Tuesday, May 27, 2008

My guy, Wally Ford

Look at that face. It's a nice face. It's the face of your favourite uncle. Maybe the uncle who drinks a little too much and maybe once in a while he gets himself in a spot, but he's your favourite uncle so it's okay. That's the face of Wallace Ford (1898 - 1966) as he appeared in Alfred Hitchcock's classic Shadow of a Doubt (1943). Ford's Hollywood career began in 1930 and the talented actor worked steadily until his death. Lots of programmers under his belt in the 30s and some genuine classics such as Tod Browning's Freaks (1932), John Ford's The Lost Patrol (1934) and The Informer (1935).

Wallace Ford's career in the 40s includes memorable pictures such as the quirky Blues in the Night (1941), the enjoyable The Mummy's Hand and All Through the Night (1941). You like film noir? Check out Black Angel (1946), Crack-Up (1946), Dead Reckoning (1947), T-Men (1947) and The Set-Up (1949).

Well-remembered classics from the 50s featuring our guy (isn't it nice of me to share?) are Harvey (1950), The Furies (1950) which will be released by Criterion this coming summer, The Man from Laramie (1955), He Ran All theWay (1951), Flesh and Fury (1951), The Rainmaker (1956), The Last Hurrah (1958) and Warlock (1959). Television fans could count on seeing Wallace Ford on Studio 57, Father Knows Best, Tales of Wells Fargo, The Dick Powell Show, The Barbara Stanwyck Show and more. His last film role was definitely A level as the alcoholic grampa in A Patch of Blue (1965).

Our guy was born Samuel Jones in Bolton, Lancashire, England on February 12, 1898. At the age of three he was placed in a foundling home by an aunt. At the age of 7, along with 300 other children, he was shipped to the Toronto branch of the home. In the space of 4 years, little Sam lived in 17 different foster homes before striking out on his own. He landed in Manitoba and got work with a vaudeville troupe called The Winnipeg Kiddies. At the age of 16 Sam struck out again, but not alone this time. A pal, Wally Ford, was along and they hopped freight trains to see what life could offer them in the States. Along the way, the pal was crushed to death by a boxcar and young Sam took his friend's name.

Years of trouping in the boondocks paid off in 1918 with a role in Booth Tarkington's Seventeen in Chicago and a move to the Big Apple with the show. Most of Wally's Broadway shows in the 1920s were of the 4 weeks rehearsal for a couple of night's run variety with the exception of a stint in Abie's Irish Rose. In 1922 Martha Haworth became Mrs. Ford and they remained married for the rest of his days with a family of one daughter, Patricia, and two grandsons. 1937 saw a great Broadway success for Wally as he created the role of George in John Steinbeck's adaption of his own Of Mice and Men, staged by George S. Kaufman. Young Broderick Crawford was the unfortunate Lenny.

Wallace Ford had been searching for his mother since he was a teenager and, according to a piece by Jim McPherson in The Toronto Sun, in 1936 he found her.  After calling on help from the Los Angeles Police Department and Scotland Yard, the old woman was located, derelict and living in a trailer with a match seller known as "Blind Dan". An overjoyed Ford told the press: "I'm going to get a little house where my mother and her husband can spend the rest of their days in peace. She has had a hard life." There's a back story there that we can only imagine. There is also a story about a man with a big heart, big enough to forget the neglect he suffered as a child. What a guy! Our guy, Wally Ford.


  1. You know what I love? I love how you make me aware of people I have seen so many times, but whom I know so little about.

    Wally...I didn't know you by name, but I knew who you were. Thanks to our mutual friend, I feel like I've always known you!

  2. This happened a few months ago on the "Noir Board". A poster reviewed "T-Men" and said "all it needed was one of those great performances by a great character actor. Aha, said I, Wallace Ford played "Schemer". Yeah, responded OP, that guy was good. Have I ever seen him before? Another poster and I enlighted the fellow, who said he would be sure to keep his open for Mr. Ford from now on. I guess I've found my calling.

    Thanks, GW.

  3. I'd only ever seen him in 2 movies before... "THE MUMMY'S TOMB" (where he was under heavy make-up for what amounted to a cameo, before being murdered), and its predecessor "THE MUMMY'S HAND" (a real precursor to "Indiana Jones" where he played the delightful "character" of Babe Jenson).

    Yesterday I found another of his films, where he was the hero-- "MURDER BY INVITATION" (1941). He plays a columnist who's so likable the sheriff investigating a murder welcomes him and suggest they work together to solve the crime.

    1. I have walked in The Mummy's Tomb, and now I have to see Murder by Invitation. Thanks.



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