Explosive Facts About Glenn Ford, The Star With A Secret

Samantha Henman

On screen, Glenn Ford seemed like the Hollywood everyman—but behind the scenes, his life was extraordinary. From his time in WWII to his many…and we mean many Hollywood romances, Ford lived a life marked by both glamour and heartbreak. And all the while, he kept a dark secret that he didn’t tell anyone—not even his lovers and close confidantes. Here are devious facts about Glenn Ford, the star with a secret.

Glenn Ford Facts

1. He Was Born Into Privilege

Glenn Ford was born Gwyllyn Samuel Newton Ford on May Day in a working class town in Quebec, Canada—but that doesn’t mean he had a hardscrabble upbringing. Ford’s father was a railroad executive who could count a Canadian prime minister and an American president as relatives. Plus, Ford didn’t exactly tough out the Canadian winters. When Ford’s father found a job in California, they all went to Santa Monica.

The proximity to Hollywood took effect early…

2. He Decided To Make A Change

From an early age, Ford took an interest in the stage, appearing in high school plays and joining local theater groups after graduation. At first, he worked as a stage manager, until Ford realized that he’d make ten times as much as an actor than he ever would as a stage manager. After that epiphany, he was determined to turn the tide—and he did.

3. He Pushed Him To Do More

Ambition is important, but so is prudence. Ford’s father was supportive, but he also insisted that his son learn trades so that he would have a backup if he didn’t make it as an actor. Ford made the ultimatum work for him, and took jobs as a roofer, window installer, and bartender before he was a star. All that knowledge would come in handy later…

4. He Got His Big Break…

You can chalk up Ford’s Hollywood discovery to simply being in the right place at the right time. Columbia Pictures studio head Harry Cohn was finally looking to hire his own stable of stars after years of accepting cast-offs from other, more profitable studios. But, Cohn was a penny pincher. He wanted actors who were young, attractive, and talented—but not famous, so he didn’t have to pay them much.

And Glenn Ford? Well, he fit the bill.

5. …But It Wouldn’t Be So Easy

Cohn offered Ford a contract to become one of Columbia Picture’s first stars—but that doesn’t mean he shot to success right away. Instead, Cohn made him work for it. The studio head pitted Ford against another young star named William Holden. Knowing what kind of mischief actors got up to in their spare time, Cohn figured that either Ford or Holden would crash and burn in some kind of scandalous controversy before too long.

He figured that with two actors, he’d always have a backup. Well, it backfired on him. The rivals became friends, and neither got into that much trouble—at least, not yet.

6. He Humiliated Him

Glenn Ford made his feature film debut in the 1939 drama Heaven With a Barbed Wire Fence. The experience should’ve felt like a triumph—instead, it was sheer agony. The film’s director, Ricardo Cortez, bullied Ford the whole time. The harassment culminated in a mortifying incident where Cortez dressed Ford down in front of the whole crew, telling him that he was a bad actor and that he wished he’d never hired him.

Ford neither forgave nor forgot the incident—which was too bad for Cortez.

7. He Got Back At Him

Ford’s disastrous experience on his first film was deeply discouraging. It was so bad that he briefly left Hollywood after the incident. However, years later, when Ford was a major star, he ran into Ricardo Cortez at a Los Angeles restaurant. Remembering his humiliation at the hands of the director, Ford very nearly attacked Cortez. These type of macho man antics actually became pretty common throughout Ford’s life…and they, uh, didn’t always go well.

8. He Met His Match

Heaven With a Barbed Wire Fence was the first in a string of forgettable B movies that Columbia Pictures put Ford in—but one was much more remarkable than the rest. 1940’s The Lady in Question may not have been a hit, but it was an important turning point for Ford. It was the first time that he met up-and-coming young starlet Rita Hayworth. They had undeniable chemistry—both onscreen and off.

9. He Was Double Dipping

Columbia Pictures studio head Harry Cohn hired Glenn Ford because too many other stars were mired in scandal. However, with Ford, he got more than he bargained for. Ford may not have made his name in the movies yet, but he was certainly working hard on his reputation as a ladies’ man. In The Lady in Question, he appeared opposite Hayworth and starlet Evelyn Keyes—and had affairs with both women. And that was just him getting started…

10. He Got His Breakout Role

Cohn may not have given Ford any shining opportunities to make a star of himself, but someone else saw the young actor’s potential. Director John Cromwell cast Ford in the WWII drama So Ends Our Night, and the film was a huge hit—but not without its fair share of controversy. Even though the conflict had already begun, the US had yet to pick a side. So Ends Our Night was Hollywood’s first explicitly anti-Nazi film.

