So I’m watching the Joan Didion documentary on Netflix the other day and who pops up but Harrison Ford. Double take. Harrison Ford?
Harrison Ford was born in Chicago in 1942. His paternal grandparents were Irish Catholic and his maternal grandparents were Jewish immigrants from Minsk. When asked which religion he was raised in, he often answers “Democrat” but if you press him, “As a man I’ve always felt Irish, as an actor I’ve always felt Jewish.”
Ford was active in the Boy Scouts of America and earned its second-highest rank, Life Scout, which is how Indiana Jones came to have the same rank in The Last Crusade. He worked at Napowan Adventure Base Scout Camp as a counselor for the Reptile Study merit badge. No wonder he was a “late bloomer.”
He studied philosophy at Ripon College in Wisconsin and took a drama class in his senior year as a way to get over his shyness. He caught the acting bug and moved to L.A. but it was a long, long time before the acting bug caught him back. He had a contract where he did a lot of background and bit parts, and most of those are lost to the either; his first known role is of course uncredited but he played a bellhop in Dead Heat on a Merry-Go-Round (1966). His first credited role was a year later in the western A Time For Killing – he appears as Harrison J. Ford. He needed the initial to distinguish himself from a dead silent film star but in fact, Harrison does not have a middle name and so the J. stood for nothing and was soon dropped.
Frustrated with the crappy roles, Ford became a self-taught carpenter (he had a wife and two sons to support). He became a stagehand for a little band you may have heard of, The Doors, and he built a sun deck for actress Sally Kellerman, a recording studio for Brazilian band leader Sergio Mendes, and did a home renovation for, ahem, Joan Didion, with whom he remained close friends. He also expanded an office for a certain Francis Ford Coppola who then found roles for him in his next two films, The Conversation (1974) and Apocalypse Now (1979) in which he played an army officer named “G. Lucas.”
Coincidence or not (not), George Lucas hired Harrison Ford – get this – to read lines with actors who were auditioning for his next film, Star Wars. Lucas was won over by Ford’s excellent line reading and eventually offered him the part of Han Solo, which would make him a star of a franchise that has now spanned 5 decades. Jesus. He was paid somewhere in the neighbourhood of $20M for the last installment, plus a 0.5% share of revenues; he was paid $10k for the first one, and was glad to have it.
Then of course came Indy. Spielberg wanted him from the get go, but Lucas, having just worked with him in both American Graffiti and Star Wars, preferred Tom Selleck. Selleck fell through and another iconic role landed in Ford’s lap, not to mention another decades-spanning franchise (with another scheduled for 2020 – with a new Blade Runner currently in theatres, this guy has to hold the record for the most absurdly spaced sequels ever).
Sequels are a theme common to his personal life as well – he is, after all, on his third wife. He was married to Mary from 1964-1979 and they had two sons, Benjamin and Willard. Then came Melissa (who wrote the script for E.T. – Harrison had a cameo as the school principal but it was cut), married from 1983-2001, with whom had two more kids, Malcolm and Georgia. Presently he’s with #3, Calista Flockhart, whom he met at the 2002 Golden Globes. He got around to proposing on Valentine’s day 2009 and they were married in June 2010 in Santa Fe, because that’s where he was filming Cowboys & Aliens at the time. They coparent her adopted son Liam together. He’s got 3 grandkids.
Harrison Ford has adopted many interests. From the set of Indiana Jones, he took up an interest in archaeology and now serves as a General Trustee on the Governing Board of the Archaeological Institute of America. He’s also the vice-chair of Conservation International, an American nonprofit environmental organization, which as led to two species being named after him: a newly discovered spider now called Calponia harrisonfordi, and an ant henceforth known as Pheidole harrisonfordi. He also got to name a butterfly, and he named it after his daughter, Georgia.
He’s also really into flying. He’s a pilot, licensed to fly planes and helicopters. He’s got a big ole ranch in Jackson Wyoming – 800 acres, although he’s donated half as a nature preserve. Local authorities often call on him to pilot rescues for distressed hikers (one such rescue was later mortified she learned she’d barfed in Harrison Ford’s plane). He started his training in the 1960s but couldn’t afford the $15\hour cost; it wasn’t until the mid-90s when he bought himself a used plane and asked his pilot to give him lessons. This time his money held out until he was a confident pilot. He’s had a few critical incidents; in 2015 he broke his ankle and his pelvis in an accident. Not to make light, but he’s also been injured on the Millennium Falcon, and that one was definitely grounded at the time.
Harrison Ford has been nominated for an Oscar just once, for Witness, but lost to William Hurt.
Star Wars costar Alec Guinness could never remember his name: “I must off to studio and work with a dwarf (very sweet – and he has to wash in a bidet) and your fellow countrymen Mark Hamill and Tennyson (that can’t be right) Ford. Ellison (? – No!) – well, a rangy, languid young man who is probably intelligent and amusing. But Oh, God, God, they make me feel ninety – and treat me as if I was 106. Oh, Harrison Ford – ever heard of him?”
After having lunch with friend Jimmy Buffett, Ford found himself jealous of his stud. So, at the age of 55, he went to the mall and had his ear pierced at Claire’s Accessories, just like all the 11 year old girls. Speaking of Jimmy Buffett, Ford once provided whip cracking sound effects on Buffett’s song Desperation Samba (Halloween in Tijuana).
The Mosquito Coast is his favourite of his own films.
He is credited with “creating” a fan favourite scene in Raiders of the Lost Ark (1981) because he was suffering from a bout of dysentery at the time of filming: during the scene in Cairo with the swordsman in black, the script called for a much longer fight, but because he was sick, he quietly asked director Steven Spielberg if they could shorten the scene. Spielberg’s reply was that the only way it could be done would be if Indy pulled out his gun and “just shot the guy”. The rest of the crew, unaware of the change, laughed heartily, and it made the cut.
He plays golf with Bill Clinton and went to high school with Hilary.
Harrison Ford turned down a part in Jurassic Park, which went to Sam Neill. He turned down Kurt Russell’s part in Vanilla Sky. He turned down Schindler’s List. He turned down the role of Mike Stivic on All in the Family, citing the bigotry of Archie Bunker was too offensive. He turned down the Jack Ryan role in The Hunt for Red October. Dragonfly (2002) was written specifically for him but he turned that one down too. He turned down Michael Douglas’s role in Traffic. He turned down Proof of Life, The Perfect Storm, JFK, Dick Tracy, Who Framed Roger Rabbit, and The Patriot because it was too violent. He turned down Syriana, and that’s the one he regrets.