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  • Writer's pictureCarrie Specht

Glenn Ford 90th Birthday Salute

On Monday May 1, 2006 the Egyptian Theater once again played host venue to the American Cinematheque as it presented a newly restored 60th anniversary print of Gilda (1946, Columbia Pictures, Sony Repertory) as a 90th birthday celebration salute to Glenn Ford.

To quote the American Cinematheque’s film calendar description, “Director Charles Vidor’s smoldering noir put Glenn Ford on the map as one of the most cherished leading men of his generation”. This essential classic also propelled “The Love Goddess” Rita Hayworth into the echelons of superstardom and cemented her well-earned nickname.

I was fortunate enough to obtain one of the remaining tickets at the last minute and was treated to a wonderful night of classic Hollywood, complete with appearances by many stars from the golden age of cinema. The honorary Mayor of Hollywood, Johnny Grant started things off by presenting Mr. Ford’s son with the plaque one now receives when obtaining a star on the walk of fame (Mr. Ford was such an early addition to the famous landmark he had received his star before such a custom existed).

Among the many famous people in attendance were Ann Rutherford (most notably of “Gone With the Wind,” “Pride and Prejudice” with Lawrence Olivier, “A Christmas Carol” with Reginald Owen, and multiple Andy Hardy films), Ann Jeffreys (“I Married an Angel” with Nelson Eddy and Jeanette MacDonald, and “Step Lively” with Frank Sinatra), Hugh O’Brien (“The Shootist” with John Wayne, television’s “The Life and Legend of Wyatt Earp”) and Earl Holliman (the Sci-Fi classic “Forbidden Planet,” “Don’t Go Near the Water” with Glenn Ford).

Among those who spoke were several of Mr. Ford’s costars from over the years including Jamie Farr (“Blackboard Jungle”), Martin Landau (“The Gazebo”), Shirley Jones (“The Courtship of Eddie’s Father”) and Debbie Reynolds (“The Gazebo,” “It Started with a Kiss”). All of who reiterated and strongly endorsed a statement made by Director Ron Howard in a recent Variety article celebrating Mr. Ford’s birthday. Mr. Howard (who as a child actor costarred with Glenn Ford in “The Courtship of Eddie’s Father”) remarked that the Academy was long over due in recognizing Mr. Ford with a Lifetime achievement Award. Amazingly enough, Glenn Ford has never even been nominated for an Oscar during the course of his impressive career. This is an error that needs to be corrected.

Unfortunately, due to ill health, Glenn Ford himself was unable to attend, but he did send his son Peter to represent him, and provided a lovely and touching video message that was presented to the audience just before the screening. Also screened was a video copy of Glenn Ford’s first screen appearance in a 1937 short called “Night in Manhattan,” where, as a very young man, he plays an MC to a New York nightclub show, complete with slicked back hair reminiscent of Robert Young. Interesting bit of trivia: he wears the very same tuxedo Marlene Dietrich made infamous seven years earlier in Morocco.

The screening was followed by a dessert reception in the expansive patio area leading up to the entrance of the Historic Egyptian. Here fans were given the opportunity to meet and mingle with the Hollywood elite while partaking of both a vodka bar and champagne bar, apparently provided upon Mr. Ford’s express wish that there be plenty of drinks available for the occasion.

Glenn Ford was at one time the biggest box office draw in America, and remained a very popular film star for many decades costarring with some of Hollywood’s biggest legends including Bette Davis, Marlon Brando, Edward G. Robinson, Barbara Stanwyck, Sidney Poitier, Rod Steiger, Shirley MacLaine, Jack Lemon, and Henry Fonda to name only a few. His specialty in trade was the ability to portray the every day man caught in the gray area of right and wrong, usually challenged by the societal norms of the community in which he lived. His characters usually lived a life without conflict and out of the public eye until a situation forces him into action and into the critical eye of a judgmental society that insisted on knowing what was black and what was white, allowing no room for gradation. But Ford’s characters usually asked the tough question of just where do the boundaries of right and wrong begin, where do they end, and where do they completely blur. Most importantly, who has the right to set the standards that all others are required to live by without question or examination. It was his ability to encapsulate these universal questions into an individual through out the changing times of the 40’s, 50’s and 60’s that have endured Glenn Ford to audiences.

If you’re not already familiar with Glenn Ford’s 100 plus film body of work you should really check out his most note worthy performances starting with “Gilda,” then as a starter course check out “The Big Heat,” “Blackboard Jungle,” “Ransom!,” “The Fastest Gun Alive,” “The Teahouse of the August Moon,” “3:10 to Yuma,” “Pocketful of Miracles,” “The Courtship of Eddie’s Father,” and “Dear Heart.”

To find out about future screening events and presentations that include guest speakers at the Egyptian Theater visit the American Cinematheque website. In Addition if you consider yourself a fan of the golden age of cinema, and of classic Hollywood itself, you owe it to yourself to check out the unique behind the scenes peek tour of the landmark theater that hosted the very first Hollywood premier back in 1922: Douglas Fairbanks’ Robin Hood. The tour is offered monthly. The Egyptian Theater Historic Tour and accompanying screening of Forever Hollywood (a documentary showcasing celebrity interviews and over 400 movie and archival clips).

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