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Indy, Han, Deckard, And Beyond: Harrison Ford, Then And Now

Editor Picks | December 19, 2018

Left: Anthony Daniels and American Harrison Ford on the set of 'Star Wars: Episode V - The Empire Strikes Back' (1980). Right: Ford in 'Blade Runner' (1982). Sources: Lucasfilm/Sunset Boulevard/Corbis via Getty Images; IMDB

Known as Han Solo in Star Wars movies, as well as Indiana Jones, Harrison Ford is a throwback -- a classic Hollywood lead actor who's always gone about his business onscreen and off without pretense. He's played physical roles, but the camera has never lingered longingly on his pics or biceps. He's handsome without being pretty. His most heroic moments are often punctuated with a look of bewilderment or a sigh of relief. Ford wasn't in any sort of young Hollywood hotshot posse, being 30-year-old married father of two when he made his first movie of note (American Graffiti). He can do a little romance and a little comedy, but neither have been his forte. He possesses a calm strength, trustworthy and only slightly vulnerable.

A generation earlier, Harrison Ford would have played all of Humphrey Bogart's roles.

As it happened, though, Harrison Ford played Harrison Ford's roles, and made some of the greatest modern films along the way. Though his career started later than he might have wanted, once it was underway he established a box-office batting average that few actors can claim.

A young Harrison Ford with Sergio Mendes. Ford worked as a carpenter before the acting took off, and around 1970 built a recording studio for the Brazilian musician. Source: Reddit

Harrison Ford was born on July 13, 1942, in Chicago, Illinois, the son of an advertising executive and former actor, Christopher Ford, and former radio actress, Dorothy Nidelman. He grew up just outside of Chicago, in a suburb called Des Plaines, and was often subjected to bullying. While attending Maine Township High School in Park Ridge, Illinois, he developed an interest in social sciences and model trains. In 1960, he attended Ripon College in Wisconsin where he studied English and Philosophy. He took a drama class in an attempt to overcome shyness and because he thought it would be an easy class. This led to his interest in acting.

Harrison Ford in Dead Heat On A Merry-Go-Round (1966)/image from kcet.org

In the mid-1960's, Ford moved to Hollywood with his college girlfriend, Mary Marquardt, and they married in 1964. They would have two sons together before divorcing in 1979. While in Hollywood, he pursued a career in acting, signing on with Columbia Pictures to play bit roles in films for $150 a week. His first role, a bellhop in Dead Heat on a Merry-Go-Round (1966), was uncredited as were most of his early roles. His first credited work was as Harrison J. Ford in A Time For Killing (1967). He later moved to Universal Studios, where he played minor roles in television series and films. However, he failed to impress studio officials and was told he would never make it in the business. He eventually grew frustrated with his failing acting career and began doing construction work to pay the bills.

Harrison Ford in 'American Graffiti' (1973) and 'Apocalypse Now' (1979). Source: IMDB

His first big break came when he was cast in American Graffiti (1973), which was directed by George Lucas and produced by Francis Ford Coppola. He would continue to work with Coppola, having small roles in The Conversation in 1974 and Apocalypse Now in 1979. He also did carpentry work for Coppola. 

Billy Dee Williams as Lando Calrissian and Harrison Ford as Han Solo in Empire Strikes Back (1980)/image from inverse.com

The role in which he made his mark was as Han Solo in Lucas’s Star Wars in 1977. His portrayal of the rogue pilot in a movie which would become one of the highest-grossing films of all time established him as a leading actor. That status would be further solidified when he reprised the role in the sequels, The Empire Strikes Back (1980) and Return of the Jedi (1983).  

Harrison Ford as Indiana Jones in Raiders of the Lost Ark (1981)/image from thebechdelcast.com

In the 1980s, Harrison Ford would achieve success yet again when he played the adventurous archaeologist Indiana Jones in Raiders of the Lost Ark (1981). The film was produced and partially written by George Lucas and directed by Steven Spielberg. Like Star Wars, this film would also spawn sequels, Indiana Jones and the Temple of Doom in 1984 and Indiana Jones and the Last Crusade in 1989. 

Harrison Ford in 'Blade Runner' (1982). Source: IMDB

Being at the center of two multi-film blockbuster franchises -- Star Wars and Indiana Jones -- was enough to make Ford one of the biggest actors of the '80s, but his one-off movies were successes as well. Fans of noir science fiction might claim that his all-time best movie was Blade Runner (1982), directed by Ridley Scott. In 1985, he was nominated for an Academy Award for Best Actor for his performance in Witness, in which he portrayed a big-city homicide detective forced to hide in an Amish community after being ambushed by corrupt cops. The film was directed by Peter Weir, whom he worked with once again in The Mosquito Coast (1986). His other films during the 1980's include the romantic comedy Working Girl (1988) and the thriller Frantic (1988).  

In 1983, he married Melissa Mathison, with whom he would have two children before separating in 2001. Their divorce would be final in 2004.

Harrison Ford in The Fugitive (1993)/image from nerdmuch.com

Ford continued to perform in a wide range of roles in the 1990s, including dramatic roles in Presumed Innocent (1990) and Regarding Henry (1991). However, his real talent was in action, which he returned to in 1992 when he played CIA agent Jack Ryan in Patriot Games, based on Tom Clancy’s novel. He played the same character two years later in Clear and Present Danger (1994). During this time, Harrison Ford played another iconic role, Dr. Richard Kimble, in the 1993 film The Fugitive, based on the '60s television show. After the disappointing reception of Sabrina (1995) and The Devil’s Own (1997), he achieved success yet again when he played the president in Air Force One in 1997, followed by the supernatural thriller What Lies Beneath (2000).

Asa Butterfield and Harrison Ford in Ender’s Game (2013)/image from csmonitor.com

His career slowed down in the early 2000's. He had a few movies roles, including Hollywood Homicide (2003) and Firewall (2006), which met with mediocre reviews. In 2008, he reprised the role of Indiana Jones in Indiana Jones and the Kingdom of the Crystal Skull which earned more than $786 million worldwide. In 2010, he married actress Calista Flockhart. His career picked up in 2010 with roles in Extraordinary Measures and Morning Glory. In 2011, he starred in the science-fiction western, Cowboys & Aliens. In 2013, he played baseball executive Branch Rickey in 42, a biographical film about the life of Jackie Robinson. The same year, he had roles in Paranoia and the movie adaptation of Orson Scott Card’s young adult novel, Ender’s Game, in which Ford played a military officer who trained teenagers to fight aliens.

Harrison Ford in 'Blade Runner: 2049' (2017). Source: IMDB

More recently, Ford has appeared in films such as The Expendables 3 (2014) and The Age of Adaline (2015). He also reprised the role that made him famous as Han Solo in Star Wars: The Force Awakens (2015). In 2017, he reprised his role in Blade Runner 2049, the sequel to the 1982 classic. He has also made headlines for reasons not related to his acting. In addition to working as an actor, Ford is also a licensed pilot and in 2015 had to make a crash landing on a golf course in Venice, California, during which he broke his ankle and his pelvis. In November 2017, he became a real-life hero when he came upon a car accident and helped the driver out of the car. Harrison Ford continues to work today with upcoming roles in The Secret Life of Pets 2 and Call of the Wild as well as a fifth installment in the Indiana Jones franchise.

Tags: Apocalypse Now | Harrison Ford | Indiana Jones | Star Wars | Then And Now | What They Are Known For

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Penny Chavers

Writer

Penny, besides writing, loves to spend her time with family and friends. In her spare time, she also enjoys playing the piano, board games, and taking online classes on topics that interest her.