Everyone is pretty much familiar with the charismatic space faring smuggler Han Solo, or with the whip-cracking fedora wearing archaeologist / adventurer Indiana Jones. Two iconic heroes played by only one man, Harrison Ford. But before he became those men in the big screen, he was but a shy boy who regarded acting as the least of his dream careers.
Read on to know more about Harrison Ford’s humble beginnings, his rise to stardom, and his future projects:
Harrison Ford was born on July 13, 1942 to parents Christopher and Dorothy. His father once worked in vaudeville, just like Harrison’s grandfather, before jumping to a career in radio then television advertising. His mother used to be a radio actress who then became a dedicated homemaker.
Young Harrison, or “Harry” as how he was known, grew up as a shy boy who only got average grades and did not fancy pursuing a career in acting or office work, instead he wanted to be a coalman or a forest ranger. He was enrolled in M.S. Meltzer Junior High, and his act of keeping a low profile resulted in bullying from his schoolmates.
Two years later, he transferred to Maine East. Here he involved himself in various pursuits such as joining audiovisual and model railway clubs, and his involvement in the former landed him a spot first as a technician then as a sportscaster on WMTH, the school’s radio station.
During his teenage years, Harrison also pursued part-time jobs such as a luxury yacht cook, flower delivery boy, tree trimmer, and as a pipe store worker where he developed his habit of smoking. After finishing high school, he then went to Ripon College and studied philosophy and English literature. During his college days he joined the Zeta Tau chapter of the Sigma Nu fraternity, pursued publishing with roommate and fraternity brother Bill Haljun, and even became part of a musical trio with his friends.
However, his grades were steadily declining, and this did not bode well for Harrison especially as his father forked out quite a fortune for his tuition fees. In an attempt to salvage his grades, Harrison signed up for drama class and was cast in different plays like The Fantastiks, The Skin of Our Teeth, and The Threepenny Opera. His exposure on the stage helped Harrison deal with his shyness, and eventually his stage fright was replaced by actually having fun while on stage.
Harrison eventually realized that he is going to have difficulties making a living with the degree that he chose in college. His doubts made him think twice in finishing his studies, and this resulted in Harrison getting booted from the graduating class a mere three days prior to the ceremonies in 1964.
During the summer of 1964, Harrison married his college sweetheart Mary Louise Marquardt. In that same year, Harrison involved himself in summer stock at the Belfry Players while working on the side as a handyman. While playing roles on plays such as Night of the Iguana, Sunday in New York, Little Mary Sunshine, and Dark of the Moon, Harrison also helped in the construction and design of the theater’s sets. His wife worked as the box office ticket sales head and helped with the work on the sets as well.
In the long run, Harrison no longer felt the enthusiasm he initially had. He was unable to unleash his full acting potential because of the parts that were being offered to him. He did appreciate the “training” he received on acting during his stint at the theater, and Harrison felt that he significantly improved in terms of his chosen career.
After the summer stock was over, Harrison and Mary decided to take the next big step on acting. They traveled west to California and stayed in an apartment while working on various jobs. Harrison sold paint, made pizza, and worked as a rigger on a yacht, while Mary became a receptionist for a doctor. It was during Harrison’s work as an assistant buyer in the department store Bullock’s when he got his trademark chin scar. Harrison unintentionally veered off the road while trying to fasten his seat belt, hitting a telephone pole and thrusting the actor’s face to the steering wheel.
In 1965, a Laguna Beach Playhouse theater group held an open casting and Harrison won the role of Clay Wingate in John Brown’s Body. Harrison’s performance here earned him many praises from critics and newspapers. Ian Bernard, a Hollywood composer, was among those who witnessed Harrison’s performance. He suggested to a colleague in Columbia Pictures that Harrison should be interviewed by one of the studio executives. The interview pushed through, but did not end in Harrison’s favor, that is until he was approached by one of the interviewers while he was at the restroom. The interviewer asked Harrison to come back to the office where he was interviewed earlier.
Harrison then became part of the studio’s New Talent program with a weekly pay of $150 for seven years. The said program subjected Harrison and 11 other members to various tasks, ranging from imitating other famous stars, posing for various photo layouts for magazines, and other jobs that Harrison deemed as a wrong approach when it comes to the development of an aspiring actor. The studio even wanted Harrison to pick a new screen name to avoid confusion with a late silent film actor who was also named Harrison Ford. Harrison initially suggested “Kurt Affair”, but it was turned down and the studio settled by adding a J. as his middle name.