At the time, film censors tried to forbid negative portrayals of what was happening in Germany. While the studios followed their rules, independent producers had to go around their orders to make So Ends Our Night. Their gambit paid off in more ways than one.

Glenn Ford FactsSo Ends Our Night (1941), United Artists

11. It Got A Lot Of Attention

The landmark film was Ford’s breakout role, with many critics saying that he stole the show from his Oscar-nominated co-stars—and the critics weren’t the only ones who noticed Ford. No less a figure than the President of the United States, Franklin Delano Roosevelt, arranged for a private screening of the film in the White House. The film moved FDR so much that he invited Ford to his Birthday Ball, where he introduced the young actor to his wife, Eleanor.

The experience dazzled Ford. When he went home after the Ball, he immediately registered as a Democrat. However, after all this fanfare, the film’s reception wasn’t the life-changing experience that it should’ve been.

12. They Did The Bare Minimum

After the amazing success of So Ends Our Night, Glenn Ford’s studio celebrated their new star by…completely neglecting him. They put Ford in a slew of mediocre and forgettable flicks, leading his status as Hollywood’s new It Boy to fizzle out. But on the bright side, Ford used his earnings to buy his mother and sister a house in the Pacific Palisades. And then, everything changed. 

13. Everything Changed

In 1941, Ford joined the Coast Guard Auxiliary and began training while appearing in films part-time. Then, within months, it happened: The US joined WWII. Like many stars of the era, Ford traveled the country while promoting the sale of war bonds. And, like so many stars of the era, Ford mixed business with pleasure.

14. He Jumped In

While helping out with the war effort, Glenn Ford met a beautiful young actress named Eleanor Powell. They fell hard and fast for each other—but a passionate new romance wasn’t the only thing that Ford was rushing into. After a full year of USO events and middling movies, he was frustrated. His next move was a total bombshell.

While in the middle of filming the movie Destroyer, Ford impulsively enlisted in the US Marine Corps Reserve—leaving his friends and family shocked, and his studio in the lurch.

15. Things Snowballed

When Ford volunteered, he forced Columbia to plead with the Marines for four more weeks of his time so that they could complete Destroyer—and that wasn’t the only thing that was changing. Ford capped it all by proposing to Powell, who made an impulsive move of her own. She immediately announced that she was going to stop acting in order to support Ford.

To say it was a whirlwind would be an understatement.

16. He Found His Niche

When the Marine Corps had Ford training at their base in San Diego, he quickly found his footing, and a confidence that the film biz had never provided him. They immediately offered him a position as an officer, but the humble Ford insisted that he work his way up the ranks instead—and that’s exactly what he did. By the time he had finished training, he’d earned numerous honors, and the rank of sergeant.

Finally, it time for him to go into battle—but it didn’t exactly go as planned.

17. They Had Little Hope

Ford joined the Marine Corps at the same time his old friend William Holden joined the Army Air Corps. They were both so dedicated to the Allied cause that they were willing to give up their fledgling careers for it. Both actors were convinced that by the time they returned, their fans would forget them. That is, if they made it back at all…

18. Things Didn’t Go As He’d Planned

All at once, things began to pick up in Ford’s life. His wife was pregnant with their first child and Ford was headed for Officers Training School—then, all of a sudden, disaster struck. He fell ill and ended up getting diagnosed him with duodenal ulcers. After that, Ford was stuck in the hospital for the next five months. Now it wasn’t only his movie career that was on hold, but also his career in the Marine Corps.

19. It Never Happened

Despite Ford’s fearlessness and enthusiasm, he was in for a major disappointment. After some dull stints at various bases, Ford fell ill and received a medical discharge. That’s right, after all that fuss, Glenn Ford never actually saw combat in WWII—although the Marines did recognize his work at home, and awarded him three medals after the conflict ended.

It had been a frustrating turn of events—but things were about to change for Ford.

20. He Got Lucky…

Ford’s first movie after the end of WWII was a sheer stroke of luck. He landed one of the lead roles in Gilda, where he starred with Rita Hayworth playing the titular femme fatale. When the film first came out, critics didn’t really know what to do with it—it was an early example of film noir, a genre they were unfamiliar with.

However, since then, it’s been embraced as a classic, and one of the best films of Ford’s career. Ford’s star was on the rise—but he was about to self-sabotage in a scandalous way.

