A six-gun salute to subtle cowboy star Glenn Ford

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Glenn Ford was voted Hollywood’s number one box office attraction in 1958 and remained a durable name on the marquee for 52 years. Twenty unearthed photos and videos cast light upon Ford’s affinity for westerns — e.g. “3:10 to Yuma,” “Cowboy,” “Cimarron,” and “The Rounders” — plus drop dead gorgeous costars Angie Dickinson and Inger Stevens. Cutting a dashing leading man profile at age 47, Ford is Union Army Captain Jared Heath in director George Marshall’s absurdly deadpan “Advance to the Rear,” a black and white comedy western unleashed on June 10, 1964, costarring Stella Stevens, Melvyn Douglas, Joan Blondell, and future “Gilligan’s Island” castaways Jim Backus and Alan Hale, Jr. Image Credit: Metro-Goldwyn-Mayer

A Canadian-born Hollywood star unusually adept at portraying average Joes facing seemingly insurmountable circumstances, the perpetually under-appreciated Glenn Ford possessed an effortless grace and undeniable charisma.

Never nominated for an Academy Award, Ford did receive a Golden Globe for his work as a suspicious street savvy gangster in director Frank Capra’s 1961 swansong, Pocketful of Miracles. The World War II veteran once mused why fans kept coming back for more. “When I’m on camera, I have to do things pretty much the way I do things in everyday life,” said Ford. “It gives the audience someone real to identify with.”

Perhaps surprisingly, only 27, or somewhere in the neighborhood of one quarter, of the versatile actor’s 102 films were Westerns, not counting the short-lived modern day Western-police procedural Cade’s County [1971–1972]. Ford’s 1939 inauspicious film debut fittingly came in the quickie B-Western Heaven with a Barbed Wire Fence. Seven years later directorial master Charles Vidor’s stylish black and white film noir Gilda made stars of both Rita Hayworth and Ford.

He made occasional Western forays during the early stages of his career but did not fully capitalize on his affinity for the genre until 1955 with The Violent Men, an underrated range war excursion with Edward G. Robinson and the always resilient Barbara Stanwyck. Coincidentally, The Violent Men also instigated the actor’s proclivity for wearing tan. His working cowboy’s ensemble consisted of a corduroy jacket, long-sleeve shirt, pants, and weathered cowboy hat with sides extensively curled and brim pulled low.

Ford’s incendiary Western streak ran unabated from 1955 until 1958, producing Jubal, The Fastest Gun Alive, 3:10 to Yuma, Cowboy, and The Sheepman. Delmer Daves helmed three including the iconic 3:10 to Yuma, a suspenseful black and white psychological study of a brow-beaten, shotgun-toting farmer escorting the calculating mastermind of a vicious stagecoach-robbing gang to catch a train bound for prison. Glowing critical notices and enviable box office receipts were the name of the game. Incidentally, the title of The Fastest Gun Alive was not the result of an embellished publicity machine — the actor’s sudden draw was reportedly the best in Hollywood — as long as Audie Murphy was not in the vicinity.

As the subsequent decade flowered, Ford left the open range largely behind, content to develop his hilarious deadpan comedy delivery and romantic flair [e.g. The Courtship of Eddie’s Father with Ron Howard]. By 1966 the established Hollywood studio system was being eased out to pasture as a new breed of determined filmmakers were given license to document the turbulent societal upheaval with limited opposition from the antiquated Hays Code. Ford’s box office clout took a considerable hit.

The Experiment in Terror lead actor settled into Westerns for the remainder of his film career. Hands down, the downbeat, unusually brutal Day of the Evil Gun [1968] is his best late-period Western. Executives of the prestigious National Cowboy & Western Heritage Museum in Oklahoma City rightly recognized Ford’s cowboy creed in 1978, electing him to the Hall of Great Western Performers just before his sympathetic turn as a bitter, doomed ramrod in the two-part NBC miniseries The Sacketts with Sam Elliott and Tom Selleck.

