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Peter Ford's Glenn Ford: A Life: Son's New Book About His Celebrity Dad, With Dish on Marilyn Monroe, Rita Hayworth and Judy Garland

A boy's life: Scenes from Peter Ford's childhood, with father Glenn Ford and mother Eleanor Powell

A boy's life: Scenes from Peter Ford's childhood, with father Glenn Ford and mother Eleanor Powell

He had a one-night stand with Marilyn Monroe, a six-month fling with

Judy Garland and a 40-year, on-and-off affair with Rita Hayworth.

After

a 16-year marriage to film star Eleanor Powell, he married three more

times, even as he chased a series of younger and younger women, gold

diggers who plundered his hard-earned fortune and then left him.

He

developed a drinking problem so severe that it nearly killed him. For a

decade before he died, in 2006 at age 90, he was unable to walk.

And

he tape-recorded the most famous taper in history: The secret telephone

recording system he installed in his Beverly Hills mansion recorded

intimate conversations with his many Hollywood lovers (143 at last

count) and some big-time politicians, including President Richard Nixon.

Those are just a few of the juicy revelations in a biography bearing the remarkably understated title Glenn Ford: A Life,

written by Ford's son, Peter, and released last May. And Peter Ford has

the documents to back them up: Every letter his parents exchanged,

every one of his father's day-by-day diaries and boxes of reel-to-reel

tapes from his secret phone recording system.

"I found one labeled 'Peter's conversations,' " Ford tells the Weekly.

Although he was offended by his father's invasion of privacy, he

admits: "It was kind of fun to listen to myself as a teenager."

Books

written by children of Hollywood legends have become a literary genre

all their own over the last 40 years. There are three basic subgenres:

Daddy was a drunken tyrant who beat the hell out of me (Bing Crosby);

Mommy was a drunken monster who tried to control every aspect of my life

(Joan Crawford, Bette Davis, Marlene Dietrich); and Daddy was a

wonderful man in every way, and anyone who says he was gay doesn't know

what they're talking about (Cary Grant).

Now Ford, the only child

of Glenn Ford, has invented a new subgenre: Daddy drank way too much and

cheated constantly on my beloved mother -- but was still a great actor

and did the best he could, given his incredible journey from a

no-luxuries upbringing in Santa Monica to a no-limits life as a 1950s

Hollywood star.

"I had to walk a fine line between telling the

truth and not discrediting my father," Ford says of his seven-year

struggle to turn out the manuscript.

His approach resulted in a

deeply nuanced portrait of a real human being, with Ford's strengths and

weaknesses laid bare. It doesn't highlight the scandals he uncovered.

Instead, they are revealed casually, as afterthoughts in the narrative

that flows from his father's California childhood and his prime adult

years to his brutal old age.

Nor does the book supply the

vicarious primal emotions of emotional patricide and long-awaited

revenge that can generate mass-media book reviews and a place on the New York Times

best-seller list. Although Peter Ford's book has sold more than 5,000

copies since its release by the University of Wisconsin Press, it has

been all but ignored by the mainstream press.

That's why Ford was

at the Beverly Hills Library on a recent Sunday, answering questions

after a screening of one of his father's classic films, Blackboard Jungle.

It

was roles like that film's idealistic, straight-laced teacher, as well

as idealistic, straight-laced police detective Dave Bannion, who takes

on a corrupt city government in 1953's The Big Heat, that

helped establish Ford's public persona: a good-guy gentleman with a

steel backbone, an ordinary man forced into heroic action by

extraordinary circumstances.

Without a script, however, Ford was a

self-absorbed man who loved his liquor, could be short-tempered and

tight with a buck, and was driven by an unsuccessful quest for lasting

love.

"The image Glenn projected on the screen was not like him at

all in private life," says Vicki Dugan, an actress who dated Ford in

the 1960s and showed up at Sunday's event on her own initiative. "He was

exactly the opposite."

As Peter Ford tells it, he was a lonely

child who longed for a normal relationship with a normal dad. He finally

came to grips with the reality that it was never to be, when his father

broke a promise and failed to show up at his high school graduation.

"Being

the child of a Hollywood star is a killing field, filled with suicides

and drug addicts," says the bearlike Ford. An imposing 6 foot 2 and 250

pounds, he has his father's chiseled good looks and great hair. "I

finally realized I couldn't keep hoping against hope for what would

never happen."

After that epiphany, father and son became more

like brothers. As Peter ventured into music and films, he often

accompanied his father on set, where he had minor roles; he also worked

with his father on dialogue and served as a carousing companion when his

father was between women.

But in the mid-70s, as the elder Ford

acquired yet another new, young wife, the pair became estranged for more

than a decade. Peter left showbiz to become a contractor, building

homes for the rich and famous in L.A. But in the mid-'80s, devastated by

the loss of the sexy wife he'd been so proud of, Glenn Ford invited his

son and wife Lynda -- who will celebrate their 41st wedding anniversary

next month -- back into his life.

The couple moved back into Ford's

mansion roughly 10 years later to care for him. (They live there still

today.) The once-virile man was confined to a bed and wheelchair,

overtaken by mental and physical problems that kept him from leaving the

house. Glenn grew progressively worse for a decade, until he finally

died in 2006.

The more than 75 fans at the Beverly Hills Library

auditorium were spellbound by Peter's summary of his father's life.

During the Q&A, he was urged to write a biography of his mother.

(Powell actually was the bigger star -- Fred Astaire called her the best

dancer in history, male or female -- when she married Ford in 1943.)

Audience members also repeatedly prefaced their questions by mentioning

their favorite Glenn Ford film.

Most often it was Gilda. An erotic noir thriller released in 1946, Gilda

was such a box office hit that it elevated both Ford and his co-star,

Rita Hayworth, from promising talents to full-fledged stars.

Although they had worked together before, it was Gilda

that brought Hayworth into Ford's romantic life. The volatile passion

on-screen was real: It was the start of a 40-year affair that eventually

led Ford and Hayworth to side-by-side houses in Beverly Hills during

the 1960s. Ford even had a gate cut into his back fence so that Hayworth

wouldn't be seen visiting.

And Peter Ford adds a new wrinkle to their long-rumored affair: Ford got Hayworth pregnant while they were filming The Loves of Carmen in 1948, he says, but she went to Europe for an abortion.

The affair during the making of Gilda

was the first time his father cheated on his mother, his son avers. In

fact, the diaries reveal that, just a few months earlier, Ford had

rejected the unsubtle advances of Bette Davis, who picked him out of the

crowd of contract players to star alongside her in A Stolen Life.

The

first mention of any affair in Peter Ford's book is on page 62, the

first mention of Ford's alcoholism is on page 120 and the first mention

of his secret phone taping system is on page 129.

At Sunday's event, Ford acknowledged he could have sold a lot more books by highlighting those scandals.

"I

have no regrets," he says. "I wanted to tell the truth in a way that

was cathartic for me. He was a very complex guy with a big dark side.

But he was also a great actor."

Follow @LAWeeklyArts on Twitter. Reach the writer at paulteetor@verizon.net