21. …In More Ways Than One

Ford and Hayworth began a friendship that would last a lifetime on the set of Gilda, but behind closed doors, they were hiding a dark secret. They began a passionate affair soon after they met for the first time, even though both parties were married at the time—Ford to Powell, and Hayworth to Orson Welles. In fact, her troubled marriage to Welles was already a sticking point for studio exec Harry Cohn—so when he found out about Ford and Hayworth’s affair, he saw red.

22. They Were Onto Him

Soon, Cohn’s worst nightmare came true—the gossip mags began publishing rumors about Ford and Hayworth’s behind-the-scenes activities. He was furious, and constantly demanded that Ford stop the affair. Though those calls went unheeded, Cohn had a devious plan up his sleeve. He set up recording devices in Ford and Hayworth’s dressing rooms to spy on the cheating stars.

23. They Went Against Him

Ford and Hayworth had some unlikely allies on the set of Gilda. The sound department, who Cohn had ordered to install the audio equipment, actually tipped the stars off to the fact that they were being recorded. With this knowledge, they were able to get their suspicious boss off their back. Gilda was completed without any more issues, and Ford and Hayworth were able to continue their affair away from prying ears.

Regardless, Cohn continued the practice of recording his studio’s stars, and later, Ford would take what he learned from the experience and put it to devious use…

24. He Shot To Fame

When Ford enlisted in the Marines during WWII, he expected that it might end his acting career—but with Gilda, Ford became an overnight sensation, and other stars, studios, and directors clamored to work with him. He finished out the decade in a number of hit films, including one that paired him with his old flame, Rita Hayworth.

They continued their affair under the studio’s nose, and, presumably, his wife’s. In fact, their whole relationship was pretty steady and smooth—but the same could not be said of Ford’s other activities.

25. He Couldn’t Help Himself

Considering that he’d suffered no consequences for his ongoing affair with Rita Hayworth, Glenn Ford didn’t really learn any lessons from the experience—so he continued to cheat on his wife with whatever starlet was ready and willing. But just because he was a womanizer didn’t mean that Ford didn’t have feelings. On the set of The Green Glove, Ford fell for his co-star Geraldine Brooks, and he fell hard.

26. He Was Headed For Trouble

When Ford realized how deep his feelings were for Brooks, he knew that he was in serious trouble. His name had appeared in the gossip rags a little too often and his career was suffering as a result. Still, he couldn’t help himself, and he took his shot—only to be met with an absolutely “epic cold shoulder.” And it didn’t end there.

Glenn Ford FactsThe Green Glove (1952), United Artists

27. He Nearly Threw It All Away

Glenn Ford had been rejected by women before, but this time, his reaction was utterly chilling. He was filming in Nice, and one night, after some hard partying, Ford packed his bags and decided to join the French Foreign Legion. He intended to not only run away from his film career, but also his wife and young son. Yikes.

Luckily, his co-star Cedric Hardwick pursued Ford to the Legion headquarters, where he convinced the star to come back. Ford eventually got over his love for Brooks, but this was a pivotal moment in his life—and soon, there’d be no turning back.

28. He Got Up To The Same Old Tricks

At first, Ford tried to stay away from his female co-stars—which just led to some of them thinking he was a snob. But eventually, he fell back into his old ways, wooing stars like Gloria Grahame, Barbara Stanwyck, and his old flame, Rita Hayworth. Still, Ford kept himself afloat, even securing career wins like the film Blackboard Jungle, which featured a young Sidney Poitier. The film revitalized his career—and changed Hollywood.

29. His Son Kept Him Current

Blackboard Jungle was actually the first Hollywood film to use a rock and roll song in the soundtrack—and we have Ford to thank for that. Ford had invited director Richard Brooks to his home, where Brooks overheard Ford’s son Peter playing “Rock Around the Clock” by Bill Haley and the Comets. Brooks decided to use the song, which at that point was relatively obscure, in the film. It ended up shooting to the top of the charts, all thanks to the film’s soundtrack.

The film itself was a hit—and a total game changer for Ford.

30. He Broke Away

It had been Columbia Pictures head Harry Cohn who had made Glenn Ford a star—but who had also hounded him for what he did behind closed doors. When Ford’s contract was up, he went freelance, appearing in the occasional Columbia picture—but with Blackboard Jungle, he’d seen what MGM could do. He signed a long-term contract with them, finally cutting ties with Columbia for good.

Throughout the 50s, he appeared in a number of hit films, and made a name for himself in Westerns. Things were going great—but the good times can’t last forever.

