Hollywood Icon Glenn Ford: ‘I Learned That, in Neglecting Church, I Had Been Missing Something’
By Movieguide® Staff
Note: This story is part of our Faith in Hollywood series. For similar stories, click here.
Actor Gwyllyn Samuel Newton “Glenn” Ford’s career spanned Hollywood’s Golden Age during the 1940s, 1950s and 1960s.
However, God worked through Ford’s relationship with his wife, Eleanor Powell, to bring the couple closer to God and prioritize teaching children the Bible.
“Twelve years ago I married one of the most famous dancing stars in Hollywood,” Ford wrote in 1956. “Today I am married to a Sunday school teacher. I haven’t changed wives, either. I am still married to the glamorous Eleanor Powell. What’s more, the change in my wife’s roles, far from dimming the drama in our lives, has led us both to a richer experience.”
Ford said that the change came after the birth of their son, Peter Newton Ford.
“The truth is that since our son, Peter Newton Ford, arrived ten years ago, both Ellie and I have found God in a new way,” Ford explained. “In the beginning, neither Ellie nor I was a stranger to God. I think we had always tried to be ‘good’ people in His sight. Ellie was raised a staunch Presbyterian, and I taught in the Episcopal Sunday school for a while after I graduated from high. Then, although we had not yet met, the same thing happened to us that seems to happen to a lot of people. We just got too busy.
“Ellie was breaking into musical comedy in New York. I was making screen tests in Hollywood and appearing on Broadway,” he continued. “Show business can be pretty high tension whether you’re scrambling up the ladder toward the top or balancing on one foot to stay there. Almost without my noticing the change, Sunday wasn’t church day anymore. It was a day of rest. No performance. No audience. No tension. It was old-clothes day, read-and-sleep day.”
Ford confessed that at the time, he did not believe that missing church would affect his life.
“For myself, I honestly believed that skipping church wouldn’t dim my faith in God or make any difference in my relationship to Him. Occasionally, if I felt a personal need, as I did when my father passed away, I still went to church and came away strengthened, refreshed,” Ford said, recalling that he was deeply saddened by the loss of his father.
“The minister read from the 14th chapter of John: ‘Let not your heart be troubled: ye believe in God, believe also in me. In my Father’s house are many mansions. . .’ I have heard those words since — in Westminster Abbey, on the deck of the U.S.S. California when I was in the Marine Corps—always with the same feeling that they reached out to answer a personal need,” Ford said. “That morning in New York was the first time their tremendous promise penetrated my consciousness, and I left the service filled with such peace as I had not known in many weeks.”
However, even after the powerful sermon, Ford said he immediately slipped back into his old habits.
“Now, would any man wittingly turn his back on such a source of help? You wouldn’t think so. But my immediate need had been met, and Sunday once more became a day of rest,” Ford admitted. “Then, after Ellie and I had been married for two years, along came Peter. Peter made the usual changes in our lives. The night watch, diapers, never putting down an open safety pin, hiding Father’s shiny cuff links when he got to the toddling stage. But it went deeper. Our own re-education had begun.”
Parenting put the couple’s beliefs and values to the test.
“Mine started almost at once. I had to begin to practice what I preached about table manners, and opening and closing doors for ladies, being alert in matters of honesty, neatness, the use of the English language. Peter’s mother pointed out very firmly that we couldn’t expect young Peter to ‘do as we say and not as we do,'” Ford said. “Then Peter was enrolled in Sunday school in the Presbyterian Church of Beverly Hills. Or I should say Peter and Glenn and Ellie were enrolled. For could I say: ‘Run along, little man, and learn about God. Dad will sleep.'”
“Obviously not,” Ford continued. “Furthermore our Sunday school encouraged parents to sit in the back of the church while their young were being instructed. We didn’t exactly study their lessons with them, but I found myself learning other things. I learned that, in neglecting church, I had been missing something, that church could act as a catalyst between God and me, help to keep Him front-and-center in my consciousness, increase my awareness of Him in daily living.”
Ford said that Sunday School adjusted his view of church as a whole.
“I found that forming part of a congregation meant a closer tie with my fellow man, a giving, a sharing, as well as taking. Gradually I realized that, while I’d had no complaints before, things seemed to work more smoothly; I felt better; and I could only believe this stemmed from an increased vigor in my religious life stimulated by having Peter take us to Sunday school,” Ford said.
He added, “Perhaps the finest thing I learned was to watch with humility the fulfillment that can come from accepting Divine direction.”
However, the couple struggled to assess God’s plan in regards to using their talents in a new way.
“When Ellie decided to marry me and give up her career for family life and motherhood, I’ll admit to moments of wondering if it weren’t a shame that all my wife’s wonderful talents should be reserved only for Peter and me and our immediate circle. Knowing how much real pleasure her dancing had given thousands, I sometimes felt that it was selfish of me to stand by and let her hide her light under a bushel of household duties.,” Ford explained. “But Ellie seemed sure that her decision was the right one and that if she were doing the Lord’s will, a way would open up which would enable her to blend her professional talents with her family duties. Without her seeking it, without tension or struggle, a new opportunity did unfold which was part and parcel of our family life and through which she has reached a new audience of millions.”
Ford recalled: “The seed was small and it grew naturally. One morning I dashed into Sunday school just under the wire to find Ellie leading the singing. Obviously she was enjoying it, and so were the kids. Shortly afterward she began serving as a substitute teacher, then took a regular class of her own.
“That was seven years ago, and she has yet to miss a single Sunday. Never have I seen her inspire a Broadway audience the way she inspires those youngsters. They don’t miss any Sundays either. And soon, on weekdays, the neighborhood kids were flocking around demanding Bible stories. She was, in theatrical terms, a ‘natural.’ Nor was I the only one to notice it.”
The couples’ heart to minister to Children continued to grow, leading to their show called “Faith of Our Children.”
“Technically, now I produce my wife’s show, Faith of Our Children, for Station KRCA, Channel 4, in Los Angeles, something I once dreamed of doing. But in those days of ‘restful Sundays’ I never dreamed it would be such a show, nor that I could be so proud of the production. If Ellie, in the years of her retirement, became simply Glenn Ford’s wife, well, every Sunday I now become Teacher’s husband. Nominally I’m supposed to ‘obtain suitable guests, write and produce,’ but actually I load the bus, brush hair and straighten ties, or provide an escort to and from the drinking fountain.”
“Stay with your children more,” Eleanor would suggest on the show. “Play with your children more. Above all, pray with your children more.”