Han Solo. Indiana Jones. Rick Deckard. Jack Ryan. Richard Kimble. These are some of the most well-known names of cinema and they are all connected to one of the best actor of our time: Harrison Ford, the man who between 1977 and 1983 appeared in what were then the top ten highest-grossing movies of all time. The man that starred in more 100-million movies than any other actor. The man which movies have grossed almost $6 billion all-together, without taking inflation into account. Financially speaking, he is the biggest there ever was.
Not only the biggest, but also the best.
Although he is worldwide known for his action roles, his talent, knowledge and perfectionism allow him to work in a lot of different movies, having offered to the public an interesting variety of characters in the last five decades.
Harrison Ford was born on July 13, 1942 at the Swedish Covenant Hospital, in Chicago, Illinois. He was the first child of Dorothy Nidelman and Christopher Ford. In 1945, they welcomed his elder brother Terence. His father worked in radio advertising while he attended at school in suburban Des Plaines in north-west of Chicago.
After graduate from Maine High School in 1960, he attended Ripon College in Wisconsin, and became a member of Sigma Nu fraternity. While in Ripon, his performance was not the expected so he took a drama class in his junior year chiefly. Somehow, he became fascinated with acting (“I failed in all other fields”). Toward the end of his freshman year, he became a member of a folk band called “The Brothers Gross.” Finally, after failing a philosophy class in his senior year, he was expelled three days prior to graduation.
While in college, he met and fell in love with then his first wife Mary. They married in 1964 and both moved to California hoping to make a humble living as an actor. That would be also the year he achieved his famous scar in his chin trying to belt up while driving his car.
Those times were appropriate enough to try luck. The big studios, especially Universal and Columbia, were running young talent programs. In 1965, he signed his first contract with Columbia making a deal for 150 dollars a week.
In 1966 came his feature film debut, in James Coburn’s Dead Heat on a Merry-Go-Round, a smart crime drama involving an airport robbery. His brief role was a bell-hop who delivered a letter to Coburn and his first words in movies were “Paging Mr. Ellis, paging Mr. Ellis”
Apparently his performance was not very well received by one of the executives who later called him to his office and told him he has no future in film business.
The studio guy called me to his office and said to me: « When Tony Curtis first walked onscreen was carrying a bag of groceries… a bag of groceries! You take one look at that guy and say, THAT’S a movie star! » I said, « Weren’t you supposed to say, ‘That’s a grocery delivery boy? »
The following roles before been kicked out of Columbia were a hippie in Jack Lemmon’s “Luv” and brief TV spots in one episode of “Ironside” and two episodes of “The Virginian”. He also worked as stagehand for the popular rock band The Doors.
Consequently and not happy with the acting jobs Columbia offered, he was dropping out the “J” they added to his name to credit him in movies and three days later signing a new contract with Universal Studios for 250 dollars a week, having small roles in James Caan’s civil war movie “Journey to Shiloh”, “Zabriskie Point” (which part was cut out) and “Getting Straight”.
Carpentry brought him new chances to appear in movies, this time supporting roles in two important films. He returned to acting in 1973 when George Lucas cast him for American Graffiti. After director Francis Ford Coppola’s film The Godfather was a success, he hired him to do expansions of his office and Harrison was given a part in his next film The Conversation.
Times were though, he had a family to support and a soon-to-be-born second child (“and they liked to eat”). So, he became a self-taught professional carpenter. Some of his carpentry works remain in the Hollywood Hills area, mainly home remodeling work. Short time later he acquired reputation as one of the best cabinetmakers in the city and his services were much in demand on Los Angeles’ trendy Westside.
By coincidences of life, carpentry would bring him more chances to have better roles, and eventually he would have made the right contacts for his rise to stardom. In 1972, a producer who believed in his acting abilities got him cast in a new comedy picture directed by a young director called George Lucas. “American Graffiti” was a surprisingly huge hit in 1973. The same year, Francis Ford Coppola hired him for a part especially written for him in his next film The Conversation, a movie that turned out to be one of the best of the decade.
The immediate future would bring three more TV movies: Judgment: The Court Martial of Lt. William Calley, Dynasty and The Possessed, his first terror movie. He would have also had another small role a Francis Ford Coppola, this time Apocalypse Now. But his first big role would come in 1975.
Time to Rise
A gritty performance as a cop in the futuristic Ridley Scott’s Blade Runner in 1982 demonstrated that he could deliver more than popcorn heroics.
Another cop role, in Witness (1985), had a warmer side and some repressed romantic sparks; his performance earned him an Oscar and a Golden Globe nomination and cemented his stardom with “grown-up” audiences.
When the 90?s came, Harrison was offered the part of Jack Ryan in Tom Clancy’s Patriot Games and Clear and Present Danger.
Another Golden Globe nomination came from The Fugitive (1993). Harrison’s other well-known films include Presumed Innocent (1990), Sabrina (1995), The Devil’s Own (1997) and Air Force One (1997) when he played the president of the United Stated being hijacked by terrorists.
While often playing the leading man or the hero of many action films, he took to the dark side as an adulterous husband with a terrible secret in What Lies Beneath (2000)
The 2001 edition of the Guinness Book of Records listed him as the richest actor alive: his reported salary for the 2002 film K-19: The Widowmaker was more than 25 million dollars. Nowadays the U.S. box office grosses of all HF films combined totals of more than 3.18 billion dollars, with worldwide grosses of approximately 5.65 billion.