

When: 7:30 p.m. Monday

Price: $10-$15; includes champagne and birthday cake reception

Contact: (323) 466-FILM or www.GlennFordSalute.com

        

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