First published in the Pen & Quill Magazine
In the movie business, it is almost impossible to decipher what secret ingredient separates the merely good actor from the screen legend. Such cachet probably belongs to any actor who possesses the finer qualities we admire in ourselves, magnified tenfold while never straying beyond the human touch; our all too human frailties.
One of the true tests for me comes when the actor can totally embrace his character yet remain fully connected with his audience. Actors who possessed this rare talent include Jimmy Stewart, Henry Fonda and Glenn Ford. They epitomize all the good things of the age in which they lived, and it is probably no surprise that their like may never be seen on our screens again.
Of those three great men, only one now survives: Glenn Ford. Having recently enjoyed his 87th birthday, Glenn still leads as active a life as his health allows, and continues to follow current events with a keen mind and a strong sense of what he feels is right and wrong with a troubled modern world. Perhaps it is only natural that a man who takes such pride in his place in the world has enjoyed a career that demonstrated not only great skill, but the virtuosity of being an actor for all seasons. And in all this, picture a gentle man who was happy to enjoy a Wednesday night poker game, or to go horseback riding with his son, Peter, along with Bill Holden and his two boys, or to take in the Friday night fights with Robert Walker. The sort of fellow who was often content to keep his own company; this is a screen idol you could idolize and yet still enjoy a quiet word, if you were fortunate enough to meet him on the street.
Few actors today can lay claim to the incredible versatility that Glenn displayed during a career which spanned seven eventful decades (1939 - 1991). From dramas to westerns, from comedy to noir, Glenn Ford mastered all genres and always persuaded his audience to believe him no matter what his role or the film's budgetary limitations. And while Glenn is quoted as saying that he never played anyone but himself on the screen, his innate humbleness belies the fact that he created numerous characters that differ greatly from his own personality. Straight away, I picture extraordinary characters like Santee, or Elliot Nash in the darkly funny film The Gazebo.
One could easily name a dozen great Glenn Ford films and still be able to find another dozen gems to admire. Beyond the classics (Gilda, The Big Heat, and The Blackboard Jungle) stand the lesser known but equally fine movies: Ransom, Convicted, So Ends Our Night, The Green Glove, Lust For Gold, and 3:10 To Yuma. These films linger in the mind primarily because of the unsettling intensity with which Glenn subtly imbued his characters. The strength of this can be seen by the fact that he could be also seen as the laconic lead in films like The Rounders and Don't Go Near The Water, or so engagingly warm-hearted in films like The Courtship Of Eddie's Father and Love Is A Ball.
Yet many people may not realize another equally intriguing fact about Glenn Ford and his life, which is why we are here today.
The avid autograph collector will be thrilled to know that Glenn Ford has been one of Hollywood's premier autograph collectors. With one distinct advantage: Glenn obtained most of his personally inscribed photos directly from other actors and celebrities with whom he worked or met during his long and successful career. Two of his most special Hollywood signatures are those of John Barrymore and John Wayne; and two more incongruent Hollywood actors you've never likely to meet. Other signed photos that sill adorn Glenn's walls today include James Cagney, Barbara Stanwyck, Spencer Tracy, Bardot, Joan Crawford and Frank Sinatra, to name only a few. Some of Glenn's other treasures comprise historical signings by people he greatly admired, such as Edison, Einstein, Voltaire, Victor Hugo, Charles Dickens, Abraham Lincoln and Buffalo Bill Cody.
With the help of his son Peter, Glenn has created a wonderful museum in their Beverly Hills home. Items include numerous historical photos and letters, while cinema-related art and movie memorabilia adorns the walls of the residence that Glenn designed and built 42 years ago.
Through their webmaster, Barbara Cary, (now defunct) www.glennford.com, you can access brilliantly detailed pages about Glenn Ford and find out nearly everything there is to know about his life. You can also receive up-to-date newsletters via e-mail or even purchase your favourite Glenn Ford photo or other great items of memorabilia. Barbara sometimes has some very surprising items for sale or viewing. Nowadays, you can access a wonderful tribute to Glenn Ford through his son Peter’s website: http://www.glennfordbio.com which is currently the only Ford family fully sanctioned Glenn Ford website on the internet.
