Wallace Ford

Wallace Ford

Born : 12 February 1898    Bolton, Lancashire, England

Died : 11 June 1966             Woodland Hills, Los Angeles, California, USA

Biography 

He was born Samuel Jones Grundy in Bolton, Lancashire, England into a working-class family of limited means. His early life was hard to say the least and was to shape his future, as it eventually brought him to the United States and the opportunities it offered. As with many of the actors of this period fate eventually  introduced  him to the world of performing arts.  At 3 years of age he was placed by his uncle and aunt, in whose care he had been, into a Dr. Barnardo’s orphanage home as they were unable to maintain his upkeep in addition to their own children. At the age of 7 he was shipped with a number of other children from a similar background out to Canada, to be found new homes with farming foster families. This was part of the British Empire’s on-going programme to populate the Canadian territory.  Samuel was adopted by a family in Manitoba. He was however, ill  treated and became a serial runaway, being resettled several times with different families by the Canadian authorities. According to his own account, at the age of 11 he ran away for the last time and joined a vaudeville travelling troupe touring Canada called ‘The Winnipeg Kiddies’, where he acquired his initial training as a performer. He had arrived.

In 1914 at the age of 16, Samuel, in company with another youth, decided to head South to the United States of America to seek their fortune. They rode a freight train. During the trip the other youth was killed beneath the wheels of a train. Later Samuel would adopt as his stage name, the name of his dead companion from the trip, ‘Wallace Ford’.

Following military service as a Trooper at Fort Riley, in Kansas, with the United States Cavalry during World War I, he became a Vaudeville theatre actor in an American stock company. In 1919 he performed in an adaptation of Booth Tarkington’s ‘Seventeen’, which played to full houses in Chicago for several months, before transferring to a successful run on Broadway in New York City. Ford became a successful Broadway performer through the Roaring Twenties, appearing in multiple productions, including the lead role in the Broadway smash hit of ‘Abie’s Irish Rose’.

As with many others, even though he was making a name for himself,  he took the plunge and  made the move into cinema with his debut in the film Swellhead in 1930.

In 1931 he appeared alongside Clarke Gable and Joan Crawford in Possessed and the next year he was given the lead in Metro-Goldwyn-Mayer’s notorious Freaks. This controversial film acted as a springboard and whilst never attaining that five star rating at the box office,  he never ceased to work.

Ford’s  extensive career  spanned over thirty years and he appeared in more than one hundred and fifty films, with lead roles in the 1930s-1940s in Hollywood B movies such as The Rogues Tavern, Murder by Invitation and Roar of the Press. He also secured  supporting roles in larger feature films such as The Lost Patrol, Spellbound and Dead Reckoning.

In 1937 he returned to the Broadway stage to play the role of ‘George’ in the original theatre production of Of Mice & Men. He was cast as a rugged character, so it was no surprise to see him appearing in the 1945 film  Blood on the Sun alongside Jimmy Cagney. Cagney had a similar physique and acting style, but it is interesting to see how the cards had been dealt, as Cagney was in all respects a five star box office attraction.

In the late 1940s and into the 1950s he transitioned into a character actor appearing as a regular performer in the newly fashionable Westerns genre, and in multiple John Ford productions as one of his preferred support players. As the 1930’s was the age of vintage horror, so this period was the pinnacle of the western. It was the era of Ford and the brilliant John Wayne. TV also played its part in making it popular fayre.

Wallace Ford in no way ignored this medium and  worked in television towards the end of his career, including an appearance in an episode of The Andy Griffith Show in the role of ‘Roger Hanover’, Aunt Bee’s old flame, in 1964.

His final performance was in A Patch of Blue in 1965, for which he received a Golden Laurel nomination.

In terms of his personal life, Ford met his wife Martha in 1922 whilst they were performing together on Broadway in ‘Abie’s Irish Rose’, she being a chorus girl in the production at the time. The marriage produced one child, a daughter named Patricia (1927-2005)

After the death of his wife in February 1966, Ford moved into the Motion Picture & Television Country House and Hospital at Woodland Hills, California, and died in the hospital there of heart failure a few months later. His body was buried in an unmarked grave at Culver City’s Holy Cross Cemetery.

Again another performer  who never reached the dizzy heights of some of his fellow actors , but without whom the movie business of the time would have been very boring. He appeared time and time again, did an excellent job and always was a familiar face you looked forward to seeing. My favourite, Freaks. A clown with a funny sense of humour but a heart of gold.

Filmography 

X Marks the Spot (1931)

Possessed (1931)

Freaks (1932)

Central Park (1932)

Three-Cornered Moon (1933)

Headline Shooter (1933)

The Lost Patrol (1934)

Men in White (1934)

The Mysterious Mr. Wong (1934)

The Whole Town’s Talking (1935)

The Informer (1935)

Mary Burns, Fugitive (1935)

Another Face (1935)

The Rogues Tavern (1936)

A Son Comes Home (1936)

Two in the Dark (1936)

Exiled to Shanghai (1937)

O.H.M.S. (1937)

The Mummy’s Hand (1940)

Murder by Invitation (1941)

The Mummy’s Tomb (1942)

Shadow of a Doubt (1943)

The Cross of Lorraine (1943)

Blood on the Sun (1945)

Spellbound (1945)

The Green Years (1946)

T-Men (1947)

Dead Reckoning (1947)

Coroner Creek (1948)

Embraceable You (1948)

Shed No Tears (1948)

The Set-Up (1949)

Red Stallion in the Rockies (1949)

Harvey (1950)

He Ran All the Way (1951)

Rodeo (1952)

The Nebraskan (1953)

She Couldn’t Say No (1954)

The Boy from Oklahoma (1954)

Destry (1954)

Lucy Gallant (1955)

Wichita (1955)

The Man From Laramie (1955)

A Lawless Street (1955)

The Maverick Queen (1956)

The First Texan (1956)

Twilight for the Gods (1958)

The Matchmaker (1958)

The Last Hurrah (1958)

Warlock (1959)

A Patch of Blue (1965)

Father Knows Best (1954)

Justice (1954)

Damon Runyon Theatre (1955)

The Deputy (1959-1961)

The Andy Griffith Show (1964)