Harrison eventually had his first ever uncredited onscreen appearance in the film Dead Heat on a Merry-Go-Round as a bellboy with some bits of dialogue with the main character, Eli Kotch. Harrison was ecstatic in finally having a film debut. His joy was later snuffed when he was summoned by one of the studio’s executives after the latter watched a copy of the film prior to its release. The executive did not like Harrison’s performance as an extra, saying that it lacked charisma, and the young actor’s response was taken as an insult.
He played another uncredited role as an irate motorist in the 1967 romantic comedy Luv. Also, he had his first credited role at the western A Time for Killing as Harrison J. Ford. Harrison had television appearances in 1967 as well on the shows The Virginian and Ironside. His first son, Benjamin, was also born in 1967.
A year later, Columbia Pictures wanted to prematurely terminate Harrison’s tenure. The unprofessional way that he was informed about it led to Harrison fighting back with insults and not signing the papers for his termination. Nevertheless he was still axed from the studios.
The young actor managed to avoid getting drafted to Vietnam by sending a long letter rife with explanations and philosophies that left the authorities confused, ending with Harrison not being called for duty.
Days after getting fired, Harrison had signed a contract with Universal Pictures and starred in the 1968 western Journey to Shiloh. During the same year he made an uncredited appearance in an episode of the television series The Mod Squad.
One year later, Harrison had more television appearances and without even a single movie. My Friend Tony, The F.B.I., and Love, American Style were the shows he appeared on in 1969. His second son, Willard, was born during the same year.
With the lack of work opportunities, Harrison was given a suggestion to try photography, and was hired for the production of The Doors documentary Feast of Friends in 1969 as a second unit cameraman.
The seventies started with more appearances for Harrison. First was an uncredited role in the 1970 film Zabriskie Point, followed by the romance comedy Getting Straight. His other television series appearances include Dan August in 1971, Gunsmoke in 1972, Kung Fu and Petrocelli in 1974, and television movies The Intruders in 1970, Dynasty in 1976, and The Possessed in 1977. His performance in the 1975 courtroom drama Judgment: The Court Martial of Lieutenant William Calley was praised by critics as intense and as the production’s emotional highlight.
With two kids and a new house in Hollywood Hills, Harrison also took the time to master carpentry so he can perform repairs on his home and take additional jobs related to the skill to supplement his earnings in acting. His skill in carpentry attracted high-profile clients such as Brazilian musician Sergio Mendes, Richard Dreyfuss, James Coburn, Valerie Harper, and Sally Kellerman, to name a few.
Upon suggestion of his producer, Fred Roos, Harrison met with Patricia McQueeney, a talent agent, and the two became professional partners. With carpentry being a lucrative job, Harrison was actually able to choose what role he wanted among those offered by McQueeney, and turn down those that he did not like. He thought of starting a furniture factory as an alternate source of income should his acting career go south.
That is until Harrison received a script from Fred Roos that made a profound impact on him. Harrison
requested to meet with the script’s director who happened to be George Lucas. The film was American Graffiti, and Lucas even offered to raise Harrison’s pay rate as the latter was weighing the income he can make on the film against his carpentry business. Released in 1973, the film was a financial success, won several Golden Globe awards, received Oscar nominations, and even its soundtrack sold like hotcakes. To Harrison, he felt that this film was the first time he experienced being around people who actually listened to his opinions and suggestions, and cared about doing things in a right way.
Harrison was next cast into the thriller The Conversation as Martin Stett, and he suggested to director Francis Coppola that he add a subtle homosexual twist to the character, to which the director agreed. The film was released in 1974 to much critical acclaim and again bagged several awards. Harrison’s efforts, however, were not that much recognized but he took the experience as an advancement to his acting skills. After the film, he went back to carpentry work with a few television appearances. Coppola hired him to install a doorway in the office, and it was quite a humiliating experience for Harrison as the stars he worked with in past films and television shows greeted him while he did his craft.
