Thursday, 20 December 2012

Chapter 2, Part 3 - Harrison Ford: Breaking In


Harrison Ford was not to remain a professional carpenter for much longer because, by the time American Graffiti was released to strong reviews, director George Lucas had finalised a deal with Twentieth Century-Fox to make a space adventure movie called Star Wars. Ford was familiar with the project, but nurtured no ambitions about being in the movie. After all, he hadn’t been one of the principle players in Graffiti and probably felt his contribution had been minimal.

‘George (Lucas) had let it be known that he wasn’t going to use anybody from American Graffiti,’ said Ford. ‘Not because we’d disappointed him, but he was writing a whole new thing and needed new faces. But old Fred Roos did it again. He prevailed on George to see me after he’d seen everyone else.’

The story of how Harrison Ford ended up with the role of Han Solo is another one of those tales that Ford tells better than anyone else. He recounted it within a short interview for the London events magazine, Time Out.

‘The reason I ran into George Lucas again was because Francis Coppola’s art director inveigled me into installing a very elaborate raised panel in his studio office. Now, I knew they were casting and I thought it a bit coy to be around Francis’s office, being a carpenter, during the day. So I did the work at night. Well, one day something came up and I got stuck and I had to work at the studios during the day. And, sure enough, that was the day that George Lucas was doing the casting for Star Wars.

Harrison Ford as Han Solo from Star Wars

‘There I was, on my knees in the doorway, and in comes Francis Coppola, George Lucas, four other captains of the industry and Richard Dreyfuss. In fact, Dreyfuss came through first and made a big joke out of being my assistant. That made me feel just great. I felt about the size of a pea after they walked through. But, weeks later, when they’d tested everybody else in the world, I got the part.’ 

Ford is guilty of a little over-simplification here. The casting for Star Wars was as meticulous, at the very least, as the casting on American Graffiti. Lucas knew he was going to have to interview literally hundreds of young actors and young hopefuls just to find the three people to portray the key lead roles. So in the early part of 1975, he joined forces with another young director making his first major picture, Brian De Palma, who was looking for a teenage cast for Carrie. For about eight weeks, De Palma and Lucas were seeing 30-40 young actors and actresses a day. Lucas sat quietly making notes and entering the names of those who particularly impressed him on a Second Interview list. After Lucas tripped over Ford in the doorway of Coppola’s office, the young filmmaker approached Ford for assistance with the video tests for the Star Wars auditions. The idea was that Ford, whom Lucas felt at ease with, would read the male parts for the actresses testing for the role of Princess Leia. Ford initially didn’t mind doing the favour for Lucas, whom he liked, but after a time became irritated with having to read a part which he thought he would never play.

According to Dale Pollock’s book, Skywalking, it was Ford’s "churlishness" that won him the part of Han Solo. But it’s far more likely that George Lucas saw in Harrison Ford elements of the character he envisaged for Solo. Ford had a certain forthright and honest way of expressing himself that isn’t a million light years away from Solo’s lines in the movie.

At one stage, Lucas was considering a black actor for the role of Solo. This idea probably evolved into the character of Lando Calrissian in The Empire Strikes Back.

But also to be taken into consideration was Lucas’s unique concept of ensemble casting. Lucas had decided on Harrison Ford, Mark Hamill and Carrie Fisher as one trio. But if any of them had been unable to take part in the film, Lucas had a reserve team waiting in the wings to step in. It was all of one group or all of the other – no mixing and matching. Lucas’s second group was Christopher Walken, Will Selzer and singer Terri Nunn, who would later front the band Berlin.

In some documenting of the Star Wars casting story, it has been reported (admittedly by me, as well, in earlier editions of this book) that Nunn was a former Penthouse Pet. However, given that she was 15 when she auditioned for Star Wars, this seems unlikely on two counts. Firstly, it would have been illegal for Nunn to have modelled for Penthouse before the Star Wars casting and secondly, it seems pretty unlikely that Lucas would have auditioned a nude model for a pivotal role in his wholesome family film. While some sources assert that Nunn did appear in Penthouse for February 1977 under the name of Betsy Harris, I had been unable to find any confirmation of this at the time this book was published. Indeed, Terri Nunn herself had denied it many times. In an interview with the online Exclusive Magazine, Nunn was asked about the rumour of her Penthouse appearance and replied, ‘No, that one’s not true! I don’t know who that is, but that wouldn’t even be legal. But, I have heard about this before. I haven’t seen her, but people need to think about the age. It’s a good story, but it’s not me, sorry!’ And even if it were true, the date of the photoshoot would have been long after the Star Wars auditions.