The great early photos you're enjoying in this article come with my thanks from that library. The photos with signatures scanned with the word "FAKE" added, can all be attributed to various eBay sellers. What's worse is that this was only a very small sampling, all confirmed as fakes by Glenn and Peter Ford. To be fair, we have also included some authentic items from eBay, including the FDC and check.
As well as the great photos and historical details, you will also learn on this website that due to health reasons Glenn only provides stamped signatures on his photos these days. So beware of anyone selling newly autographed photos of Glenn, because they are forgeries. You should also check out the terrific video bytes of Glenn's early movie roles.
Peter Ford, who has been my collaborator and researcher on this article, is currently writing a terrific biography about his father's life with the well-known Hollywood biographer Chris Nickens. Every fan should grab a copy of this great read when the book is published by McFarland & Co. This tome is scheduled for a summer 2010 release, and I bet signed copies will be available for early birds.
In the future, if everyone keeps gently prodding Peter, we may also enjoy a second book: the true story of the relationship between Rita Hayworth and Glenn Ford. And from the few titbits that Peter had told me, this will be a book to headline your "must read" list, because Rita and Glenn enjoyed a glorious friendship long before they shot their first film together.
Here is my interview with Glenn Ford, effected with the unstinting assistance of his son, Peter.
David: Hello, Mr. Ford. It is a true pleasure to have this chance to chat, and I wondered if you could relate to me, and your worldwide legions of fans, your very first experience of being asked to write your autograph and the circumstances involved?
Glenn: I was attending the premier of So Ends Our Night in Miami Beach in March of 1941, when a young fan asked me for my autograph. I was astonished and discomforted at the same time, since I was attending the opening with the "real" stars of the film: Margaret Sullivan and Frederic March.
David: Do you recall your funniest and/or best experience when someone asked you for an autograph? On the flipside, what was your most unusual or unpleasant experience? Did the type of people asking for your autograph change over the years from your earlier noir films like Gilda and westerns like The Rounders to lighter comedies like The Courtship Of Eddie's Father and blockbusters like Superman?
Glenn: My mother handled my fan mail for me and kept me abreast of the needs of my fans since I was so busy working. I had only one unpleasant signing experience, and that was at the premier of Gallant Journey in San Diego in September, 1946. A fan rushed at me while I was signing some things outside the theatre and in her excitement stabbed me in the eye with her pen. I was able to attend the premier but needed medical assistance later and the start of my next film, Framed, was delayed until my eye healed. The studio was not happy about that, nor was I, as I could have lost my eye. However, I must say that generally all my experiences have been good ones and I've always enjoyed signing for autograph hunters.
Peter Ford: On the subject of funny autograph stories, I can relate a story about my dad going over to his good friend Rhonda Fleming's house one evening. Rhonda was hosting a large dinner party and had not been expecting dad that evening. When he arrived at her door he asked her to sign an 11 x 14 photograph for him. Rhonda quickly explained that she was very busy hosting her dinner guests, but dad was undeterred and being the keen (and occasionally stubborn) collector that he is, insisted that he could not possibly leave without his prize. Needless to say, he now has a lovely signed photo of the gorgeous Rhonda in his collection. It was, however, a few weeks before they could both laugh about the moment. It certainly illustrates how determined a collector my father has always been.
David: Both you and Peter are keen collectors, and this doesn't seem a common interest amongst actors. At what stage did you begin collecting, and what are some of your all-time favourite treasures? Could you tell us any interesting stories regarding your collection? Who was your toughest signer and who is your very favourite?
Glenn: I first began collecting in 1937, when I was working on the stage. Two photographs of my all-time favourite ladies still hang in my bedroom. One is of Rita Hayworth, and the other is of Judy Garland. These lovely women were two of Hollywood's most fabulous stars and dear, dear friends of mine. As most people probably know, Rita lived next door for many years. I still place a fresh rose in the small vase next to her portrait every day (see cover photo).
