Peter Ford: Memories of a Star-Struck Childhood

Sunday, 13 Nov 2011 06:40 AM

By Paul Scicchitano and Ashley Martella

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The only son of legendary film star Glenn Ford and Broadway great Eleanor Powell grew up calling Cary Grant and Charlie Chaplin neighbors.

As a boy, Peter Ford called Chaplin a lot worse, particularly after the silent film star accidentally ran over and killed his dog, Bill.

Johnny Weissmuller gave young Ford swimming lessons in an Olympic-sized pool his parents installed just for the occasion. Later, Pancho Segura taught him to play tennis while he picked up his golf swing from none other than Ben Hogan, who happened to be preparing Glenn Ford to play him in the movie, “Follow the Sun.”

Story continues below video.



But while Ford’s late father had an iconic good-guy reputation on screen, he had something of a bad-boy lifestyle off screen, at least when it came to women.

“He has this image of being a Jimmy Stewart but in truth like Errol Flynn he had a streak of adventure,” recalled the younger Ford in an exclusive interview with Newsmax.TV. “And unfortunately when you’re married that doesn’t serve you well — especially when you get caught.”

Peter Ford, author of the new book: “Glenn Ford: A Life,” was surprised to learn that his father had relationships with many women over the years.

“It’s startling quite frankly for a guy like me who has been married forever to one wonderful wife, Lynda,” he said. “For me to read the fact that he did 100 films and yet had all of these experiences with these women — he was prodigious in many fields.”

Reflecting back on his childhood, Ford didn’t realize how privileged he was at the time to be surrounded by Hollywood legends. “As a little kid, I wasn’t impressed with anybody. I didn’t know. They’re just my parents’ friends coming to the house,” he said.

Still, his family’s six-acre mansion in Beverly Hills was hardly a typical family home in the suburbs. “I met so many great people — Sophie Tucker, Eddie Cantor. My mom was a big star on Broadway. And so through her, I got to know Al Jolson and those people.

And my dad of course being a film actor, when he started out, he started out very humbly with what they called ‘B’ pictures not ‘A’ pictures, not the top pictures. By the time I came around though he was a big deal actor. So Henry Fonda, Barbara Stanwyck, Lana Turner, Ava Gardner, I mean everybody, came through the house and they were just folks to me.

It was only after I got a little older and a little wiser that I started realizing these people are important. They’re just not regular folks. They were regular folks but they were unique in this world.”

As a young man, Peter’s love for rhythm and blues, led the director of the film, “Blackboard Jungle,” to discover what would become an iconic song, “Rock Around the Clock,” in Peter’s music collection.

“Rock Around the Clock, being the song that was in my father’s film, became the national anthem of rock and roll and ushered in this whole new era of the rock generation,” Ford shares with Newsmax.TV. “And I’m happy to tell you the reason that song was in that movie was because of me.”

Here are some of Peter’s recollections of the stars who shaped his childhood:

Charley Chaplin — Charley was a party animal. He’s not what people think, ‘The Little Tramp.’ But he was a party animal and quite frankly he got arrested — The Man Act, transporting teenagers across state lines. The reason I’m telling you this is that he was a Communist sympathizer. When he killed Bill, I was devastated. He went back to England for the premiere of ‘Limelight.’

This was 1953. I was just devastated. And then when he tried to come back into the United States from the premiere of ‘Limelight’ they wouldn’t let him in the country. And of course that became big news at the time. And my parents told me that was because he ran over Bill not for the reason I just told you.

But of course he was a persona non grata in the United States. I had satisfaction with that. I thought, ‘okay that’s fair.’ …. As it turned out my dad and my mother bought his house which was next door to us and they remodeled it and we owned that house as well as the house we were in. We had like a six-acre property. We lived in a 22-room mansion. It was quite a life.”

William Holden — “Bill Holden was a dear, dear family friend. My father and Bill made a movie together called ‘Texas’ in 1941 and they became buddies ever since. Before my father married they partied a lot together.

There’s a rumor that Harry Cohn who was head of Columbia [Pictures] even had a penthouse for the two of them that he retained — and other of his randy actors that he maintained at the Chateau Marmont in Hollywood. That was a place they could go and be discrete in their indiscretions.

But Bill was a dear friend. And I know when he passed. I don’t know exactly the date, but it was in the early ‘80s. I think my father was devastated. And of course the way Bill Holden passed. He fell and hit his head. He was drinking. He bled to death. It was a sad, sad, sad thing for my father. But they were very, very good friends.”