Is this Terri Nunn on the cover of the Feb 1977 issue of Penthouse?

Then, in 2011, Nunn claimed in an interview with radio DJ John Aberley on his interview show "Life Unedited" on Pennsylvania station WCHE that she really was the model Betsy Drake in that issue of Penthouse magazine. "It was me. Yeah, it was me. It was very hush-hush at the time, because, honestly, it was kinda illegal. I was sixteen. I met the guy at a party and he offered the idea, and I was, like, 'Yeah, I wanna do that, you know.' I was trying to be sexy and I didn't feel very sexy. I was in my teen years. And he shot that when I was, let's see, sixteen … and I was seventeen when it came out. About eight months later. So I still wasn't eighteen when it came out."

Above: "Betsy Drake" in Penthouse. Below: 1980's publicity pic
of Terri Nunn. Are they the same person? I really couldn't say.
How about you?

In any event, George Lucas decided to go with the ensemble of Mark Hammill, Harrison Ford and Carrie Fisher. ‘For me, at least,’ said Ford about the casting of his trio, ‘it was obvious what the relationship would be, simply by looking at the others. It was apparent the characters were very contemporary and the situation very simple – without meaning that in a derogatory way. It was simply straightforward, a clear human story. I mean, I didn’t have to act science fiction.’

George Lucas had worked out backgrounds for all his characters. Solo had been abandoned by space gypsies at a very early age and was raised by creatures called Wookiees until he was twelve. He eventually became a cadet at the Space Academy, but was thrown out for selling exam papers to his peers. Eventually he became a smuggler, living outside the laws of the Empire. Yet at the same time, Lucas knew that his actors could add the little touches that would bring the characters to life on the screen.

‘Very little time was wasted,’ said Ford in the Lucas biography, Skywalking. ‘George didn’t have an authoritarian attitude like so many directors: “Kid, I’ve been in this business twenty-five years. Trust me.” He was different. He knew the movie was based so strongly on the relationship between the three of us, he encouraged our contributions.’

It’s the little contributions Ford makes to the characters he’s playing that makes him such an interesting actor. Which shows that Lucas’s shrewdness won out over his own ‘all new faces’ rule for Star Wars. Ford goes on to explain how he went about filling in the spaces in Solo’s personality.

‘George Lucas gave me a lot of freedom to change little parts of the dialogue which weren’t comfortable.’ Ford is being charitable here. In Skywalking it said that Ford’s favourite way of pulling Lucas’s leg during filming was to say, ‘You can type this shit, George, but you sure can’t say it.’

‘We worked together on it,’ continues Ford. ‘I really like working with him.’

The part of Han Solo was the biggest chance of Ford’s career to show what he could do as an actor. ‘This was the first time I had a character big enough to take space instead of just filling in spaces as I did at Columbia and Universal. I could do that for the first time.’

Ford had worked with big name, heavyweight actors before, but never with such a ‘legend’ as Sir Alec Guinness. Most of the cast were in awe of Sir Alec and Ford was no exception.

‘He gave me many sleepless nights. I’d be thinking, “I’m supposed to be in a movie with Sir Alec Guinness. He’ll laugh at me just once ... and I’ll pack up and go home.” But, of course, he never did. He’s really a very kind and generous person.’

When questioned by Ritz magazine whether Ford was using the title ‘Sir Alec’ out of respect or because Guinness insisted on it, he replied with his customary tact, ‘Let’s just say he prefers it.’


When Star Wars opened in the United States on May 25th, 1977, it garnered rave reviews and within months had become the most successful movie of all time. Several critics likened Ford’s performance in the Han Solo role to John Wayne’s style of acting. This was news to Ford, never a movie fan himself.

