There are only a handful of actors that can brag a career as rich as Harrison Ford's. His face is synonymous to iconic characters such as Han Solo and Indiana Jones, and he’s played in many other films that were both box office hits and critically acclaimed masterpieces. It’s a wonder he doesn’t have an Oscar, but what’s even more fascinating – he doesn’t care.
Harrison Ford was born in Chicago in Illinois. His father was Christopher Ford, an advertising executive who used to be an actor, and his mother was Dorothy, who used to be a radio actress. Ford also has a brother Terence who is three years younger than him. They are of Irish, German and Russian ancestry. His paternal grandparents were Catholic and his maternal were Jewish, so when asked how he felt about himself, he answered: ‘As a man I’ve always felt Irish, as an actor I’ve always felt Jewish.’ He also said: ‘I grew up in the Midwest. You don’t ask what a person’s religion is, you don’t ask what their politics are, you don’t ask how much money they make and I pretty much still have that attitude about it.’
As a boy, Ford was an active boy scout, receiving the second-highest rank of Boy Scouts of America – Life Scout. Ford also became the counselor at Camp Napowan, teaching the Reptile and Amphibian Study merit badge.
During his high school years, he became the first student voice broadcast on his school’s new radio station WMTH and he was its first sportscaster. After graduation, he moved on to Ripon College in Wisconsin to study philosophy. Wanting to overcome his shyness, Ford decided to sign up for a drama class, which is where his passion for acting began.
When he was 22, Ford decided to travel to Los Angeles in order to apply for a job of giving voice-overs on radio. He didn’t get a job but he decided to stay in California, signing a contract with Columbia Pictures to play small roles in films, which is why most of his earliest work comes uncredited. It was in the A Time for Killing western in 1967, that his name showed up, written as Harrison J. Ford although J didn’t stand for anything, but was added in order to distinguish him from another actor of the beginning of the century, also named Harrison Ford.
In 1960s and early 1970s, Ford played roles in numerous television series. He also appeared in Journey to Shiloh and Zabriskie Point. As Ford soon became married with two children, and he saw his career prosper too slow, he decided to become a carpenter. Although he had no formal training, he managed to learn the craft by borrowing books from the library and then practicing at home. He ended up being quite successful at this job, gaining the reputation as one of the best cabinet-makers. He even built a sun deck for Sally Kellerman and a recording studio for Sérgio Mendes. Even when his movie career kicked off, he kept the carpentry as his hobby. During that period, he also worked as a stagehand for The Doors.
Finally, Fred Roos, a casting director and a producer, managed to get Ford into an audition with George Lucas for the film American Graffiti in 1973. The film became a hit, with a widespread critical acclaim and a nomination for the Academy Award for Best Picture. Harrison Ford was thirty-one at the time.
After the success of American Graffiti, Ford was given small roles in Francis Ford Coppola’s films: The Conversation in 1974, and Apocalypse Now in 1979.
In 1977, however, Ford got his first of many future memorable roles: the one of Han Solo in the Star Wars franchise. He was cast when he was helping George Lucas read lines for actors during auditions and proved himself worthy of a chance. The success of Star Wars brought the attention to Ford, creating a celebrity out of him. Ford repeated his role in Star Wars sequels: The Empire Strikes Back in 1980, Return of the Jedi in 1983, and The Force Awakens in 2015, where his character was killed off.
In 1981, Ford took on a leading role in what will become one of the movie classics: the one of the archeologist Indiana Jones in the film Raiders of the Lost Ark. As the movie turned into a franchise, Ford repeated his role in Indiana Jones and the Last Crusade in 1989, an episode of the television series The Young Indiana Jones Chronicles, and Indiana Jones and the Kingdom of the Crystal Skull in 2008.
As Ford’s career took off, he showed up many films, like: Heroes in 1977, Force 10 from Navarone a year later, and Hanover Street and The Frisco Kid in 1979.
He went on to have notable roles in future film classics. In 1982, he appeared in Ridley Scott’s Blade Runner. In 1985, he shot Witness. He then went on to shoot The Mosquito Coast in 1986, and Frantic two years later. He then went on to appear in Presumed Innocent in 1990, Regarding Henry in 1991, Patriot Games in 1992, Clear and Present Danger in 1994, Sabrina in 1995, Air Force One in 1997, Six Days, Seven Nights in 1998, Random Hearts in 1999, What Lies Beneath in 2000, K-19: The Widowmaker in 2002, Hollywood Homicide in 2003, Firewall in 2006, Crossing Over in 2008 and Dalai Lama Renaissance for which he did narration, as well as Extraordinary Measures and Morning Glory in 2010 and Cowboys & Aliens in 2011. That same year, he starred in a Japanese commercial for Uncharted 3: Drake’s Deception video game. In 2013, he shot Paranoia, Ender’s Game, 42, and Anchorman 2: The Legend Continues.