31. She’d Had Enough

Ford and Powell’s marriage had weathered many storms—but by the mid-50s, Powell was hiding a dark secret of her own. She’d read about her husband in the gossip papers and even caught him in the act more than once—and let’s not forget that she’d given up her career to be his wife. But she’d reached her breaking point and wanted out.

There was just one problem: Their son, Peter. Powell wanted custody, and she didn’t want Ford to have ground to stand on in court. So she waited years, until Peter was 14, and old enough to choose what parent he wanted to live with. Then, she filed for divorce from Ford. He did not react well.

32. He Had A Chip On His Shoulder

Ford was hardly the victim in all of this, but he certainly acted like he was. He kept his distance from Powell and his son, and begrudgingly paid a pathetic sum for alimony, complaining about it the whole time. However, he had little reason to pout. By this point, he was the biggest star in Hollywood, and now he was also free to seduce any starlet he came within ten feet of—and that’s exactly what he did.

33. He Dated Everyone

During his heyday, Ford’s playboy hobby turned into a full-time pursuit, and he had dalliances with nearly every A-lister from the Golden Age of Hollywood: Gene Tierney, Eva Gabor, Joan Crawford, and even a one-night stand with Marilyn Monroe. Then, following his divorce, came the next generation of starlets in the early 60s: Judy Garland, Debbie Reynolds, Jill St. John, and Brigitte Bardot among them.

Still, no matter who he was with, there was always Hayworth—and after his divorce, he even moved next door to her, just in time for her fifth divorce. They just couldn’t stay away from each other. But not everything went as smoothly as their romance.

34. He Couldn’t Stay On Top Forever

Ever since Gilda, it seemed like Glenn Ford couldn’t miss—but when the mighty fall, they fall hard. Ford started out the 60s with two notoriously troubled productions. First, there was Cimarron, a big budget Western that was a total flop, and then 1962’s The Four Horseman of the Apocalypse—somehow, an even bigger flop. Afterward, Ford managed to find his footing again with the occasional hit, but he’d never again reach the success he once had.

35. He Tried To Make It Work

There was one bright side. Among all the affairs and flings, Ford had forged a connection with a young actress named Kathryn Hays. They got married in 1966, but sadly, their union was doomed to a heartbreaking end. Hays and Ford divorced three years later, and once again, Ford was alone, devastated, and stuck with an alimony bill he had trouble paying. Ford went back to his womanizing ways, but it was clear that the chase was beginning to lose its lustre.

36. He Tried A Hobby

With a fresh divorce and a career on the decline, Ford threw himself into his hobbies—with equally hilarious and disastrous results. He decided to try his hand at farming…in the yard of his Beverly Hills home. Hoping to feed himself and his son Peter, Ford acquired 40 leghorn hens, and by his own admission, things quickly spun out of control. The 40 birds became 140, and then things got even messier.

Glenn Ford FactsWikimedia Commons

37. They Didn’t Approve

When a fox began picking off his hens, Ford became intent on protecting his flock. One night, he posted up with a shotgun in order to hunt the fox—but all he managed to do was draw the attention of his Beverly Hills neighbors and the ire of local law enforcement. They pointed out that both raising chickens and hunting were illegal, and Ford went back to his regularly scheduled hobbies (ahem, that’d be women).

38. He Went To Vietnam

After WWII, Ford did also continue to dedicate his time to the Naval Reserves, mostly helping to promote the Navy with ads—but when conflict broke out in Vietnam, he found himself returning to duty. While he’d never left US soil during WWII, he actually traveled to Vietnam in 1967 to help produce a training video for young marines, and with a combat camera through the demilitarized zone to the Mekong Delta. Both the Marine Corps and the Navy awarded him medals for his service.

39. He Got His Own Show

Like many stars of his generation, Glenn Ford saw the writing on the wall at the beginning of the 1970s, and moved from film to TV before film could kick him to the curb. CBS created a TV series as a starring vehicle for him, but it only lasted a season. Ford kicked around, making occasional appearances, until he found an unlikely comeback vehicle.

40. He Had One Last Big Role

In 1978, Ford landed the role of Pa Kent in the classic Superman. He may have only got a few minutes of screen time, but it was enough to ensure that he’d get frequent work throughout the rest of his career. The supporting role also had a more important guarantee: a comfortable paycheck—which was something that Ford would soon need.

