(SNN) If Harrison Ford had only listened to me in the early nineties, he would not have pranged in that beautiful PT-22 “Recruit” trainer on a Santa Monica golf course yesterday.
Danger for him would be breaking a nail slapping out a bass solo on “C-Jam Blues,” or throwing out his back schlepping his ax around to gigs. It would not be falling from the sky in a lead sled with a dead engine. If he’d only listened to me.
But, noooooooo, Mr. Indiana Jones/Han Solo couldn’t take up a hobby as sedentary as music. Instead he learned to fly helicopters and then fixed-wing aircraft. Other than the “Millennium Falcon,” his most memorable stead was a three-quarter century old restored Warbird described by an air museum as “odd looking and finicky to fly…(and) a challenge to cadet pilots.” Said cadets were the teens and twenty-something’s needed as air war fodder who trained in it during WWII.
After Ford’s accident yesterday, I wanted to kick myself for not saving him the pain, trouble, and expense an aviation buff with satchels full of cash can go through to indulge his needs. Maybe if I’d been able to convince Ford to stay with plan “A”….
Here’s the story. It is as true as an ungracefully aging writer can recall. I won’t go Gentle into that good night, in my case mostly because I forgot where I left it. I’m pretty good about things that went on in the early nineties, however. This is especially true when they involve larger-than-life figures such as Harrison Ford.
His star may have faded some since. His recent forced landing on a golf course only earned second section, below the fold coverage in the “L. A. Times.” Starting with his 1973 star-making turn in “American Graffiti,” Ford was a huge presence in film in the last half of the 20th century. Working often with legendary filmmakers George Lucas and Steven Spielberg, Ford starred in the three watchable “Star Wars” episodes, and the four grown-up Indy movies. He also doffed his leather jacket for a suit coat in memorable dramas such as “The Fugitive” and “Presumed Innocent.” Recently his turn as Branch Rickey in the Jackie Robinson biopic, “42,” earned high praise and hints of an Academy Award nom.
I was a film critic for KCAL television in LA from 1990 to 1997 and met Ford the way I met most stars, sitting in a hotel room opposite them with cameras recording our thoughts in three to five minute bursts. Welcome to the world of Movie Junkets.
After one or two interviews with Ford I realized what many other critics did—he was a lousy interview. Not nasty like Tommy Lee Jones, but dull, slow talking and given to monosyllabic answers.
In such cases an interviewer seeks out any advantage he can get, making sure he has something useable when he returns home to put the piece together. The late Robin Williams was the best at preventing disasters. If he sensed he hadn’t fulfilled your quota of Wacky Robin, he’d spend the last minute riffing full-speed ahead to make sure you came away with usable bites.
If the movie was good you could just blow smoke up the star’s skirt with probing questions like “when did you know this would be a great picture?” Or, “have you started working on your acceptance speech yet?”
Occasionally, publicists would warn you before hand that certain areas were off limits. Tapes had been known to disappear when such rules were violated. When Kenneth Branagh and Emma Thompson were going through a difficult divorce, we were strongly urged not to ask Emma about it for a movie she was promoting.
I did so—gossip was not my forte—but when the interview ended and a short break for the star was called, Emma just stood there looking sad. No camera, no mikes. I said to the extremely likeable and usually bubbly actress, “I know we were asked not to ask you about your marital issues, and I won’t, but I wanted you to know I am very sorry to hear about it.” Her thanks were so sincere—“you have no idea how awful it’s been”—that I wondered if her publicist had even told her about the question ban and she had thought nobody cared about her plight.
One day, with the prospect of another painful extraction process with Ford looming, I sought some help.
One of KCAL’s crack assignment desk editors was married to Ben Ford, Harrison’s son. I asked Elizabeth if there was anything she could tell me that might open the doorway with him. She said he had a birthday coming up and she was wondering what to get him. I asked if he had any interests other than acting, and Elizabeth admitted he was considering learning how to play a jazz bass. This wasn’t an electric ax, but a big, six foot tall, mostly Maple, Double bass, monster weighing more than 30 pounds--not including case.
Get him some Oscar Peterson Trio CDs with Ray Brown on bass, I suggested. Brown was the greatest jazz bassist working then. I figured Ford would love it.
When I interviewed Ford, I reminded him I worked with his daughter-in-law and wished him a happy birthday.
His face lit up.
“She got me some great Oscar Peterson Trio CDs for my birthday,” he said.
We agreed how great Brown was as I explained the discs had been my suggestion. I asked if Ford had bought a bass yet and started lessons.
He said he hadn’t found a teacher.
“Call Ray Brown,” I said. “If he’s not free I’m sure he’d know someone else who could help you.
Harrison said, “I don’t know, I’ve never met him. I probably shouldn’t bother him.”
I replied, “I’m pretty sure he’ll take your call. Who wouldn’t? You’re Harrison Ford, for God’s sake.”
The interview went well after that and a few weeks later I asked Elizabeth if Ford had called Ray Brown or taken up the instrument.
“We just saw him this weekend. He decided to learn how to fly a helicopter instead.”
“What is he, nuts?” I said.
After that Ford spent many hours flying volunteer search and rescue missions and even found someone lost in the wilderness. Would have loved to be a woodpecker on a branch watching a hiker in fear for his life, then spotting Indiana Jones showing up to save him.
Since then Ford has survived one chopper accident and this crash—the latter involved some nice flying under pressure of a low altitude engine shutdown.
Ray Brown has since passed away, but if you are a great bassist, you might want to try to reach Harrison Ford, see if you can talk some sense into him.
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