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Paramount Studios/Pictures

Los Angeles

The Mosquito Coast

Indiana Jones and the Last Crusade

Harrison Ford

Indiana Jones


Charlie Fox

Helen Mirren

New York

Star Wars

Robert Sellers

Harrison Ford: A Biography

The Fugitive


Dead Heat on a Merry-go-round

American Graffiti

Apocalypse Now

Blade Runner

Raiders of the Lost Ark

Han Solo

George Lucas
Rio's Attic: Celebrating the Life and Times of a Dearly Missed River Phoenix
American EnglishEn Français

Harrison Ford: A Biography

by Robert Sellers.
First published in 1993.

ISBN 0-7515-1131-5 (Paperback, 326 Pages)

Published shortly before River's death, this biography charts the career of Harrison Ford up until the 1993 movie The Fugitive. The author does his best to piece together Ford's early years, a period of time that the movie star has always preferred to keep the details of to himself. However, we do learn about one particular event from his early twenties.

His pride and joy then was a battered old humpback Volvo. One morning Ford realized that he had forgotten to put on his seat-belt, and, reaching over to take the strap off its hook, he momentarily lost concentration. To make matters worse he was negotiating a blind curve at the time. The car went out of control, hit a high curb, bounced up and went on two wheels before greeting a telephone pole head-on.

Ford was flung against the steering wheel but wasn't rendered unconscious and managed to crawl free of the vehicle. Lucky to be alive ("but I did look a dreadful mess"), the bloodied figure of Ford stood motionless beside the smoking wreck of his overturned Volvo and watched as motorist after motorist drove by offering no assistance. Each carefully and callously manoeuvred their way around the accident before continuing their journey. "So I just stood there until somebody finally stopped and took me to hospital."

A standard letter from Paramount Studios was all it took for the entire Phoenix family to head west to California. Ford didn't even have that when he undertook the same journey fifteen years earlier.

About the only thing Ford knew about being an actor was that to succeed he needed to be either in Los Angeles or New York. Such a decision would have to be made quickly, for parts of Wisconsin were already seeing soft snow fall. To help make up his mind he enlisted the services of a coin and left it all to chance - tails he'd go to the West coast, heads to the East. He flipped the coin in the air. Heads. Ford didn't fancy New York very much - "I wasn't going to starve and freeze" - so he kept tossing the coin until it landed on tails. Some might call that cheating, but you can't argue with the fact that he made the right decision. While it's fun to speculate on what might have happened to Harrison Ford if he had acted on the outcome of that first throw and gone to brave the cold of the Big Apple, Los Angeles was always the better option. For any actor starting out times can be tough, work and a steady income are hard to find, so who wants to be cold and miserable as well. "Better to be poor in the sunshine than the snow. That was my idea, anyway. So we loaded all our stuff into our Volkswagen, drove off and didn't stop until we saw the Pacific."

Beginning with Dead Heat on a Merry-go-round, the book looks at each of Ford's movies in turn. We learn about American Graffiti, Apocalypse Now and Blade Runner as well as the movies which made Harrison Ford a house-hold name - Star Wars and Raiders of the Lost Ark.

Did River nag his parents to take him to see Star Wars over and over again just like every other young child did in 1977? Hardly. Destitute in a strange, foreign country, food and shelter were the only things of value during those dark days. The family's fortunes had picked up a little by the early 1980's though and we wonder if, watching the adventures of Han Solo and Indiana Jones at the local movie-theatre, the pre-teenage River realized that he would soon be joining Ford on the big-screen in only a few years time.

Weir cast the supporting players carefully. As Mother, Fox's long-suffering wife, he chose the highly respected Helen Mirren. Fifteen-year-old River Phoenix brought a convincing combination of hero worship and disillusionment to the role of Charlie. During filming a bond developed between Ford and Phoenix, partly because the teenager never once treated his senior in an overly reverential fashion. "Harrison was very down to earth, a very logical man. A very smart man. Practical. He's sturdy, a real father figure. In control. Very centred." Later to play a young Indiana Jones, critics and public alike noted the striking likeness between the two; they could almost have been father and son in real life. Whilst in Belize the star passed on some homespun wisdom to the youngster. "Keep your head on your sholders. It's just a job." Nothing better encapsulates Ford's philosophy on movie stardom.

By the end of the 1980's, Harrison Ford had appeared in nearly thirty feature and TV films. With the Star Wars movies now long behind him, Ford felt it was also time to complete another trilogy and bring the adventures of Indiana Jones to a fitting close. This project granted both Harrison Ford and River the opportunity of working together for a second time. It would be the last.

Utah, 1912, is the setting for the opening episode of The Last Crusade, in which a young Indy fights a gang of thieves aboard a train full of circus animals. In terms of structure and formula this third adventure closely follows the examples set by its elder brothers, not least in starting with an exciting teaser. Various ideas for a slam-bang beginning were submitted, but all were considered tired and hollow compared with the forerunners. Amid the crunching bone and wild action, these opening sequences had always told us something new about our hero. Therein lay the problem: it seemed the writers had nothing fresh to say. That was until George Lucas came up with the idea of having Indy appear as a teenager. The casting of River Phoenix (who plays the role with all Ford's quirky charm) inevitably led to press speculation that the brat-packer was being groomed to step into Harrison's shoes. When Phoenix played Ford's son in The Mosquito Coast their likeness was duly noted. Although consulted, Ford did not influence the decision, but was evidently pleased with the choice.

To help Phoenix with the intonations and physical externalization of Indy, Spielberg drafted in the services of the genuine article. For one week Ford was given a free hand to coach and direct the youngster. "I wanted to make sure he got the moves right", Ford commented. The locomotive set-piece, praised by some critics as the most inventive moment in the film, is Spielberg at his best. It is a magical and gutsy sequence, economically and humorously explaining the origins of Indiana's mythic characteristics - his hatred for snakes, that scarred chin, his dexterity with a bullwhip and his trademark fedora.

After reading the book it becomes quite obvious that River was indeed right when he described Harrison Ford a very smart man. He is a very smart man. He's a man who has slowly accumulated a lifetime of experiences and a man who can offer good advice to all of us.

What Ford found more unnerving and still does, was the whole idea of public hero-worship itself. "One of my discomforts with this culture is this obsession with success and celebrity, this endless search for heroes. I don't believe that adopting heroes from movies and making them the focus of our lives does any of us any good."

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