If you’re still dubious as to whether Ford’s work in the saddle possesses merit, browse through the featured vintage stills and video clips below. Or keep an eye on Encore Westerns or TCM’s upcoming schedules. Ford’s only child Peter Ford has also published the sole in-depth profile of his late father — the commendable Glenn Ford: A Life.

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A fantastic artistic rendering of Glenn Ford in character as seasoned, tough trail boss Tom Reece in director Delmer Daves’ “Cowboy,” costarring Jack Lemmon in his sole Western and circulated by Columbia Pictures on February 19, 1958. Daves intended to do for cowboys what “Broken Arrow,” his 1950 western with Jimmy Stewart, accomplished for Native Americans — ”show them as they really are.’’ Ford and Daves also worked together on the sexually charged frontier drama “Jubal” [1956] and the iconic “3:10 to Yuma” [1957], one of the few times where Ford was cast against type as a calculating villain. Image Credit: Artwork by Rouhani Cyrus / Fine Art America
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A stark black and white still depicts Glenn Ford trying to turn over a new leaf as notorious outlaw Cheyenne Rogers in “The Desperadoes,” the first Technicolor film to be distributed by Columbia on May 25, 1943. Image Credit: Sergio Leemann’s A Certain Cinema website / Columbia Pictures
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Glenn Ford portrays Yancey Cravat, an ambitious newly married husband trying to accumulate land in the Oklahoma territory land rush in director Anthony Mann’s “Cimarron,” an ill-fated December 1, 1960, remake of the 1931 classic that won an Oscar for Best Picture. Image Credit: Metro-Goldwyn-Mayer
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A theatrical poster for “The Rounders,” director Burt Kennedy’s hilarious Western about aging bronco busters distributed on March 5, 1965. The chemistry between Glenn Ford and Henry Fonda is a joy to behold in Kennedy’s pre-”Support Your Local Sheriff” comedy western. Image Credit: Metro-Goldwyn-Mayer / Best Little Film House
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Glenn Ford faithfully embodies modern-day horse tamer Ben Jones, guilty as charged for carousing and chasing skirts, in director Burt Kennedy’s freewheeling “The Rounders,” released on March 5, 1965, and costarring Henry Fonda, Chill Wills, Edgar Buchanan, Kathleen Freeman, and Denver Pyle. Image Credit: Metro-Goldwyn-Mayer / TV Guide
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Much more captivating than the dismal Civil War western is the theatrical poster for “A Time For Killing,” released on November 1, 1967, and starring Glenn Ford, George Hamilton, Inger Stevens, and Paul Petersen, best known as a child actor on the long-running situation comedy “The Donna Reed Show.” Image Credit: Columbia Pictures
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Marshal Dan Blaine [Glenn Ford] and old flame Lisa Denton [Angie Dickinson] share a stress-free buggy ride in “The Last Challenge,” a modestly-intentioned western that served as director Richard Thorpe’s final film dropped on December 27, 1967. The screen couple later had an on-again, off-again relationship in real life. Notice Ford’s working cowboy’s tan ensemble — a corduroy jacket, long-sleeve shirt, pants, and weathered cowboy hat with sides extensively curled and brim pulled low. Image Credit: Cinematographer Ellsworth Fredericks / Metro-Goldwyn-Mayer
View an expertly crafted montage of folk pop artist Katie Melua saluting the versatile Glenn Ford with “Shy Boy,” set to romantic scenes from the actor’s classic film arsenal. Music Credit: Dramatico Records / Video Credit: YouTube user TheShanghaiLady1

© Jeremy Roberts, 2014, 2018. All rights reserved. To touch base, email jeremylr@windstream.net and mention which story led you my way. I appreciate it sincerely.

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Retro pop culture interviews & lovin’ someone fierce sustain this University of Georgia Master of Agricultural Leadership alum. Email: jeremylr@windstream.net

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