Fred Roos always sought to help out his good friend Harrison. When George Lucas was looking for the cast on his upcoming science fiction film, Roos made it known that Harrison was available. Harrison was brought in but only to read lines for the others and not audition, and Lucas was having doubts as he did not want to cast the same people in American Graffiti. In the end, Harrison got the role as the way he read his lines was impressive, compared to those who were actually auditioning.
Star Wars was released in 1977, and Harrison’s role as the smuggler Han Solo was one of his most iconic roles throughout his career. The film is considered to be among the greatest and most important movies of all time, grossing almost half a billion dollars, and taking home numerous accolades. Harrison’s earnings from the movie guaranteed creative freedom and long term financial security, resulting in him resigning from his carpentry business once and for all. He would later appear in the film’s future installments, The Empire Strikes Back (1980) and Return of the Jedi (1983) which are all blockbuster hits as well, except for the notorious 1978 television movie Star Wars Holiday Special.
The next film that Harrison found interesting was the 1977 comedy drama Heroes. Even though the film was not a box office success, Harrison’s performance as Ken Boyd was praised, and he grew to like his character. Another war movie starring Harrison was released in 1978, titled Force 10 from Navarone, followed by yet another war movie in 1979 Apocalypse Now where he played the character Colonel G. Lucas. His last two movies for the seventies include Hanover Street, The Frisco Kid, and More American Graffiti.
1979 marked the divorce of Harrison and Mary, and their two kids moved with the latter while Harrison stayed in a different apartment. Later on, Harrison dated Melissa Mathison, an executive assistant of Coppola during the filming of Apocalypse Now, and the couple eventually married in 1983.
The eighties started with a project from George Lucas and Steven Spielberg currently on the making. It was a different movie that did not tread on intergalactic adventures. Spielberg wanted Harrison as he saw an adventurous spirit on the actor while portraying Han Solo, but Lucas thought that it may confuse the masses as Harrison will portray two different heroes on vastly different settings. Then they thought of picking Tom Selleck, but the actor was busy with other projects despite passing the audition with flying colors.
Eventually Harrison was put on board as the fearless adventurer Indiana Jones.
Harrison trained physically and traveled to different locations to shoot exotic scenes. The most memorable one was in Tunisia where Harrison and most of the crew contracted dysentery. This resulted in a sudden change in a scene where Indiana Jones was supposed to fight a scimitar-wielding Egyptian assassin in a marketplace. The two already rehearsed their fight before, but during the day of filming Harrison was not feeling well. He asked permission first from the director if he can improvise with a faster way of dealing with the antagonist. With a single shot of his revolver, Harrison dispatched his foe much to the laughter of the crew who were unaware of that last-minute change.
Released in 1981, Raiders of the Lost Ark won Oscar awards and earned big in the box office, and the toils Harrison went through during production were indeed worth it. He was now popular in the eyes of the public for portraying a hero on the ground, and another in space. Just like Indy, in 2008, Harrison would become part of the Archaeological Institute of America (AIA), helping raise public awareness regarding archaeological matters.
Another science fiction film came knocking on Harrison’s door. Director Ridley Scott saw Harrison to be a good fit as the protagonist of Blade Runner. Harrison agreed to the role, donning a jacket and sporting a shorter haircut so the public won’t see Indy or Han Solo on the screen. However, he couldn’t get along with the director. Harrison wanted to portray Rick Deckard (the protagonist) on a more human side, but the director wanted the opposite. Along with the fact that the director did not care much about the actors, Harrison stated that this was the first time when he was not happy in shooting the film. The film was released in 1982 to a mediocre reception, but eventually it became a cult film and labelled as among the best science fiction movies.
Harrison’s career was nonstop. Indy’s second adventure, The Temple of Doom, was released a year after Han Solo’s third escapade in Return of the Jedi. Both were immensely successful, but the former was criticized for its controversial portrayal of Hinduism and for being violent compared to the past Indiana Jones movie. His wife’s career was also on the right track, having finished writing the script for Steven Spielberg’s family movie E.T. the Extraterrestrial.
In 1985, Harrison starred in the crime drama Witness. Director Peter Weir stated that Harrison always had ideas for the script that better improve the character he portrayed. A year later, both actor and director again worked in tandem for the 1986 thriller The Mosquito Coast. Harrison always mentioned the film, saying that it was his favorite, but unfortunately it did not do very well. Harrison voiced out his complain, a first in his career, stating that the film was not treated appropriately by the critics. Melissa later calmed him down with the news of her pregnancy.