‘I never thought about that,’ said Ford, ‘until I kept seeing it mentioned in the reviews.’ Besides, Ford was well aware that it would be impossible to get away with imitating other actors for very long.

‘If I end up acting like John Wayne, and I know I’m acting like John Wayne, then I’m in heaps of trouble. But if I don’t realise I’m acting like John Wayne, and I am, then that is simply part of my subconscious supplying something that is necessary for the role. I was never aware of doing a routine. Acting is so intensely personal that if you’re not operating – totally – within your own resources, there comes a moment when you’ll be stuck, you won’t know who to imitate. Much better to use only your own personality and resources as a tool and keep them both sharp and well-oiled.’ 

Probably Ford’s finest moment in Star Wars is when he is in the prison block of the Death Star trying to rescue the Princess. Both Solo and Luke are disguised in Imperial Storm Trooper costumes, with Chewbacca posing as their prisoner. The three dispatch the prison guards – noisily – and draw the attention of the officer in charge of the detention area. The officer calls the prison block on the intercom and demands to know what is happening. It’s left to Solo to try to convince the unseen Imperial officer that all is well. Realising that his reassurances are falling on deaf ears, Solo fires his blaster into the control panel to cut off the irritating stream of questions. Solo’s sense of desperation is portrayed with nervous realism and, more importantly, with humour. The scene was played that way after careful consideration by Ford, ‘and done in one take. I never learned the dialogue for it because I wanted to show desperation. I told George Lucas I wanted to do it all the way through first time. I just said, “Stop me if I’m really bad.” He didn’t.’

One side effect of the success of Star Wars was that it conferred instant celebrity on the three principle players. For an actor who values his privacy, that could have been a problem for Harrison Ford. ‘Fortunately, I don’t have as unique a physiognomy as Carrie or Mark do, so I’m much less recognised in the streets – about which I’m very happy. That could get heavy. It happens infrequently enough, and people are usually very nice, because the film is very broadly accepted – so that’s a pleasure. But when they know where we’re going to be, and they’re sitting outside the hotel – all these autograph people – sometimes that’s a drag. But none of that really bothers me.’

Harrison Ford's portrayal of Han Solo became one of the
great cultural icons of the late 1970s.

Compounding the fame achieved by Ford through his appearance in Star Wars was all the merchandising that trailed in the wake of the movie. Suddenly, the toy shops were full of plastic Han Solo figures, jigsaws bearing Ford’s features and assorted paraphernalia. And, in addition to the toys, there was the fact that just about every magazine published was finding excuses to report on the Star Wars phenomenon. There were novelisations of the film, comic strip adaptations by juvenile publishing giant Marvel Comics and a series of novels, unrelated to the film, starring Han Solo and his Wookiee friend Chewbacca. There have been three Han Solo novels by Brian Daley published by Sphere Books; Han Solo at Stars’ End, Han Solo and the Lost Legacy and Han Solo’s Revenge, and three by A.C. Crispin published by Bantam; The Paradise Snare, The Hutt Gambit and Rebel Dawn.

The other major change in Ford’s life brought about by the success of Star Wars was the financial one.

‘I believe in the work ethic,’ said Ford. ‘That was the middle class way I was brought up. When I was offered Han Solo, I was paid less for that than when I was a carpenter. 

That was so while he was actually working on the film. But Ford, like Carrie Fisher and Mark Hamill, later received a percentage of the film’s profits. Two thirds of a percent may not sound like much, but that fraction of a point totted up a healthy $53,000 for Ford in the first three months that Star Wars was on release. And with Star Wars having taken a staggering $798 million worldwide to date, making it one of the highest grossing movies of all time, Ford has done quite nicely out of Lucas’ little science fiction film.

‘Not that money means very much in my life. But suddenly having it made it possible to move into a large house in the Hollywood Hills and equip a large workshop on the premises where I now spend all my spare time making furniture. I don’t think success has changed me. Sure, I live in a big house. But I still manage to be a pretty private sort of a guy. My greatest pleasure is my work and the nearest thing I’ve got to a hobby is my carpentry. I don’t go to parties and I’m not involved in the Hollywood scene. Who knows, maybe if I had socialised a bit more, success would have come much sooner, because in Hollywood, to succeed, you have to know the right people. By some irony, all the right people – like George Lucas and Francis Coppola – all knew me, and I didn’t even have to hustle for their attention.’

