Glenn Ford’s racy story told by his son

Rita hayworth
Glenn Ford and Rita Hayworth
Glenn Ford, Eleanor Powell

Glenn Ford, his wife Eleanor Powell and their young son Peter in 1945.

It was roles like Mr. Dadier and straight-laced Police Det. Dave Bannion, who takes on a corrupt city government in The Big Heat, that helped establish Ford’s public persona: a good-guy gentleman with a steel backbone, an ordinary man forced into heroic action by extraordinary circumstances.

“But the image Glenn projected on the screen was not like him at all in private life,” Vicki Dugan, an actress who dated Ford in the 1960s, said. “He was exactly the opposite.”

The 310-page book is really four stories rolled into one. The core story is Peter Ford’s journey from the Santa Monica Community Players to the heights of Hollywood. Second is his mother Eleanor Powell’s journey from poverty to being an MGM star ranked as the top female dancer in history by no less an authority than Fred Astaire. Third is Peter’s own tale of growing up a lonely child longing for a normal relationship with a normal dad. He finally came to grips with the reality that it was never to be when his father broke his promise and failed to show up at his high school graduation.

“Being the child of a Hollywood star is a killing field filled with suicides and drug addicts,” says the bear-like Ford, an imposing presence at 6-foot-2 and 250 pounds with his father’s chiseled good looks and great hair. “I finally realized I couldn’t keep hoping against hope for what would never happen.”

The fourth story is that of Rita Hayworth, the so-called Love Goddess who lamented that “Men fall in love with Gilda, but they wake up with me.” She became an alcoholic who burned through several marriages on her way to Alzheimer’s disease.

The key film in these interwoven stories is Gilda, the erotic noir thriller released in 1946 that starred Ford as the manager of an Argentine casino who is in love with his boss’s new wife, Gilda, who just happens to be his former girlfriend. It was such a box office hit it elevated both Ford and Hayworth from rising stars to full-fledged celebrities.

Featuring the ultimate in love-hate relationships, filled with sub-plots about Nazis and police spies in post-war South America, “Gilda” was filmed just two years after Ford’s parents married and just after Ford was born in 1945.


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