Melissa went to Paris to meet with Roman Polanski, a director who proposed the idea of adapting the famous comic strip Tintin. Harrison accompanied his wife as he was worried about the recent string of terrorist attacks. The adaptation never pushed through, but Roman and Harrison came up with an entirely different film idea.
Malcolm Ford was born while filming was already underway. A year later, the film was released in the United States. Titled Frantic, it was a thriller that dealt with the sudden disappearance of the protagonist’s wife, and Harrison’s performance was again highly praised.
Harrison and his family went back to the United States, along with another famous actor Clint Eastwood. The two actors met in Paris while Clint was working on a film.
1988 saw the release of Working Girl, a comedy film that is a welcome change to Harrison’s usual lineup of thrillers and adventures. It was light with absolutely no fight scenes or running for dear life. His chin scar was even mentioned in the story. The film was a success, and it earned Harrison a Golden Globe nomination.
The next year, another Indy adventure was released. The Last Crusade starred Harrison along with Sean Connery as Indy’s father, and fellow The Mosquito Coast star River Phoenix as the younger Indy. Again it was met with positive reviews, was a box office hit, and had awards and nominations.
Harrison Ford in the 90’s
The nineties began with the birth of Georgia Ford. Later on, Harrison would become a member of Conservation International, an environmental organization, and his efforts in saving certain animals from extinction gave him the honor of naming a newfound butterfly species. He named it after Georgia. The new species of ant and spider were both given Harrison’s name as well, Pheidole harrisonfordi and Calponia harrisonfordi respectively. He would also become an outspoken supporter of the restoration of Hetch Hetchy Valley in Yosemite National Park.
1990 also saw the release of mystery film and blockbuster hit Presumed Innocent. A year later, drama film Regarding Henry was released and was met with lukewarm reaction. Harrison was also included in the list of Hollywood’s richest actors, ranking at number 11.
After Alec Baldwin’s portrayal of CIA analyst Jack Ryan in the first adaptation of the Tom Clancy novel The Hunt for Red October, Harrison took the role of the said character in the Patriot Games in 1992. He would later reprise the role in the 1994 release of Clear and Present Danger. Both were successful in the box office.
He came back to the world of television series by appearing in one episode of The Young Indiana Jones Chronicles in 1993. He also starred in the thriller The Fugitive in the same year, along with Tommy Lee Jones, and it was among the year’s biggest films with a lot of nominations received and awards won.
In 1994, Harrison was awarded with the Star of the Century Award during the ShoWest Convention. The next year, he was cast in the remake of the 1954 romantic comedy film Sabrina, but it did not fare well as fans were quick to compare the two versions (with the most recent adaptation being the inferior one). Still, Harrison received a Golden Globe nomination for his efforts. In 1997 he starred with Brad Pitt in the action film The Devil’s Own, and the two were reported to have clashed over the script and characterization. The film met only moderate praise, and the two actors refused to talk about the controversy regarding the film’s production.
Ever since his childhood days, Harrison grew up with a keen interest in aviation. He tried his hand on flying lessons, but was forced to quit because of problems with money. Now that he earned a lot more than he used to, Harrison not only managed to finish his lessons and obtain a pilot’s license, he also bought his own helicopter and planes. His passion for flying proved to be useful as he was able to rescue people while on duty at the Search and Rescue of Teton County, and he helped children experience flying in the Young Eagles program. He also suffered from injuries wrought by flying-related accidents.
One can imagine his exuberance when he was allowed to step inside the presidential plane Air Force One by the then president Bill Clinton (whom he was good friends with). Aside from his fascination with aircraft, thiswas also in preparation for his upcoming role as the tough President James Marshall in the action film Air Force One. After its release in 1997, the film was touted as among the best action films in that decade, and it was said that the president himself watched the move two times, loved it, and even noted the features in the film’s airplane that the real Air Force One lacked.
His piloting skills were put to use during the filming of his next movie, Six Days Seven Nights, as his character was a pilot and there were a lot of flying involved. He was paired with Anne Heche, 27 years his junior, but their age gap did not get in the way of their chemistry. The film was released in 1998, earned double its production budget, but failed to please the critics.