And in the months that followed, while Ford was waiting for work to begin on the Star Wars sequel, The Empire Strikes Back, he didn’t have to hustle for the attention of other filmmakers, either. In fact, Ford was the busiest of the Star Wars stars during that period.

‘That could be because I made an effort to take advantage of the film offers that being in Star Wars gave me,’ he later said. ‘I think people in this industry realise that I’ve played, and am capable of playing, these different types of characters. I was able to do small parts once in a while due to the popularity of Star Wars. I’ve been really lucky to have Star Wars as a part of my life.’

Saturday, 15 December 2012

Chapter 2, Part 2 - Harrison Ford: Breaking In


The enormous success of American Graffiti didn’t change Harrison Ford’s life overnight. Where actors were singled out for praise, it was always the principals, Richard Dreyfuss and Ronny Howard, who got the credit. Lucas, too, was suddenly a star. But for Ford, it was back to carpentry and the infrequent tv appearances.

Ford took a role in the cult tv show Kung Fu, appearing as a character called ‘Harrison’ in the episode ‘Crossties’ (season 2, 1974), a story about angry farmers battling the railroad company that wants to snatch their land.

It was Fred Roos, again, who was responsible for getting Harrison Ford his next two roles. Francis Coppola was putting together another project, the highly praised The Conversation. Naturally he hired Fred Roos to cast the movie. And, inevitably, Roos turned once again to Harrison Ford for one of the smaller, but hardly less vital, parts in the picture.

‘I still did the odd carpentry job after American Graffiti,’ recalls Ford. ‘But before too long there was Coppola’s film, The Conversation, which I did with Hackman. I turned up playing an evil young henchman (who works for Robert Duvall’s Director character) in that movie. There was no role there until I decided to make him a homosexual.’

In an effort to make something more of his role than just another walk-on, Ford had bought a loud green silk suit for the then huge sum of $900. At the script read-through, Coppola was astonished at Ford’s outfit. ‘What are you?’ he asked unkindly. Ford explained his idea for the character. In 1974 gay characters would have been a risk, but Coppola was nothing if not a gambler. ‘Hey, that’s really good,’ he told Ford and instructed production designer Dean Tavoularis to create a room for the character, by now named Martin Stett, that underlined his lifestyle.

Harrison Ford with Gene Hackman in The Conversation
Again an important director had listened to and agreed with Ford’s ideas.

The Conversation tells the story of surveillance expert Harry Caul (Gene Hackman), who records a conversation between a young couple as they walk through San Francisco. When Harry plays the tape back in his workshop, he notices a sentence in the conversation which suggests the couple are in some kind of danger. He takes the tape to the Director (Robert Duvall) of the large corporation that hired him, but on an impulse refuses to hand the tapes over to the Director’s assistant, Martin Stett (Harrison Ford). Later, while visiting a surveillance equipment exhibition, Harry runs into Stett again. The young man tries to put pressure on Harry to hand over the tapes. Harry refuses. At the same exhibition, he meets and befriends another investigator, Bernie Moran (Allen Garfield). They have a few drinks together and return to Harry’s workshop for a party. Also at the party is a call-girl, Meredith (Elizabeth MacRae) with whom Harry spends some time. But when he wakes up, Harry finds that the tapes of the conversation have been stolen. He tries to contact the Director but fails. Fearing that a murder is about to be committed, he takes a room next to the one in which the young couple have arranged to meet. He breaks into the couple’s room and is horrified to find that a murder has been committed. The Director has been killed, apparently by the couple that Harry thought were in danger. Back at his apartment, Harry is warned to keep what he knows to himself as he, too, is under surveillance. Harry searches his own apartment thoroughly for the listening device but finds nothing.