Peter: Although Rita Hayworth's house has been torn down by the new owners, I'm still mindful of the squabble over the issue of my father's ancient oversized satellite dish. It blocked her city view and was a bone of contention during their longstanding relationship. This unsightly item almost brought them to court in litigation, but Rita finally got her revenge - thanks to me. I recently removed the dish, which has not functioned for some time, and cut it into fragments and sent pieces of it to memorabilia hunters around the globe.
David: Mr. Ford, if you could ask any person in history for their autograph, who would you have most liked it to have been and what would you have asked them to write in their dedication?
Glenn: I would have to say Jesus of Nazareth, although I am not sure I would feel too comfortable asking for his autograph, let alone an inscription. I'd be afraid of what he might say to me. [Picture Glenn chuckling softly as he said this.]
David: What are your feelings regarding professional autograph seekers, and can you relate any experiences you've had with them, either good or bad, which you would like to share with our readers?
Glenn: I have not had too many experiences with professional autograph seekers, I don't think they really existed in the old days, but as long as they make sure they are selling authentic items, then I think they do a great service in giving fans something that brings them closer to the stars they admire most.
David: Have you seen many forgeries of your own signature over the years? And could you tell us some of the people with whom you have signed items? For example, during the making of great films like Gilda or The Loves of Carmen, did you sign photos with Rita Hayworth, or are these items likely to be forgeries?
Glenn: I can't remember signing many photos with other actors, including Rita, but I do know that there are many forgeries around. My own son, Peter, has identified some examples for this article so that collectors can hopefully separate the authentic from those that aren't genuine.
Peter: You will find that my father's signature goes through three distinct stages in style, which is hardly surprising over the period of 60 years. People should also be aware that when my dad was ill in the late '70's and early '80's an employee at the time signed a large number of photos. I have tried to identify some examples of his signature to help everyone. On May 5, I sat down and looked at eBay and found three forged samples for sale and only one valid example of dad's signature. Taken over a single year that could mean a lot of forged photos are being sold to unsuspecting collectors. In the past I tried to contact some of these sellers to se them straight, but was told that I didn't know what I was talking about. When I said I was Glenn Ford's only child, and lived with him and was the keeper of the "family flame", they still rebuffed my opinion. In one case, I printed the listing and took it up to dad in his room. Even he said it wasn't his autograph. I told this to the seller and he still wouldn't withdraw it. I have since given up trying to do the right thing - caveat emptor, as they say! But I'm very pleased this article is being written, so people might become aware of this continuing fraud which compromises the whole collecting experience.
David: So, Mr. Ford, if you were to give a piece of advice to a potential autograph collector, what would it be?
Glenn: Always enclose an SASE with your request, or at least sufficient postage, or a postage coupon, if you're mailing from a foreign country. I get many requests, and some people just assume that when they ask for something to be mailed back to them, the burden of cost of return mail should fall on the person from whom they want something. Make it as easy as possible for the person to respond and the results will be positive more often than not. Also, include a mailing label or at least a clear return address. If you're not using a computer or a typewriter, make sure your handwriting is legible. I often would like to respond, but either I can't decipher the return address or am not inclined to spend countless dollars providing return postage.
David: In closing, I would love to thank you for the hours of pleasure your great films have brought me, not to mention millions of fans around the world for more than three generations. I also wondered if there were any parting words you would like to share with our public regarding either your career or your love of autograph collecting. And I am sure I speak for all our readers in wishing you and your family the very best of health.
Glenn: I think autograph collecting is a wonderful pursuit. I no longer sign, but it's only due to my age. To hold in your hand a moment in time when someone you admire inscribed a special message is a treasure. I had a great time collecting and it's been my pleasure to sign through the years. I encourage everyone to chase their dreams. I did and they all came true.