If Harrison Ford had listened to the advice of studio heads early in his career, he would have remained a carpenter and never gone on to star in some of Hollywood's biggest films and become one of the industry's most bankable stars. Born July 13, 1942 in Chicago and raised in a middle-class suburb, he led an average childhood. An introverted loner, he was popular with girls but was picked on by school bullies. Ford quietly endured their everyday tortures until he one day lost his cool and beat the tar out of the gang leader responsible for his being repeatedly thrown off an embankment. He had no special affinity for films and usually only went to see them on dates because they were inexpensive and dark. Following high school graduation, Ford studied English and philosophy at Ripon College in Wisconsin. An admittedly lousy student, he began acting while in college and then worked briefly in summer stock. He was expelled from the school three days before graduation because he did not complete his required thesis.
In the mid-60s Ford and his first wife (his college sweetheart) moved to Hollywood, where he signed as a contract player with Columbia and then Universal. After debuting onscreen in a bit as a bellboy in Dead Heat on a Merry-Go-Round (1966), he played secondary roles, typically as a cowboy, in several films of the late '60s and in such TV series as Gunsmoke, The Virginian, and Ironside. Discouraged with both the roles he was getting and his difficulty in providing for his young family, he abandoned acting and taught himself carpentry via library books borrowed from the local library. Using his recently purchased run-down Hollywood home for practice, Ford proved himself a talented woodworker and, after successfully completing his first contract to build an out-building for Sergio Mendez, found himself in demand with other Hollywood residents (it was also during this time that Ford acquired his famous scar, the result of a minor car accident).
Meanwhile, Ford's luck as an actor began to change when a casting-director friend for whom he was doing some construction helped him get a part in George Lucas's American Graffiti (1973). The film which became an unexpected blockbuster and greatly increased Ford's familiarity. Many audience members, particularly women, responded to his turn as the gruffly macho Bob Falfa, the kind of subtly charismatic portrayal that would later become Ford's trademark.
However, Ford's career remained stagnant until Lucas cast him as space-pilot Han Solo in the mega-hit Star Wars (1977), after which he became a minor star. He spent the remainder of the 1970s trapped in mostly forgettable films (such as the comedy-western The Frisco Kid with Gene Wilder), although he did manage to land the small role of Colonel G. Lucas in Francis Ford Coppola's Apocalypse Now (1979).
The early 1980s elevated Ford to major stardom with the combined impact of The Empire Strikes Back (1980) and his portrayal of action-adventure hero Indiana Jones in Raiders of the Lost Ark (1981), which proved to be an enormous hit. He went on to play 'Indy' twice more, in 1984's Indiana Jones and the Temple of Doom and Indiana Jones and the Last Crusade (1989). Ford moved beyond popular acclaim with his role as a big-city police detective who finds himself masquerading as an Amish farmer to protect a young murder witness in Witness (1984). Ford received a Best Actor Oscar nomination for his work, as well as the praise of critics who had previously ignored his acting ability.
Having appeared in several of the biggest money-makers of all time, Ford was able to pick and choose his roles in the '80s and '90s. Following the success of Witness, Ford re-teamed with the film's director, Peter Weir, to make a film adaptation of Paul Theroux's novel The Mosquito Coast. The film met with mixed critical results, and audiences largely stayed away, unused to the idea of their hero playing a markedly flawed and somewhat insane character. Undeterred, Ford went on to choose projects that brought him further departure from the action films responsible for his reputation. In 1988 he worked with two of the industry's most celebrated directors, Roman Polanski and Mike Nichols. With Polanski he made Frantic, a dark psychological thriller that fared poorly with critics and audiences alike. He had greater success with Nichols, his director in Working Girl, a saucy comedy in which he co-starred with Melanie Griffith and Sigourney Weaver. The film was a hit, and displayed Ford's largely unexploited comic talent.
Ford began the 1990s with Alan J. Pakula's courtroom thriller Presumed Innocent, which he followed with another Mike Nichols outing, Regarding Henry (1991). The film was an unmitigated flop among critics and audiences alike, a disappointment Ford allayed the following year when he signed an unprecedented $50 million contract to play CIA agent Jack Ryan in a series of five films based on the novels of Tom Clancy. The first two films of the series, Patriot Games (1992) and Clear and Present Danger (1994) met with an overwhelming success mirrored by that of Ford's turn as Dr. Richard Kimble in The Fugitive (1993). Ford's next effort, Sydney Pollack's 1995 remake of Sabrina, did not meet similar success, and this bad luck continued with The Devil's Own (which reunited him with Pakula), despite Ford's seemingly fault-proof pairing with Brad Pitt. However, his other 1997 effort, Wolfgang Petersen's Air Force One, more than made up for the critical and commercial shortcomings of his past two films, proving that Ford, even at 55 years of age, was still a bonafide, butt-kicking action hero.
Ford, who does not like doing interviews and maintains a strict privacy regarding his personal life, makes a home with his second wife, screenwriter Melissa Mathison, whose credits include E.T. The Extra-Terrestrial (1982). They live quietly with their two children Malcolm and Georgia (Ford's other children, two sons from his first marriage, are grown and have chosen careers outside of show business) in New York City and on an 800-acre ranch near Jackson Hole, Wyoming. A devoted husband and father, Ford has a clause in his movie contracts permitting him to bring his family with him for location shooting.
Harrison Ford Filmography
What Lies Beneath (2000)
Random Hearts (1999)
Wolfgang Petersen 3-Pack (1999)
Six Days, Seven Nights (1998)
Air Force One (1997)
Air Force One/The Devil's Own (1997)
The Devil's Own (1997)
Clear and Present Danger (1994)
The Fugitive (1993)
Patriot Games (1992)
Regarding Henry (1991)
Presumed Innocent (1990)
Indiana Jones and the Last Crusade (1989)
Working Girl (1988)
The Mosquito Coast (1986)
Indiana Jones and the Temple of Doom (1984)
Return of the Jedi (1983)
Blade Runner (1982)
Raiders of the Lost Ark (1981)
The Empire Strikes Back (1980)
Apocalypse Now (1979)
The Frisco Kid (1979)
Hanover Street (1979)
Force 10 From Navarone (1978)
The Possessed (1977)
Star Wars (1977)
The Conversation (1974)
American Graffiti (1973)
Getting Straight (1970)
Dead Heat on a Merry-Go-Round (1966)