Tuesday, February 06, 2007

Harrison Ford Enshrined

Another find for "The Vault".

This was from a DC assignment when I was on contract for Sygma, the French agency, in the summer of 1989. (Sygma was one of the agencies that mostly served the magazines like Time, Newsweek and others that was subsequently sold to Corbis).

I was really looking forward to this little assignment, even though it was a fairly typical DC photo op.

Harrison Ford, of Indiana Jones fame and probably one of the most bankable movie stars of the last 25 years, was going to be on hand at the Smithsonian American History Museum as his signature fedora, leather jacket and whip from "Raiders of the Lost Ark" were going to be enshrined in the museum.

I had been a huge Harrison Ford fan since 1977 when I first saw him on the screen in the first (and still best, sorry) Star Wars installment. He had really started to gain some notice, though, in American Graffiti in 1973, though I hadn't seen him in that yet.

But the reason I was so keen to see him was that he and I were connected (though I was nearly a generation later) to a tiny liberal arts college in the middle of Wisconsin called Ripon College.

Ford was a Philosophy major at Ripon. In fact there's a very cryptic Ripon reference to a favorite Philosophy prof at Ripon -- William Tyree -- during the classroom scene in Raiders.

He was also the member of a fraternity on campus (back then, the early 60s, probably around 800 students) along with the three time Grammy Award winning jazz singer Al Jarreau and Richard Threlkeld who would go on to a distinguished career reporting for CBS TV during the heyday of broadcast journalism.

It still strikes me as astounding that three men from this one little place, and the same fraternity would all go on to such notable careers.

In my sophomore year at Ripon my work-study job was as student assistant for the secretary to the Dean of Men at the School. Dean David Harris had been an administrator at the school for nearly 30 years and had known Ford when he was a student.

In his office, dwarfed by shelves of textbooks amid the smell of old books mixed with years of pipe tobacco smoke, Dean Harris would rock back on his leather desk chair. Between patting the tobacco and then trying to light it, he would tell me stories of "Harry" as he called him.

Harry Ford isn't really acting, he would say between puffs. The way he is on screen is, in many ways, the way he is in real life. Ford, he told me, had found his calling in the theater groups at Ripon and it gave him a direction in his life.

When that department (it was literally in a house that was on campus) burned down in a fire in the first semester of his senior year, Ford was absolutely devastated. The thing that had given him hope was now suddenly gone. He would never graduate from the school.

Obviously the story eventually had a happy ending for Ford, who subsequently left for California to pursue his dreams. For me, a kid from a small town in central Wisconsin, hearing about someone who actually made it in the real world following his dreams was inspiring enough.

I would read later about Ford and his commitment to his craft and how he would always try to bring something special, even to a smaller role.

After landing a studio contract in the 60s and playing small television roles (including a role as a butler in an old Rod Serling's Night Gallery show) I understand he almost packed it in for a career as a carpenter. I heard that he would rather do carpentry than not be allowed to really spread his wings as an actor. Lucas found him for Graffiti and then again worked with in Star Wars. The rest, as they say, is history.

At the Smithsonian, Ford seemed to quietly enjoy the occasion and he bantered with the Director of the Museum. He picked up his "Indy" hat and placed it on his head much like he did in the movie.

And then he did something surprising.

He playfully pulled the hat down on his head, bending his ears and made a goofy face. It was a spontaneous moment at an event that typically is so predicatable from an actor that surprised me in his playfulness.

And just as quickly as he was whisked into the press conference he was ushered out.

Damn. I wanted to just have 2 seconds of his time to say hello from a Ripon Alum and to let him know that I'm sure Dean Harris (who by then had passed away) would be so very proud.


Blogger Ruth Anne Adams said...

Dr. Beatty told me "Harry Ford majored in pizza and beer."

Dr. Ashley was always getting calls about him for The Enquirer or other tabloids.

After a later Indiana Jones movie, where Dr. Tyree was mentioned, Dr. Doss posted a sign in East Hall. The sign directed folks up to the third floor where Anthropology had its headquarters ["Facts"] and down the second floor hall toward Philosophy ["Truth"].

Don't forget Spencer Tracy, another Ripon non-grad.

Also: if you re-watch "The Graduate," don't blink or you'll miss young Harry as the bellboy.

2:09 PM  
Blogger AnneGero said...

Have you noticed the likeness of Harry to GWHBush in the middle shot? Give it a quick glance!!

9:03 PM  
Blogger Peggy Gero DaValt said...

Oh...wow, brother Paul.

What a VERY cool series you caught of the famous (infamous) link to Ripon College's history.

I so recall the reference to Dr. Tyree in the 3rd Raiders (I believe he and Sean Connery were looking for the Holy Grail). My ex-husband and I were watching the film and when that line came out in the film, I literally stood up in the Beaver Dam Theatre and said "I know Dr. Tyree...he blew me away in Medieval philosophy at Ripon." My ex said to me..."shhhh I don't think people really care."

But...I did....it was a great reference to Ripon and I think that Dr. Tyree actually acknowledged that reference in a letter to Newsweek.

And...of course, Paul...don't forget the memorable moments that you and Ashley Cooper (Apprentice)shared just a couple years ago.

Thank you for sharing....I love reading your posts!!

12:23 AM  

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