41. Each Was Worse Than The Last

Ford’s next marriage, to Cynthia Hayward, lasted longer than the one that preceded it…but not by much. He had a few broken engagements in the late 80s and early 90s, and his final marriage was the shortest, lasting just one year in the 1990s. Ford wasn’t exactly unlucky in love, but he was certainly unlucky in marriage. Each divorce devastated him both emotionally and financially.

Sadly, after decades of canoodling with the most beautiful women in Hollywood, Ford spent the last years of his life alone.

42. They Honored Him

In the 90s, Ford began to suffer from serious health problems, and retired from acting. He spent the last 15 years of his life in relative seclusion. To celebrate his 90th birthday, the American Cinematheque organized an party honoring Ford, complete with a screening of Gilda. He hoped to attend, but fate had something else in mind.

Ford’s health problems worsened and he had to skip the event. Just four months later, he was gone.

43. He Told His Son Everything

Glenn Ford passed on at his home in Beverly Hills on August 30, 2006. He was 90 years old. The tributes poured in, and his many co-stars and friends sent touching remembrances—but that wasn’t all. Soon after Ford’s death, the dark secrets he’d hidden for years finally came tumbling out. Not only that, they came from a surprising source—his son, Peter.

Their relationship had been tumultuous over the years, but in the time leading up to Ford’s passing, he’d shared his stories with his son—and Ford didn’t mince any of the nitty gritty details.

44. He Kept Records Of Everything

In 2011, Peter Ford finally published Glenn Ford: A Life—and the scandalous book took “tell all” to the next level. Peter Ford used his father’s personal diaries as a source, and by his tally, Glenn Ford had carried on various forms of flings and romances with over 146 actresses. I don’t know what’s more impressive—that number, or Ford’s impeccable record-keeping. And that wasn’t all…

45. Their Bond Was Special

There was more to Glenn Ford’s diaries than just his impressive romantic tallies—they also revealed the gut-wrenching details of one of his most heartbreaking relationships. Beginning in 1946, Ford and Rita Hayworth had an on-again, off-again affair that spanned over 40 years. It was clear that the fragile actress held a special place in his heart, and they continued seeing each other all the way up until Hayworth’s passing—but their relationship wasn’t always sunshine and roses.

46. They Were In Trouble

Ford and Hayworth’s affair had caused all kinds of trouble for the pair when they made Gilda in 1946. Their relationship continued when they reunited on the set of The Loves of Carmen—but when they walked away from the film, they were hiding a scandalous secret. This time, Hayworth was pregnant. Their affair had already put their careers in jeopardy once, and they weren’t willing to let it happen again.

47. They Walked Away

Ford and Hayworth were faced with a heartbreaking decision—and it ended up tearing them apart. Hayworth was newly divorced from Orson Welles, and she couldn’t face another scandal. She secretly traveled to France to have an abortion, and Ford returned home to his wife and family. Soon after, Hayworth walked away from her film career in favor of an ill-fated marriage to Prince Aly Khan.

While the secret was deeply sad, it wasn’t even the most explosive one in Peter Ford’s book.

48. He Spied On Everyone…

During his first affair with Hayworth, Ford had been paranoid about anyone discovering their dalliance—so he went to extreme lengths to protect himself. Evidently, Harry Cohn’s recording devices inspired Ford. He actually tapped his own wife’s phone to hear what she was saying about him. What began as a simple insurance policy soon turned into a sick fixation.

49. …Including Some VIPs

Ford actually went on to tape every phone conversation he had for the next 40 years. These included conversations with his many celebrity paramours, as well as famous friends like Frank Sinatra, John Wayne, Cary Grant, Lucille Ball, James Stewart…the list goes on and on. And that’s not all. Ford also kept taped conversations he’d had with two sitting presidents.

There was Ronald Reagan (an old Hollywood friend), and Richard Nixon, who would go on to make some of his own secret tapes. No one had a clue about Ford’s illicit activities until his son found the tapes after his passing. And tapes weren’t the only thing he kept…

50. He Was A Collector

Glenn Ford’s Beverly Hills estate had been the ultimate bachelor pad, but he still had room to keep a lot of memorabilia—maybe too much memorabilia. In 2008, Peter Ford auctioned off some of his father’s possessions, and one lot stood out from all the others: a couch. According to Ford, his father had seduced Marilyn Monroe on that exact couch 46 years earlier. Well, no one could say he wasn’t sentimental…

Sources: 1, 2, 3, 4, 5, 6, 7, 8, 9, 10, 11, 12, 13, 14, 15, 16, 17, 18, 19, 20, 21, 22

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