Glenn Ford, a rugged but amiable leading man who appeared in nearly 100 movies, including gritty urban dramas, light comedy and Westerns, died Aug. 30 at his home in Beverly Hills, Calif., police said. He was 90.
Beverly Hills police were dispatched to Mr. Ford's home about 4 p.m. and found him dead inside, said Sgt. Lincoln Hoshino. No foul play was suspected. Ford had suffered a series of strokes in the 1990s.
Three of Mr. Ford's best films were "Gilda" (1946), "The Big Heat" (1953) and "Blackboard Jungle" (1955). In them, he was a gambler, a police detective and a schoolteacher, respectively. As varied as the parts were, all benefited from his low-boil technique. It always appeared he would erupt into physical force if pushed too far.
Mr. Ford also was the Man of Steel's adoptive father in "Superman" (1978), and, in characteristic Ford fashion, he used minimal body language to convey inner strength. Film critic Gary Arnold wrote in The Washington Post that "Ford has a stunning death scene in which he fully comprehends the sign of a coronary seizure an instant before it kills him. This jolting loss of a modest, decent man leaves lasting emotional reverberations."
The son of a railroad executive, Gwyllyn Samuel Newton Ford was born in Quebec, Canada, on May 1, 1916, and was raised in Santa Monica, Calif. He once said he knew acting held promise when, at age 4, he appeared in a community production of "Tom Thumb's Wedding" and the part required him to eat a large bowl of chocolate ice cream.
Later, he earned money for theatrical training by working as a parachute jumper at state fairs and as a stage manager for actress Tallulah Bankhead.
He appeared in a film short, "Night in Manhattan" (1937), as a nightclub emcee before his feature debut in "Heaven With a Barbed Wire Fence" (1939) as a New York store clerk who ventures west.
That movie's director, Ricardo Cortez, doubted Mr. Ford's prospects in Hollywood, but Columbia Pictures snapped him up and groomed him for stardom alongside his lifelong friend William Holden.
Mr. Ford appeared in a succession of minor dramas and began a long run in Westerns with "Go West, Young Lady" with Penny Singleton, "The Desperadoes" with Randolph Scott and "Texas" with Holden.
"We competed in strange ways," he once said of Holden. "I stuffed paper in my boots to be taller than he was. Then he stuffed paper in his boots, and I stuffed more in mine. Finally neither of us could walk, and we said the hell with it."
Amid a spate of mediocre service pictures, Mr. Ford was granted a rare foray in an A-list production with "So Ends Our Night" (1941). The film was based on an Erich Maria Remarque novel, "Flotsam," and Mr. Ford played a Jewish refugee in wartime Germany.
With the United States's entry into World War II, Mr. Ford joined the Marine Corps and participated in the Battle of Midway. Later, in the Navy Reserve, he did tours of duty in the Vietnam War.
Columbia showcased its veteran in better vehicles after World War II, on condition that he sign a long-term contract. The result was a few fine pictures, including "Gilda" and "A Stolen Life," with Bette Davis playing both good and bad sisters with a yen for Mr. Ford.
"Gilda" was one of the most popular films of its day -- and one of the most sordid by Hollywood standards. Mr. Ford played a gambler on a long losing streak who tramps into Buenos Aires and lands a job managing a casino for a sadistic boss (George Macready). The boss is married to an old flame, played by Rita Hayworth, who performs a striptease and says at one point, "If I'd been a ranch, they would have called me the Bar Nothing."
During filming, Columbia studios chief Harry Cohn, infatuated with Hayworth, reportedly bugged her dressing room to see whether she was having an affair with Mr. Ford. The actors found out about the plan and decided, for fun, to pretend to act on Cohn's worst fears.
Two years later, Hayworth chose Mr. Ford to co-star in a film she produced, "The Loves of Carmen," in which he was Don Jose and she was Carmen.
"One of the greatest mistakes I ever made. Embarrassing," Mr. Ford once told a reporter about a role that required him to lather up in suntan oil and curl his hair. "But it was worth it, just to work with her again."
"Blackboard Jungle" showcased Mr. Ford as a teacher at an inner-city school trying to control delinquent, often violent students. The film was best known for its "Rock Around the Clock" theme song and became a massive hit.
A gifted horse rider who in childhood was stable boy for Will Rogers, Mr. Ford appeared in dozens of Westerns of varying quality.
Although never nominated for an Academy Award, he was inducted into the Hall of Fame of Great Western Performers in Oklahoma City in 1978.
In the early 1960s, Mr. Ford was at the peak of his fame, and he starred in and helped produce "Pocketful of Miracles" (1961), a remake of Frank Capra's old feel-good weepie "Lady for a Day." Capra came back to direct Mr. Ford, but the relationship was tense after the actor insisted on casting his then-girlfriend, Hope Lange, as a brassy nightclub owner.
Mr. Ford starred in two television series: as the sheriff in "Cade's County," an early 1970s CBS police drama that also featured his son, Peter Ford; and as a Depression-era country preacher in the 1975 NBC drama "The Family Holvack."
His four marriages ended in divorce. His wives were tap-dancing movie star Eleanor Powell, soap opera actress Kathryn Hays, model Cynthia Hayward and his personal nurse, Jeanne Baus. The final marriage lasted a month; the couple had a 40-year age difference.
Survivors include his son.