Harrison Ford plays the slightly sinister Martin Stett in The Conversation.
The Conversation received much praise from the critics. Monthly Film Bulletin’s David Wilson said, ‘The Conversation is an unqualified success, a complex, reverberating study of a man trapped by guilt ... It is a measure of that success ... that the comparison which most obviously suggests itself, Blow-Up, leaves Antonioni’s film looking empty and inert.’

Variety said, ‘A major artistic asset to the film – besides script, direction and the top performances – is supervising editor Walter Murch’s sound collage and re-recording. Voices come in and out of aural focus in a superb tease.’

Vincent Canby wrote in The New York Times, ‘The members of the supporting cast are almost as good as Mr Hackman, particularly Allen Garfield as a surveillance expert from Detroit who bugged his first phone at the age of 12 and then went on to become famous in the trade as the man who told Chrysler that Cadillac was getting rid of its fins.’

But good though Ford’s performance in The Conversation might have been, again he went unnoticed by the critics. The one big success still eluded him.


A few months after the release of The Conversation, Ford turned up in an episode of the legal drama show Petrocelli, ‘The Edge of Evil (season 1, 1974), playing Tom Brannigan. It was to be Ford’s last appearance in episodic television.

Ford next had a walk-on part in the tv movie Judgement: The Trial of Lt Calley, a courtroom drama set in the wake of a Vietnam atrocity, directed by Stanley Kramer and based on a true incident (‘I played the witness who cries,’ said Ford), and a more substantial role as the eldest son of Sarah Miles’s Jennifer Blackwood in the lavish tv production of Dynasty.

Dynasty is a sprawling tale of the fortunes of the Blackwood family and their migration to Westmore, Ohio in 1823. John Blackwood (Harris Yulin), the head of the family is a man of unbending principles whose dearest ambition it is to farm the 100 acre piece of land he has acquired. His wife, Jennifer (Sarah Miles) and his brother Matt (Stacy Keach) both feel there is more money to be made in the carriage business. Eventually, Jennifer leaves John for Matt after being accused of infidelity by her husband. But the relationship doesn’t work out and Jennifer returns to John. Realising the depth of her husband’s hatred for her she endeavours to build the Blackwood carriage business into an empire. Matt returns to Westmore and tries to convince John to sell the farmland to the railroad for a huge profit. Though John refuses, Jennifer’s youngest son, Carver (Gerrit Graham) conspires with Matt to kill John and sell the land. After John’s death, Jennifer, unaware of the conspiracy, passes over her eldest son, Mark (Harrison Ford) and appoints Matt to run the Blackwood business.

Variety complained that Dynasty’s ‘last half hour concentrates too much on Miles’s ungrateful grown-up offspring’ and that it ‘really encompassed too wide a time span to be handled properly in a two-hour movie.’ Ford had the pretty thankless role of the ‘nice son’ so didn’t have the material at hand an actor needs to stand out in a cast. Unsurprisingly, Ford’s contributions passed unmarked by contemporary critics, and looking at the film today I can see why they might have been unenthusiastic. Ford’s acting is earnest but unshowy. I don’t think Ford was bad in the role, but that his style was simply ahead of its time.

So Harrison Ford was still an acting carpenter.

Wednesday, 5 December 2012

Chapter 2, Part 1 - Harrison Ford: Breaking In

From Touch ‘n’ Go to Turning Point

‘Acting is basically like carpentry – if you know your craft, you can figure out the logic of a particular job and submit yourself to it. It all comes down to detail.’ Harrison Ford

Even though, at the beginning of 1970, Harrison Ford was no longer under contract to Universal and his acting career seemed to be in freefall, his carpentry business was going from strength to strength. Among his clients were the good and great of Hollywood: Sally Kellerman, Joan Didion, and James Coburn. ‘I worked mostly for people that were well-off and who could afford to indulge me,’ he said.

‘What I learned from carpentry, above all,’ he continued, ‘was a work ethic. I used to be very lazy, but now I find I can’t enjoy myself when I’m not working. It saved my life to have another way of making a living. Carpentry gave me the possibility of choice. I didn’t want to do episodic tv any more, because I was afraid I’d burn myself out before I got a chance to do any decent feature films. Besides, I was too young. I was 24 and I looked 19.’

