Glenn Ford and Rita Hayworth starred in the 1946 noir classic Gilda.
He had a one-night stand with Marilyn Monroe, a 6-month fling with Judy Garland, and a 40-year, on-and-off affair with Rita Hayworth.
After a 16-year marriage to dancing star Eleanor Powell, he married three more times while he chased a series of younger and younger women, gold-diggers who plundered his hard earned fortune and then left him.
He developed a drinking problem so severe that it nearly killed him and left him unable to walk for a decade before he died in 2006 at age 90.
And he taped the most famous taper in history: he installed a secret telephone recording system in his Beverly Hills mansion that recorded intimate conversations with his many Hollywood lovers (143 at last count) and some big-time politicians, including President Richard Nixon.
Those are just a few of the juicy revelations in a biography with the remarkably understated title “Glenn Ford: A Life,” written by his son Peter Ford and released last May. And for those who question Ford’s claims, he has the documents to back them up: every letter his parents ever exchanged, every one of his father’s day-by-day diaries, and boxes of reel-to-reel tapes from his secret phone recording system.
“I found one labeled ‘Peter’s conversations,’” said Ford, who will appear at the Manhattan Beach Public Library on Feb. 29. Although he was offended by his father’s invasion of privacy, he admitted: “It was kind of fun to listen to myself as a teenager.”
Peter Ford and his father Glenn. Photo courtesy of the Ford family.
Books written by children of Hollywood legends have become a well-defined literary genre over the last 40 years. There are two basic sub-genres: Daddy was a Drunken Tyrant who beat the hell out of me (Bing Crosby), and Mommy was a Drunken Monster who tried to control every aspect of my life (Joan Crawford, Bette Davis, Marlene Dietrich).
Now Ford, the only child of 1950s superstar Glenn Ford, has invented a third sub-genre: Daddy drank way too much and cheated constantly on my beloved mother but was a great actor and did the best he could given his incredible journey from a no-luxuries upbringing in Santa Monica to a no-limits life as a Hollywood superstar.
“I had to walk a fine line between telling the truth and not discrediting my father,” he says of his 7-year struggle to turn out the manuscript.
But his fair and balanced approach, which resulted in a richly textured, deeply nuanced portrait of a real human being with all his strengths and weaknesses laid bare, doesn’t highlight the scandals he uncovered. Instead they are revealed casually as afterthoughts in the straight-ahead narrative that flows from his childhood to his prime adult years to his brutal old age. Nor does it provide the primal emotions of emotional patricide and long-awaited revenge that can generate mass-media book reviews and a place on the New York Times bestseller list.
Although his book has sold more than 6,000 copies since it was released by the University of Wisconsin Press, it has been ignored by the mainstream press and currently ranks 33,914 on Amazon.com. Without a major publisher and its marketing machine behind him, Ford has had to promote the book on his own.
That’s why Ford will be at the Manhattan Beach Library next Wednesday, Feb. 29, from 7 to 8:30 p.m., answering questions and selling copies of his book. The next morning, at its monthly Coffee and Classics series, the library will screen one of Ford’s best-known films, Gilda, produced in 1946 and starring Ford and Rita Hayworth.
Other Ford classics are Blackboard Jungle, the 1955 film that alerted America to the problem of juvenile delinquency and 1953’s The Big Heat. Blackboard Jungle starred Ford as Richard Dadier, a straight-laced teacher at an urban high school who faces down the proto gang-bangers led by Vic Morrow and connects emotionally with the willing-to-be-saved students led by Sidney Poitier.