Frank Sinatra — “My dad knew Frank early on. And my mother knew him even before my father. Frank was in one of my mother’s movies. He stepped out for the first time and sang in one of my mom’s films. In fact my mom used to tell me that Buddy Rich, the drummer, and Frank would gamble at lunch time. And he used to come and borrow money from my mother to gamble while they were making this film. I think it might have been ‘Ship Ahoy.’ I’m not sure, but he became a good family friend as well. He and my father were very social together.”

Dean Martin — “I knew Dean very well as well but dad wasn’t as friendly with Dean as with Frank. But I knew Dean. I built a house for Dean actually. I was a home builder for a while. … I don’t know if he was that accessible to the average person. … Dean was rather reclusive. They were all interesting. … I knew him really after his son was killed. He became very depressed. That was a tragedy for him.”

John Wayne — “John and dad were friends, yes. John of course, everybody knows his conservatism…. He wore that as a badge of honor. He made all of those great patriotic films, ‘The Green Berets’ and all of those great westerns too. John was a great friend of the family. He was at the house and it was my pleasure to meet all of those good folks.”

Rita Hayworth — “My father and Rita made a movie. The first movie they made together — they made five— but the first one they did was in 1940 called ‘Lady in Question.’ They actually met when they were teenagers. That’s kind of a long story which I cover in my book. But the fact that she was dancing off the coast in Santa Monica. They had these gambling ships.

My father was helping his father who was a tram driver going between Santa Monica and Venice Pier. My father would fill in for his father, my grandfather. And on occasion Rita would go out to these ships off the coast which were beyond the two-mile limit and they were operating out there but they made this movie together in 1940 and of course then the quintessential Glen Ford, Rita Hayworth movie would be ‘Gilda,’ which they made in 1945 just after I was born. … He was a pallbearer at her funeral and he knew her as a teenager so it’s a long, long relationship.”

Tyrone Power — “Tyrone Power and my father were good friends. They were in the Marines together. They were both down in Camp Pendleton and they both worked on different Marine radio programs…. They had the Armed Forces Radio and they did a lot of radio together. But Ty Power was another fine actor back in the day and my father knew him quite well. They were friends.”

Errol Flynn — Errol Flynn was one of those guys around town who had the ladies on his arm constantly. …Yes they did have something in common. Again it gets into the weeds a little bit. But in my book I talk about my dad, and again he was a wonderful American patriot. He loved this nation but everybody kind of thinks he’s a Jimmy Stewart type but in truth he had a lot of Errol Flynn in him as well because he loved the ladies and they loved him.”

Jimmy Stewart — “We knew Jimmy. My mother knew him especially well. They made a movie together. I think it was his fifth movie…. My mom, Eleanor Powell, and he were in this movie called, ‘Born to Dance.’ It was in that film that he sang to her, ‘You’d Be So Easy to Love,’ that famous classic song. When he passed that was the only movie he ever sang in, and he did sing this song to her in that movie, and they played that as an homage to Jimmy.

But Jimmy was a real straight-laced guy, very conservative, again a great patriot. He served in World War II. He was a general in the Air Force and was a really wonderful guy and a nice neighbor of ours.”

Cary Grant — “Cary Grant and my father were very, very close friends. In fact when my father and my mother divorced, my dad was renting a house near where he used to live with my mother and Cary was like the next door neighbor and I’d see Cary all of the time. I had a ‘32 Ford Roadster in those days. I was racing about town. And Cary had this Rolls Royce. Every time I’d see him, he’d say ‘Pete do you want to trade me that car for my Rolls?’ I’d say ‘no thank you Mr. Grant.’

But Cary was an interesting guy in so far as his sense of experimentation knew no bounds. He got involved over at UCLA with some — how shall we say this — medicines — like LSD and other stuff. Really, he got involved with this Timothy Leary stuff and he got my father involved with that.

There’s a fair bit of stuff that I have at the house right now — files of my father going into like dream regression and hypnotic stuff and hypnosis. So Cary was very much into all of that strange stuff. And he dragged my dad into that stuff. I can’t say my father didn’t enjoy the process but through that my father got involved with all kinds of strange maharishis and all kinds of strange things. It was quite an interesting episode in his life.”

Mary Pickford — “I used to sit on Mary Pickford’s knee … and she would tell me stories.”

Fred Astaire — “Of course Fred Astaire lived up the street.”

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