So Ford had become a lot choosier about the kind of roles he auditioned for. He continued to make occasional tv appearances, but only if the role had something to offer him. He’d often attend auditions in his workman’s overalls and took the position that he didn’t need to act to feed his family. ‘If they know you’re dependent on them, they value you less,’ he rationalised. During 1970, the top film and tv producer Norman Lear, who had such successes as The Andy Williams Show (1962), Divorce American Style (1967) and The Night They Raided Minsky’s (1968) to his credit, was putting together a new comedy show for CBS. Based on BBC television’s Till Death Us Do Part, the new show was called All in the Family and was to star Carroll O’Connor in the Warren Mitchell role. Ford was up for the part of the Anthony Booth son-in-law character Mike Stivic. The role would have been a great showcase for Harrison, but he was unable to get past his distaste for the racist character of Archie Bunker and turned the part down.

Around the same time, Ford was offered some lucrative tv commercial work by a fellow Ripon alumnus, Bill Haljum, by then an executive with a Chicago ad agency, which he also turned down, saying that no one in the film industry would take him seriously if he did mouthwash commercials.

Throughout 1970 and 1971, Ford switched between carpentry and acting, appearing in various tv shows like Dan August (season 1, ‘The Manufactured Man’, 1971) and, probably through the influence of William Fucik, a couple of episodes of the James Arness vehicle Gunsmoke (the Season 18 episodes ‘The Sodbusters’, 1972, and ‘Wheelan’s Men’, 1973), sometimes as guest star but more often in a supporting role.

However some imminent changes in Ford’s life would mean he suddenly needed to make some substantial money. The old Ford luck kicked in, in the shape of Fred Roos.

‘When my wife, Mary, became pregnant with our second child, Willard, I realised my health insurance, that I’d had when Ben was born, allowing us to have a baby for about 25 cents a pound, was no longer in force. Because I hadn’t made $1,200 in the previous year. So I had to make $1,200 to keep my health insurance. I said, “Well, I’ve got to do something.” And a friend of mine, Fred Roos, was casting a George Lucas picture and said I ought to be in it because it was going to be a big hit. It was in every way.’

This was to be the change in fortune that would set Harrison Ford on his way.

In early 1972, a young filmmaker called George Lucas was struggling with the Hollywood system to get a pet project off the ground. The movie he wanted to make was a kind of musical autobiography, a story of 1960s teenagers wasting away their lives, cruising the streets of small-town California, to the accompaniment of the local radio station blaring out the rock ‘n’ roll hits of the day.

Lucas had had a qualified success with his first feature film, THX 1138, made for Warner Brothers. That is, critics had spoken highly of the film, but the public stayed away in droves. Needless to say, Warners were not interested in financing what they viewed as an indulgent, un-commercial project, despite the very commercial title of American Graffiti.

Lucas had no choice but to hawk the project around the other movie factories in town. He hired former film school classmates Willard Huyck and Gloria Katz to help him develop a ‘treatment’, an outline of the story, in an effort to give the movie moguls something they could understand. All went well. United Artists gave the go-ahead, and a sum of money, for Lucas to produce a full script. Lucas asked Huyck and Katz to write the screenplay. However, they had just landed a deal to write and direct their own horror picture in Britain, and couldn’t find time to help Lucas with the script. (For the record, the horror movie became the undistinguished Messiah of Evil, 1972.)

Lucas was in a bind. He told his Graffiti line producer, Gary Kurtz, to find a substitute writer. Kurtz suggested another film school peer, Richard Walters. Lucas, sure that his project was in safe hands, set off for the Cannes Film Festival where THX 1138 was entered in the competition.

When Lucas returned from France, he read the Walters script and wasn’t pleased with what he found. Walters had done a good job, all right, but it wasn’t the story Lucas had in mind. To make matters worse, Kurtz had spent all the United Artists advance on this one screenplay.

Luckily for Lucas, Huyck and Katz returned from their horror movie expedition to Britain, and agreed to pitch in and help out.

