On the Pompous and Pettifogging Paul Ford

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Today is the birthday of character actor Paul Ford (Paul Ford Weaver, 1901-1976). Ford doesn’t easily fit into any of my usual content streams here: he wasn’t in vaudeville ro silent comedies and he’s not the sort of thespian I usually honor in the Hall of Hams. Yet, I can’t pass him by: he’s a comedy star of a sort, albeit a minor sort.

Originally from Baltimore, Ford discovered his calling late in life. He was nearing 40, with a wife and kids, when he began performing puppetry in the late 1930s. This culminated with work at the 1939 World’s Fair, which in turn led to employment in radio and theatre. By 1944 he was getting Broadway roles and by 1945 bit parts in movies.

Already middle aged when he launched his acting career, he specialized in playing brainless blowhards in positions of authority, often Mayors, Senators or military officers. He was Colonel Purdy in both the stage and screen versions of Teahouse of the August Moon (1953-1956 and 1956, respectively). Getting cast as Colonel Hall on The Phil Silvers Show (better known as Sgt. Bilko, 1955-1959) is what truly made him a well known commodity in show business. He played the Mayor in both the Broadway and Hollywood productions of The Music Man (1957-1961 and 1962, respectively); Horace in the screen version of The Matchmaker (1958); a senator in Advise and Consent (1962); and a colonel in It’s a Mad, Mad, Mad, Mad World (1963 — he’s the guy in the airport tower who tries to talk Mickey Rooney and Buddy Hackett down when they find themselves in a pilotless airplane). Other notable movies included The Russians are Coming! The Russians are Coming! (1966), A Big Hand for the Little Lady (1966), and The Comedians (1967). His last screen credit was the voice of Uncle Henry in the animated Journey Back to Oz (1972).

For more on film comedy please see my new book Chain of Fools: Silent Comedy and Its Legacies from Nickelodeons to Youtube, just released by Bear Manor Media, also available from amazon.com etc etc etc

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