17 Facts About Harrison Ford’s Path From Carpenter to Action Star
Harrison Ford’s career spans 50 years and two major movie franchises, with a box office average of more than $118 million per film. He has also appeared in television shows, including episodes of “The Virginian,” “Love, American Style,” “Ironside,” “The Mod Squad” and “Gunsmoke.”
What’s made the career of the man who played Han Solo and Indiana Jones so varied and successful? To find out, let’s head to Chicago in the 1940s.
Ford’s Early Years and Relationships
The son of Christopher Ford, an advertising exec and former actor, and Dorothy Nidelman, a former radio actress, Ford was born in 1942. He and his brother were raised in the Chicago suburbs.
He married his college sweetheart, Mary Marquardt, in 1964. They had two sons before they divorced in 1979.
Eventually, he married Melissa Mathison in 1983. They also had two children and divorced in 2004. He then married Calista Flockhart in 2010.
He Discovered Acting in College
While a student at Wisconsin’s Ripon College, he took an acting class, hoping for an easy A. While he didn’t complete his studies there, he did discover a lifelong passion and met his first wife.
His first film appearance was less than 40 seconds in uncredited role as a bellhop in “Dead Heat on a Merry-Go-Round.” He told Jay Leno that after the dailies on this movie came out, he was advised to think about trying a new occupation.
He got his first big acting break in 1973 when George Lucas cast him in “American Graffiti.”
There’s More Than One Harrison Ford
When he started acting, he discovered his name was already in use. Harrison Ford was the name of a silent film actor. To avoid confusion, he added a middle initial, “J.” It stands for nothing; he has no middle name.
He Worked a Day Job – as a Carpenter
While most actors’ second job is generally along the lines of a waiter, Ford worked as a carpenter to supplement his infrequent acting income. He says this allowed him to support his family while waiting for the types of roles he really wanted.
While he had a small part in Francis Ford Coppola’s “The Conversation,” the director also gave him a job doing some carpentry work on the side.
Becoming a Superstar
In 1977 Ford became an instant superstar, playing Han Solo in the first Star Wars movie, the now-titled “Star Wars: Episode IV - A New Hope.”
One iconic role in a movie is enough to solidify a career. Ford, however, accomplished an amazing Hollywood feat. He started a second iconic series role – Indiana Jones – in “Raiders of the Lost Ark” before finishing his work as Han Solo.
From that point on, Ford was Hollywood royalty. He was able to build a life and follow his interests outside of the entertainment industry, too.
The Movies He Was Almost In...
Ford was in the running for, and was passed over for, leading roles in “The Graduate,” “Midnight Cowboy,” “Saving Private Ryan” and “Proof of Life.”
He also passed on leading roles in well-known movies such as “Alien,” “Terms of Endearment,” “Big,” “Beverly Hills Cop,” “Die Hard,” “Ghost,” “Misery,” “Cape Fear,” “JFK,” “Outbreak,” “The Perfect Storm,” “Syriana” and “The Hunt for Red October.”
Though he had a role in “ET,” as Elliott’s school principal, he was cut from the final version.
...and Some He Almost Wasn’t
Ford was not always Hollywood’s first choice for a leading man. Tom Selleck was slated to be Indiana Jones but had a last minute scheduling conflict. Other actors in the running for Han Solo included Al Pacino, Nick Nolte, Christopher Walken and Kurt Russell.
The Truth Behind His Scar
Though stories have been told about his famous scar (it was mentioned in his films, “Working Girl” and “Indiana Jones and the Last Crusade”), the truth is less interesting. The scar came when he was involved in a car crash.
Ironically, he was trying to put on seatbelt when his car veered off and hit a telephone pole.
Despite Injuries, He Does Many of His Own Stunts
In 1994, Ford shared a story on “The Tonight Show“ about filming an episode of “Gunsmoke.” In a scene where he dies, his gun bounced up and knocked out his front teeth.
He tore his ACL twice, while filming “Raiders of the Lost Ark” and “The Fugitive,” and he injured his spine during “Indiana Jones and the Temple of Doom.”
''I do as much as possible because, with Indiana Jones, there are so many opportunities for characterization in the physical action. Really, that is the character — and in these moments of action you see Indiana Jones most clearly,'' he said.
