The Eighties Club
The Politics and Pop Culture of the 1980s
Stars of the '80s
Harrison Ford
Harrison Ford was born in Chicago on 13 July 1942 to an Irish father and a mother who was Russian-Jewish. He enjoyed a typically middle-class, Midwestern childhood, graduating from Maine Township High School in Park Ridge, Illinois and enrolling in Wisconsin's Ripon College, a small liberal arts school. A lackluster student, Ford failed to graduate from Ripon. He moved to California in 1965 with his girlfriend (and soon-to-be wife) Mary Marquardt to pursue an acting career, landing a $150-a-week contract at Columbia Studio. His first role was a bit part as a hellhop in Dead Heat on a Merry-Go-Round (1966). After a year-and-a-half Columbia dropped Ford, and he moved to Universal in 1967, appearing in TV series such as Gunsmoke, Kung Fu and The Partridge Family. Disillusioned with acting, Ford learned carpentry from library books and decided to pursue another career after making real money building a recording studio for Sergio Mendes in the Brazilian musician's backyard. Ford made a decent living as a carpenter for eight years. Then George Lucas, who had cast him in a small part  in the film American Graffiti (1973) had him read for a major role --that of Han Solo in Star Wars. Playing a swashbuckling rogue in the Star Wars trilogy of space operas made Ford a bankable star. But the role of Indiana Jones, an adventurous archaeologist in Raiders of the Lost Ark and a pair of sequels during the Eighties made him a cultural icon -- not to mention one of the world's most popular actors.
During the 1980s Ford starred in several other successful films, including Working Girl (1988) and Witness (1985), earning an Academy Award nomination (Best Actor) for his performance in the latter. He also appeared in several flops. Blade Runner (1982) was a box office failure on release -- it has since become a cult classic -- and features Ford as Rick Deckard, a hardboiled detective who hunts androids in a futuristic Los.Angeles. Another flop was a film version of Paul Theroux's bestselling novel, The Mosquito Coast; audiences found Ford's character, Allie Fox, not only unheroic but also thoroughly unlikeable. Nonetheless, by the end of the decade Harrison Ford had become, as Andy Klein wrote in an article for Hollywood Reporter, "the thinking man's action hero." In the 1990s, the actor would continue to have blockbuster hits with films like Patriot Games (1992), Clear and Present Danger (1994) and What Lies Beneath (1999). (Indeed, seven of Ford's films are among the 30 top-grossing movies of all time.) Ford and his first wife divorced in 1979; in 1983 he married screenwriter Melissa Mathison. He has four children -- Ben, Willard, Malcolm and Georgia.
-- JM

1980s Filmography
The Empire Strikes Back (1980)
Raiders of the Lost Ark (1981)
Blade Runner (1982)
Return of the Jedi (1983)
Indiana Jones and the Temple of Doom (1984)
Witness (1985)
The Mosquito Coast (1986)
Frantic (1988)
Working Girl (1988)
Indiana Jones and the Last Crusade (1989)

Critics' Comments

Witness (1985)
"[Ford's] finely shaped performance is a marvel. Was there a real actor all along behind the one-dimensional heroes of Indiana Jones and the Star Wars trilogy?"
 -- People Weekly

The Mosquito Coast (1986)
"Fox is played . . . by Harrison Ford, and it is one of the ironies of the movie that he does very good work. Ford gives us a character . . . who is uncaring toward his family or anyone else, who is totally lacking a sense of humor, who is egocentric to the point of madness. It is a brilliant performance -- so effective, indeed, that we can hardly stand to spend two hours in the company of this consummate jerk." -- Roger Ebert

Working Girl (1988)
"If [Sigourney Weaver] is subtle, so is Ford, an actor whose steadiness goes along with a sort of ruminating passion. When he's in love with a woman, he doesn't grab her, he just seems to ponder her a lot. Weaver and Ford provide the indispensable frame within which the [Melanie] Griffith character can be seen to change."
 -- Roger Ebert

Ford did many of his own stunts in the filming of Raiders of the Lost Ark, and become skilled in the use of the bullwhip, Indiana Jones' trademark weapon.
Tom Selleck was originally pegged for the role of Indiana Jones, but could not accept the part because CBS had signed him to do the Magnum P.I. series.
In 1993 the American Museum of Natural History honored the actor by naming a newly discovered species of spider Calponia harrisonford.