‘I’m in it for the money’, he says. ‘And I mean that in the nicest possible way. This is my job. Acting is my craft, I’ve spent my whole life working on it and I want to get paid well to do it, because otherwise I’m being irresponsible, not valuing what I do for a living. When I came into this business, I didn’t even know the names of the movie studios – I was under contract to a studio for $150 a week. One thing I learned is that the studios had no respect for a person who was willing to work for them for that amount. So I realized that the value I put on my own work was the value and respect I would get back.’
’I think I did have a reputation for being grumpy. I don’t think I’m grumpy. I have opinions. I have an independent vision. I am a purposeful person. But on a daily basis, I think I’m other than grumpy. I think it is a case where I am coming to do business and not there just to be flattered and cajoled and used.’, Ford says about himself and this is more or less the way public perceives him – a likable grumpy actor worthy of respect. Also, at times, the public find his image inseparable to the characters he portrayed, like Indiana Jones or that of Han Solo.
Ford is also not very keen on his celebrity status. ‘I’m not crazy about interviews. But I don’t hate them. I have an aversion to celebrity. I have an argument with the place that celebrity has in this country and in this culture. There’s just too much celebrity babble out there. I’m in a service occupation. It’s like being a waiter or a gas station attendant. The guy in the restaurant is waiting on six people. I’m waiting on six million.’
Harrison Ford is very active when it comes to charity and giving back to the community. He is a vice-chair of Conservation International, a non-profit environmental organization whose intend is to protect nature. Unfortunately, the organization has been criticized for collaborating with companies with a poor environmental record and bad judgment with its expenditure of donor money. In 1993, a new species of spider has been named Calponia harrisonfordi and in 2002, the same went for a new ant species, which got the name Pheidole harrisonfordi, in recognition for his work for the CI. He was also given the opportunity to name a current breed of butterfly, which he named after his daughter, Georgia.
In 2003, Ford spoke publicly against the Iraq War. In 2008, he testified before the U.S. Senate Foreign Relations Committee in support of Dalai Lama and an independent Tibet. In 2013, when Ford was filming an environmental documentary in Indonesia, he was being threatened with deportation after questioning its Forestry Minister about the Tesso Nilo National Park in Sumatra.
Ford has also been helpful to EarthShare, a federation of environmental and conservation charities of America, as well as Restore Hetch Hetchy. He appeared in a documentary series Years of Living Dangerously. Apart from that, Ford is also a General Trustee of the Governing Board of the Archaelogical Institue of America.
In 2003, he received a star on the Hollywood Walk of Fame at 6801 Hollywood Boulevard.
Ford likes to keep his personal life private. In 1965, Ford married his first wife, Mary Marquardt, with whom he has two sons. The couple stayed together for fifteen years, but divorced in 1979.
Four years after the divorce, Ford married the screenwriter Melissa Mathison. The couple, too, had two children, a boy and a girl. After eighteen years of marriage, the couple separated in 2001 and their divorce was one of the most expensive ever in Hollywood.
In 2002, Ford met Calista Flockhart, then famous for her role in the Ally McBeal series. The couple have an adopted son. After eight years of dating, the couple married in 2010. Ford also has three grandchildren.
In 2016, the late Carrie Fisher, Ford’s co-star from Star Wars, released an autobiography The Princess Diarist, in which she claims she had a three-month-long affair with Ford in 1976, while he was still with his first wife.
Ford is a licensed pilot of fixed-wing aircraft and helicopters. He owns his own ranch in Wyoming, the place he feels the happiest. He has donated half of the estate as a nature reserve. ‘There’s nothing better than seeing a herd of elk right outside the window of my house in Wyoming’, he says. ‘My land gives me an opportunity to be close to nature, and I find spiritual solace in nature, contemplating our species in the context of the natural world.’ Ford also helps with emergency by offering helicopter services. He is the chairman of the Young Eagles program of the Experimental Aircraft Association. He also appears in advertisements for General Aviation Serves America and stars in numerous aviation documentaries. He is an honorary board member of the humanitarian organization Wings of Hope.
Ford is known for doing his own stunts in films, some of which have resulted in injuries.
Ford says about his life: ‘I don’t think I’ve mastered anything. I’m still wrestling with the same frustrations, the same issues, the same problems as I always did. That’s what life is like.’
Written by: Tamara Djordjevic