Even after a hydraulic door slammed closed on his left leg, breaking both bones on the set of “Star Wars: The Force Awakens,” he still refused to let stunt doubles take his place, telling the Daily Star Sunday, “I do running, jumping, falling down. I hit people, get hit — but I don’t see those as stunts.”
He Has a Passion for Flying
Ford first learned to fly in his 50s and has a collection of aircraft that includes not only the expected private jet, but also an open-top biplane and a helicopter. Admired in aviation circles, in 2008, the Kitty Hawk Air Academy named him a Living Legend of Aviation.
Though a plane he was flying in 2015 crashed after its engine failed, he was credited with saving lives by steering the World War II training plane away from homes and crash-landing on a Venice, Calif. golf course instead.
In 2017 he again made news while flying his two-seat Aviat Husky. He descended to the wrong runway, coming within 100 feet of a 737 on the way down. Because of his clean record, he didn’t face disciplinary action, but did have to take awareness training.
Ford has the distinction of having not one, but two crawly creatures named after him.
After Ford narrated a documentary for the Natural History Museum in London, arachnologist Norman Platnick chose the name Calponia harrisonfordi for the spider-eating-spider (the only one in its genus) as a way of saying thank you.
The Pheidole harrisonfordi, a species of ant, was named to honor Ford’s conservation efforts.
He Actually Likes Snakes
Unlike his well-known character Indy, Harrison is a snake fan. In fact, he helped scouts earn their Reptile Study badge as a badge counselor at Wisconsin’s Napowan Adventure Base Scout Camp.
He’s Most at Home at His Ranch
Captivated by the valley at the foot of the Grand Tetons, he purchased 800 acres in Jackson Hole, Wyoming, along the Snake River to set down new roots. Though contractors did much of the building, he drew out the designs himself and was involved in the day-to-day process. He later worked alongside contractors to build a guest house and barn, which doubles as his workshop. The property is a favorite place for him to escape the limelight and be just another person.
“I need balance,” he said. “I need to be in a situation where my every whim is not attended to, where I have to fetch my own nails, do my own shopping, and wash my own dishes… Being normal is a kind of victory. I’ll fix a fence, repair a piece of equipment, or plough the driveway if there’s snow. There’s always plenty of work to do.”
A Real Life Hero
While Harrison has saved lives on the big screen, he has also done so in real life.
After moving to Wyoming, he volunteered use of his private helicopter for rescues. While he managed to keep this under wraps, in 2000, he made news when he saved a hiker suffering from the heat and dehydration by airlifting her to the hospital.
He made the news again when he rescued a 13-year-old Boy Scout lost in Yellowstone National Park. In California in November of 2017, he ran down an embankment to help a woman who had lost control of her car and swerved off the road in front of him. He and witnesses got her out of her car and stayed until paramedics arrived.
A Dedicated Environmentalist
He has been outspoken about environmental issues. Involved with Conservation International since 1991, he currently serves as vice chair of the board. CI, a leading environmental research group, has protected 609 mission hectares in 1,200 areas over 77 countries, and has donated over $100 million to conservation partners worldwide.
Ford also has worked with Riverkeeper, as a Riverkeeper Watchdog, flying his helicopter to identify polluters on the Hudson River.
He donated 389 acres of his property for a conservation easement to the Jackson Hole Land Trust, keeping it from development that can harm wildlife and the natural resources of the land. He also is Honorary Chair for the Indianapolis Prize, an award for animal conservation.
Winning at Life
Though he’s an Oscar nominee and a four-time Golden Globe nominee, most of his award and honors have been for his environmental work.
Among the awards he’s won: the Jules Verne Spirit of Nature Award, the KT Hurley Award for helping young people with their conservation projects, the World Ecology Award from the International Center for Tropical Ecology, the Global Environmental Citizen Award from the Harvard Medical School and the Good Steward Award from the U.S. House of Representatives.
He has also received the Hollywood Foreign Press Association’s Cecil B. DeMille Award, in 2002, and in 2000, the American Film Institute’s Lifetime Achievement Award.
He Values Science
At the September 2018 Global Climate Action Summit in San Francisco, he talked about the importance of taking climate change seriously. He made a political statement, saying, “Stop giving power to people who don't believe in science, or worse than that, pretend they don't believe in science for their own self-interest."
While he did not mention names, he warned that the future is at stake, reminding people that the repercussions will affect us all, no matter our wealth or status.