Of Glenn Ford and Television


Glenn Ford (1916-2006) was still very much a going concern when I was a kid. In the years of my childhood, like a lot of movie stars of his generation, he was putting all of his energy into television, first in the western mystery series Cade’s County (1971-72), then in The Family Holvak (1974-75).

The latter series was especially meaningful to me. It started with the TV movies The Greatest Gift (1974) and Long Way Home (1975), followed by the series proper, which lasted just one season. In The Family Holvak, Ford played a struggling minister in small town Tennessee during the Great Depression (the time and the place of my father’s origins). It had much in common with The Waltons and Paper Moon, of which I was also a fan. The great Julie Harris played the Reverend Holvak’s wife, and the kids were played by Lance Kerwin (soon to star in James at 15) and Elizabeth Cheshire, who’d been on the show Sunshine. So there was a lot to attract me as a ten year old. But the show lasted only ten episodes.

The Family Holvak is surely what occasioned my dad telling me that Ford was one of his favorite actors, and I too grew to love his onscreen presence in such films as Gilda (1946), The Big Heat (1953), Blackboard Jungle (1955), Jubal (1956), 3:10 to Yuma (1957), Cimarron (1960), Pocketful of Miracles (1961), The Courtship of Eddie’s Father (1963), and Day of the Evil Gun (1968).

Ford seemed the embodiment of the quiet, self-effacing American hero, although occasionally, as in 3:10 to Yuma, he could be a charming bad boy. Ironically, he was Canadian by birth, although he moved to California when he was six. His father was a railroad man. As a young man, Ford worked on Will Rogers’ ranch, where he learned western skills like riding and roping. Despite the skein of virtue he projected onscreen, Ford was clearly no pussycat in private life. He was married four times, the first one to Eleanor Powell.

His later roles seemed calculated to channel the mystique of his past. Midway (1976) recalled his own World War II service; he was the PERFECT Pa Kent in Superman (1978), and The Sacketts (1979) echoed his long career in westerns. His last role was in the TV movie Final Verdict (1991).