The decade ended with the drama romance film Random Hearts, which unfortunately flopped. Still, the nineties ended well for Harrison as he was awarded with the Favorite All-Time Movie Star Award in the People’s Choice Awards.
Harrison welcomed 2000 with the Lifetime Achievement Award from the American Film Institute, the Favorite Motion Picture Actor Award again in the People’s Choice Awards, and the release of thriller film What Lies Beneath with Michelle Pfeiffer. The film did earn quite well in the box office, but did not find favor in the eyes of critics. However, the two leading stars won awards for their performance.
The new year also ended with a shocking announcement from Harrison: he and Melissa were about to split up. Harrison initially moved out of their apartment in Manhattan and was alleged to have lived a bachelor’s lifestyle of partying, booze, and women (Melissa was said to have seen a picture of Harrison with Lara Flynn Boyle, ex-girlfriend of Jack Nicholson, at a party). The couple went back together around Christmas, apparently an attempt to patch things up, but in the end it still led to divorce. It was ranked as one of the most expensive divorces in Hollywood, amounting to a settlement of nearly $90 million.
Two years later, Harrison met Calista Flockhart during the 2002 Golden Globe Awards. The two began dating, and eventually got married in 2010. Thriller film K-19: The Widowmaker was also released in 2002, and Harrison earned praises for his performance but the film was a flop. Based on real life events surrounding the K-19 Russian submarine, the film was met with controversy due to its portrayal of the Russian sailors (who were also the heroes in the film) as they were being shown as amateurs and pirates.
Harrison again engaged himself in comedy in the 2003 film Hollywood Homicide, another film based on true to life experiences, and yet again Harrison was reported to not getting along with co-star Josh Hartnett during production. It failed to meet both its budget and the expectations of critics. Three years later, thriller film Firewall would suffer the same fate of being a box office bomb, despite Harrison’s performance.
He appeared in the 2004 short Water to Wine as Jethro the Bus Driver. During this year he also turned down an offer to star in Syriana, a thriller that deals with the oil industry. He would later express regret in the said refusal.
19 years after his last adventure, Indiana Jones again appeared on the big screen in Kingdom of the Crystal Skull released in 2008. It did gather mostly positive reviews and grossed six times its budget, but there were also negative reactions. It won and earned nominations for both” best” and worst” awards. Also in 2008 Harrison provided narration for the documentary Dalai Lama Renaissance.
Harrison starred in the 2009 crime film Crossing Over and it gathered highly negative reviews. He also appeared in the controversial Sacha Baron Cohen mockumentary Bruno but only for a few seconds.
Harrison and Brendan Fraser starred in the 2010 drama Extraordinary Measures, but the film did not manage to gather much positive reviews, not to mention that it bombed. His second film for the year, Morning Glory, was somewhat more favorable in earnings and reviews.
2011 saw the release of the film adaptation of the graphic novel Cowboys & Aliens. Harrison portrayed the role of cattleman Woodrow Dolarhyde, along with Daniel Craig and Olivia Wilde. It failed to do well in the box office, and the reviews were lukewarm at best. Harrison received a Best Supporting Actor nomination during the Saturn Awards for his performance.
Two years later, Harrison had more appearances on the big screen. First was in the sports movie 42 which was successful, thriller Paranoia and science fiction Ender’s Game which are both among 2013’s box office bombs, and a cameo appearance in the highly successful comedy Anchorman 2: The Legend Continues. He later joins the roster in the 2014 action film The Expendables 3.
Harrison Ford Now in 2018 – What’s He Doing
Harrison’s first film in 2015 was the fantasy romance The Age of Adaline. The film had lukewarm reception, but Harrison’s performance was hailed as “memorable”.
Perhaps one of his most awaited appearance on the big screen for this year was the return of Han Solo in Star Wars: The Force Awakens. He appeared in the last few seconds of the film’s second teaser, much to the delight of fans worldwide. The now 71-year old Harrison suffered from a fractured leg during filming, but he did manage to recover quickly. The film was released in December 2015, earning $529 million during the opening weekend, and more than a billion in just 12 days, and breaking many other records in the box office.
So far Harrison is slated to appear in Star Wars: Episode VIII, in an upcoming Blade Runner sequel, and in an announced fifth installment of Indiana Jones.