Wallace Ford was an Illegal Alien

A celebration today of Wallace Ford (Samuel Grundy, 1898-1966).

I think of Ford as a quintessentially American movie type, so it is eye-opening to hear he is TWICE removed form being an American. He was born in Lancashire, sent to an orphanage as a toddler, then shipped to a foster home in Manitoba at age seven. Fed up with cruel treatment he ran away from home when he was 11 years old and joined a vaudeville troupe called the Winnipeg Kiddies. At 16 he hopped a freight train to America. The given name of his traveling companion was Wallace Ford. The real Ford was killed underneath the wheels of the train; Grundy assumed his name, if not his identity, and it became his professional name when he went into show business. Wouldn’t that make a great movie? Anyway, I don’t know about you, but I for one celebrate the illegal entry of movie star Wallace Ford into the. U.S.

After World War One service in his adopted country, he appeared in a hit Chicago production of Booth Tarkington’s Seventeen for several months in 1919. Then came a dozen Broadway shows, several of them notable. He was the replacement in the male lead, i.e. the titular Abie, in Abie’s Irish Rose (1922-27) one of the most successful Broadway shows of all time. Nut Farm (1929) would be made into a film in 1935, with Ford playing the lead both times. And he was the original George in the original stage adaptation of Steinbeck’s Of Mice and Men (1937-38) with Broderick Crawford as Lennie.

In 1930 his movie career launched with a couple of Vitaphone shorts, Absent-Minded and Fore. Possessed, with Joan Crawford (1931) was his first feature. Tod Browning’s Freaks (1932) is where many of us first became acquainted with Wallace Ford. He plays one of the main characters, a clown, one of the few “non-different” characters in the film. Other notable films include the Temperance melodrama The Wet Parade (1932), Mack Sennett’s Hypnotized (1932) with Moran and Mack, the Pre-Code classic Employees’ Entrance, Sidney Kingsley’s medical melodrama Men in White (1934), John Ford’s The Informer (1935), The Mummy’s Tomb (1942), The Ape Man (1943), and Hitchcock’s Shadow of a Doubt (1943) and Spellbound (1945). In his later years he was mostly a bit player in movies. He was frequently in westerns in his later years, and worked a lot in TV, notably as a regular on The Deputy (1959-1961). His last performance, as Ole Pa in the Civil Rights era film A Patch of Blue (1965) was widely acclaimed.

To find out more about the history of vaudeville, please see No Applause, Just Throw Money: The Book That Made Vaudeville Famous