Harrison Ford, by James Clarke

Harrison Ford
George Lucas, Harrison Ford and Steven Spielberg

The actor Harrison Ford turns 80 on July 13th.

What makes a movie star, then? What makes that image and persona stay with a viewer far beyond the movie itself? It’s not as ineffable as we sometimes might think. We can define aspects of the movie star’s screen presence that stay with us. With Harrison Ford, whose 80th birthday is on July 13th, the answer is perhaps found in performances that combine the pensive and the determined with a sensitivity and dependability. All of these qualities are wrapped up in a welcome and relatable shot of human frailty.

Ford has been a movie star for forty-five years. Photographed by many stills-photographers over the decades, Ford certainly found himself in the viewfinder of Terry O’Neill at precisely the moment between emerging movie stardom (with Star Wars) and definitive movie stardom (with Raiders of the Lost Ark). In 1979, Ford starred in the World War Two romance, Hanover Street. Terry O’Neill was on set with Ford in London and captured Ford in character as Lt David Halloran. In 1987, when Ford had truly established himself as a movie star, O’Neill captured the actor at Paramount Studios looking urbane and relaxed. A couple of years later, O’Neill photographed Ford and Sean Connery on set for Indiana Jones and the Last Crusade and also Ford, Steven Spielberg and George Lucas together for promotion of the film. These images are replete with good humour.

In 2017, I was invited to meet with the photographer Eva Sereny as part of work that I was doing for a book entitled Through Her Lens that collected together Eva’s photography.

I remembered Eva’s name from my own childhood when I had seen it in any number of small print photo credits text alongside any number of photographs in movie magazines. You might, therefore, understand how excited I was to meet Eva. As we talked through her career, she eventually reached the 1980s and work with Ford on the movies Raiders of the Lost Ark, Indiana Jones and the Temple of Doom and Indiana Jones and the Last Crusade.

Eva took what have become particularly well-known location portraits of Harrison Ford: there’s Ford in character on the rope bridge in Temple of Doom and then there’s the in-character portrait of Ford and Connery in the desert of Spain for The Last Crusade. However, the image that Eva took that best captures the character of Indy shows Ford on horseback riding through the desert dust in his usual spirit of determination. That determination has been a career long hallmark of Ford the movie star.

I have a friend, who I’ve known now for just over twenty years, and who hails from Illinois. This friend of mine has made the point to me about a certain kind of mid-Western politeness and dependability. Harrison Ford also hails from Illinois and there’s no doubt about it: his screen persona has long-embodied those very qualities. When I spoke with Eva Sereny about her work on the Indy movies, she smiled as she recalled Ford on set, noting that portraying Indy “must have been quite a hard thing to do. He was very nice. He took his work very seriously.”

Happy birthday, Harrison Ford.

By James Clarke, BAFTA-longlisted film writer and teacher

Harrison Ford
Harrison Ford
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