Wallace Ford (12 February 1898 – 11 June 1966) was an American stage, film, and television actor of English origin. Usually playing wise-cracking characters, he combined a tough but friendly demeanor with a small but powerful build.
He was born Samuel Jones Grundy in Bolton, Lancashire, England, into a working-class family of limited means; at the age of three, he was placed by his uncle and aunt, in whose care he had been, into a Dr. Barnardo's orphanage home, as they were unable to maintain his upkeep along with their own several children. When he was seven, he and other children from similar backgrounds were shipped to Canada to be found new homes with farming foster families as a part of the British Empire's on-going programme to populate the territory. Samuel was adopted by a family in Manitoba. He was ill-treated, however, and became a serial runaway, being resettled several times with different families by the Canadian authorities. According to his own account, at the age of 11, he ran away for the last time and joined a vaudeville traveling troupe touring Canada called The Winnipeg Kiddies, where he acquired his initial training as a performer.
In 1914, 16-year-old Samuel and another youth named Wallace Ford decided to head south to the United States to seek their fortune, riding a freight train illicitly. During the trip, Ford was killed beneath the wheels of a train. Later, Samuel adopted as his stage name the name of his dead traveling companion.
Following military service as a trooper at Fort Riley, Kansas, with the United States Army Cavalry during World War I, he became a vaudeville stage actor in an American stock company. In 1919, he performed in an adaptation of Booth Tarkington's Seventeen, which played to full houses in Chicago for several months, before transferring to a successful run on Broadway in New York City. Ford became a successful Broadway performer through the Roaring Twenties, appearing in multiple productions, including the lead role in the Broadway smash hit Abie's Irish Rose.
He made the move into movies with a debut in Swellhead in 1930. In 1931, he appeared alongside Clark Gable and Joan Crawford in Possessed, and the next year he was given the lead in Metro-Goldwyn-Mayer's notorious Freaks. Ford went on to have an extensive career over 30 years, appearing in more than 150 films, with lead roles in the 1930s and '40s in Hollywood B movies such as The Rogues Tavern (1936), Murder by Invitation (1941), and Roar of the Press (1941), and supporting roles in larger feature films such as The Lost Patrol (1934), Spellbound (1945), and Dead Reckoning (1947).
In 1937, he returned to the Broadway stage to play the role of George in the original production of Of Mice & Men.
In 1945, Ford appeared in the film Blood on the Sun alongside Jimmy Cagney, whose physique and acting style resembled his own. In the late 1940s and into the '50s, he transitioned into a character actor, appearing as a regular performer in the newly fashionable Western genre, and in multiple John Ford productions as one of his preferred support players.
He worked also in television towards the end of his career, including an appearance in an episode of The Andy Griffith Show in the role of Roger Hanover, Aunt Bee's old flame, in 1964.
His final performance was in the movie A Patch of Blue in 1965, for which he received a Golden Laurel nomination.
Ford met his future wife Martha in 1922 while they were performing together on Broadway in Abie's Irish Rose, she being a chorus girl at the time. They had one child, a daughter named Patricia (1927-2005).
After the death of his wife in February 1966, Ford moved into the Motion Picture & Television Country House and Hospital at Woodland Hills, California, and died in the hospital there of heart failure a few months later. His body was buried in an unmarked grave at Culver City's Holy Cross Cemetery.
Partial Broadway credits
- Pigs (1924) as Thomas Atkins, Jr.
- Gypsy Jim (1924) as Tom Blake
- Gypsy (1929) as Mac
- Of Mice and Men (1937) as George
- X Marks the Spot (1931)
- Possessed (1931) as Al Manning
- Freaks (1932)
- Central Park (1932)
- Three-Cornered Moon (1933)
- Headline Shooter (1933)
- The Lost Patrol (1934)
- Men in White (1934)
- The Mysterious Mr. Wong (1934)
- The Whole Town's Talking (1935)
- The Informer (1935)
- One Frightened Night (1935)
- Mary Burns, Fugitive (1935)
- Another Face (1935)
- The Rogues Tavern (1936)
- A Son Comes Home (1936)
- Two in the Dark (1936)
- Exiled to Shanghai (1937)
- O.H.M.S. (1937)
- The Mummy's Hand (1940)
- Roar of the Press (1941)
- Murder by Invitation (1941)
- All Through the Night (1942) as Spats Hunter
- The Mummy's Tomb (1942)
- Shadow of a Doubt (1943)
- The Cross of Lorraine (1943)
- Blood on the Sun (1945)
- Spellbound (1945) as Stranger in Hotel Lobby
- The Green Years (1946)
- T-Men (1947)
- Dead Reckoning (1947)
- Magic Town (1947)
- Coroner Creek (1948)
- Embraceable You (1948)
- Shed No Tears (1948)
- The Set-Up (1949)
- Red Stallion in the Rockies (1949)
- Harvey (1950)
- He Ran All the Way (1951)
- Rodeo (1952) as Barbecue Jones
- Flesh and Fury (1952) as Jack 'Pop' Richardson
- The Great Jesse James Raid (1953) as Elias Hobbs
- The Nebraskan (1953) as Mac McBride
- She Couldn't Say No (1954) as Joe Wheelen
- The Boy from Oklahoma (1954) as Wally Higgins
- Destry (1954) as Doc Curtis
- 3 Ring Circus (1954) as Sam Morley
- The Man From Laramie (1955) as Charley O'Leary
- Wichita (1955) as Arthur Whiteside
- Lucy Gallant (1955) as Gus Basserman
- The Spoilers (1955) as Flapjack Simms
- A Lawless Street (1955) as Dr. Amos Wynn
- The Maverick Queen (1956) as Jamie
- The First Texan (1956) as Henry Delaney
- Johnny Concho (1956) as Albert Dark
- Thunder Over Arizona (1956) as Hal Stiles
- Stagecoach to Fury (1956) as Judge Lester Farrell
- The Rainmaker (1956) as Sheriff Howard Thomas
- The Matchmaker (1958) as Malachi Stack
- Twilight for the Gods (1958) as Old Brown
- The Last Hurrah (1958) as Charles J. Hennessey
- Warlock (1959) as Judge Holloway
- Tess of the Storm Country (1960) as Fred Thorson
- A Patch of Blue (1965) as Ole Pa
Partial television credits
- Father Knows Best (1954)
- Justice (1954)
- Damon Runyon Theatre (1955)
- The Deputy (1959-1961)
- The Andy Griffith Show (1964)