Harrison Ford isn’t one of your whiny, spoiled brat Hollywood elites. No, he’s from the Midwest, he was a boy scout, and he was a carpenter. He went to Hollywood after dropping out of college, had two children and a wife to support, but he didn’t whine when he could get a good paying job, NO! He taught himself to be a professional carpenter. He kept going to auditions while he made cabinets and built sundecks. Because he’s Harrison Ford, and that’s what he does. Here is the story of how a boy from Illinois became Indiana Jones, Hans Solo and the President of the United States (or at least played them in the movies).
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Sticking with It
Ford was never a standout during his formative years; he was an average student, he wasn’t a star athlete or outstandingly popular – he was actually targeted by bullies when he was in school. I don’t know if it was by circumstance or because he wanted to perform, but in 1960, his was the first voice on his high school’s newly established radio station and one of the first student sportscasters. After graduating, he decided to study English and Philosophy at Ripon College in Wisconsin, and this is where his story takes an ironic, unforeseen twist. In an attempt at an easy grade and to confront his fear of public speaking, Ford took a drama class. To his surprise, he loved acting and preforming. Another significant and life-changing event happened on the Ripon campus: he met his first wife and the mother to his children, Mary Marquardt. Convinced by his fellow drama classmates, he left college and sought acting work in L.A.
Still Sticking with It
In 1964, Mary and Harrison tied the knot, dropped out of college, packed their belongings into his Volkswagen Bus, and headed west. The young couple ended up in Laguna Beach, California, where Ford enrolled at the Laguna Playhouse which was working with Columbia Pictures on a “Young Talent” program. He went in for an interview, and the casting director’s response was tepid. As he was leaving, though, he decided he wanted to pee, and as he came out of the restroom, the casting director’s assistant ran over to him and asked him if he’d like to sign a contract for $150 a week. Ford happily obliged. Here you would expect his star to rise meteorically, but his journey to being one of the most recognizable faces of Hollywood wasn’t even on the map yet.
Sticking with It 2
The contract under the Young Talent program didn’t bring the results Ford was expecting. He was given a few single line roles and eventually was kicked out of the program because he displeased producer Jerry Tokofsky. Tokofsky didn’t like Ford’s acting style, and allegedly said, “When Tony Curtis delivers a bag of groceries, he does it like a movie star.” Ford, on the other hand, acted like a bellhop, which was the role he was playing. Although he took a couple more (non-credited) roles at Columbia, he decided to leave and go to Universal, where he landed numerous minor roles in television. Lacking the progress and roles he sought, he started studying carpentry out of books which eventually turned into a full-time gig after he built Cuban musician Sérgio Mendes’ studio. He never stopped acting and auditioning, even while building Sally Kellerman (famous for her role in the 1970 film M*A*S*H) a deck and working as a stagehand for legendary rock band, The Doors.
Future Big Wigs
Even through all his attempts to penetrate Hollywood and score a decent role, his big break arrived because of his carpentry. Well, kind of. Fred Roos, a Hollywood producer, had found Ford very talented and put him in touch with a young and relatively unknown director at the time name: George Lucas. American Graffiti was one of Lucas’ first films, and the production was on a shoestring budget. A few interesting anecdotes is Ford almost rejected the role of Bob Falfa because the $485 a week was a fraction of what he was making as a carpenter and the offer was then raised to $500 a week. Later on, some people say that he was told off for eating a second donut at lunch… I’m a little skeptical on the second part of that. As I mentioned before, Ford continued his carpentry to make ends meet and one, very faithful day was tasked with expanding a home office. Serendipitously, the office Ford was expanding belonged to post-Godfather director, Francis Ford Coppola. Coppola offered Ford two roles in his next two films: Apocalypse Now and The Conversation, a role which was specifically written for him. But Harrison’s stock still wasn’t at its full potential.
The Grand Role (Which He Hates - Or Does He?)
Although Lucas swore he would never use any of the cast members from American Graffiti in his new film franchise, Star Wars, we all know that was a complete lie. Okay, okay, Lucas fanboys, he isn’t a liar, but when he auditioned all the actors he had in mind for the role of Hans Solo, including Christopher Walken, Kurt Russell, and still sane Nick Nolte, he found Harrison’s delivery to be the most charming, combining leading man looks and a bit of goofiness. He became a well-loved character in a well-loved franchise. This sent Ford’s star into the stratosphere, shortly after he embodied some of the most well-loved iconic movie characters of recent movie history, including Indiana Jones in the eponymous films, Rick Deckard in Blade Runner, and Dr. Richard Kimble in The Fugitive.
Reprising the Loathsome Role
After Ford’s embodiment of Indiana Jones and the admiration he received because of his portrayal, he was openly hostile about his Hans Solo character. No one really knows why he has animosity towards one of the first roles that put him on the map, but he was quite verbal about his disdain. Maybe it was because of production difficulties or that he just didn’t understand the popularity of the franchise. Nonetheless, fans are still elated and looking forward to Ford embodying the likable rogue Hans Solo in the new Star Wars movie, coming out on December 18th this year.
Do you have any other interesting facts about Harrison Ford’s amazing career? Let me know in the comments section below.