Despite United Artists dropping out of the project, all went well. Lucas managed to interest Universal. A young executive there was very keen to give young filmmakers the opportunity (and a very low budget) to make the kind of films they wanted too. This executive, Ned Tannen, gave Lucas $750,000 to make the picture, provided Lucas’s old friend and mentor, Francis Coppola, flush from his Godfather success, agreed to become producer.

With the go-ahead from Universal, Lucas engaged Coppola’s casting director, one Fred Roos, to cast the film. Roos and Lucas conducted an old-time Hollywood talent search in an effort to find just the right performers for the roles, each of which portrayed (perhaps a little indulgently) a different facet of Lucas’s own personality. Finally, Lucas selected four or five actors for each of the principal roles and conducted screen tests using video equipment, an unheard of procedure in Hollywood at the time. The idea was to assemble a cast that worked well as a group rather than relying on a band of actors who were individually outstanding. Strangely enough, the final selection each turned out to have star careers ahead of them: Ron Howard (who later went from the phenomenal success of tv’s Happy Days to directing feature films like Cocoon (1985), A Beautiful Mind (2001) and The Da Vinci Code (2005), Richard Dreyfuss (star roles in Jaws, Close Encounters of the Third Kind and an Oscar for The Goodbye Girl), Candy Clark, Cindy Williams and Kathleen Quinlan. And helping out in the secondary parts were Susanne Somers. Bo Hopkins, Paul Le Mat and ... Harrison Ford.

I was Bob Falfa – the boy in the cowboy hat,’ Ford later remarked. It must have been Ford’s new forthright confident air that made Lucas pick him for the Falfa role.

‘When I went for the interview, I wasn’t there as a person who needed a job to put bread on the table,’ said Ford. ‘I had, for once, a real life behind me. When you’re an out-of-work actor and you walk into an audition, you’re an empty vessel. So this was a significant change in my personality. I had got my pride back.’

The film was on a very tight budget and Ford’s salary was set at the SAG scale rate of just $485 a week, about half what he made at carpentry. Ford’s first instinct was to turn the part down, after all, he had a family to support. However Roos managed to persuade him to take the role by upping his fee to $500 a week. For Ford, it wasn’t the money, it was the principle.
In the film, Falfa is a cocky out-of-towner who roars into town in a black hot-rod to take on the resident champion in a drag race. Each time he is seen in the film he is with a different girl, eventually carrying Ron Howard’s girlfriend Laurie (Cindy Williams) with him during the final drag race of the picture. The shooting schedule for American Graffiti was gruelling. The night-time location filming began at nine in the evening and broke, just before dawn at around five-thirty. ‘It was fun,’ smiles Harrison Ford, ‘It was like a party, but not a Hollywood party. It was a real low budget movie, even for those days. I only got a couple of hundred dollars a week.

There were no dressing rooms. The actors sat in the same trailer as the costumes. ‘ Ford was the oldest of the principal players on me film, though rather than setting an example of professional sobriety, he was more often than not the mastermind behind many of the pranks played on unfortunate victims during the filming.

At first, bored with all the sitting around waiting till he was needed, Ford took to gunning his hot rod, a powerful, custom-built Chevrolet racer that had been used in the previous year’s Two Lane Blacktop, up and down the main strip of the location town Petaluma. But the local police stepped in and threatened to arrest Ford and impound the car. Then, joined by his newfound partner-in-crime, Paul Le Mat, Ford embarked on a series of pranks which made the rest of the cast very nervous. They drank beer then climbed up the Holiday Inn sign to leave the bottles at the top, they peed in the hotel ice dispenser and tried to set fire to the director’s room. ‘Harrison and Paul were pretty wild,’ recalled Candy Clarke. ‘They were drinking a lot of beer in those days. I found them very intimidating, like Hell’s Angels types.’

Another time, Ford and Le Mat were hurling beer bottles from their balcony into the hotel parking lot. One of the bottles smashed the windshield of a Cadillac so Richard Dreyfuss tried to get them to stop. An argument ensued and ended with Harrison and Paul flinging Dreyfuss off the balcony into the shallow end of the swimming pool, two floors below.

Dreyfuss was due to shoot close-ups that night, but emerged from the swimming pool with a cut on his forehead which no amount of makeup could cover. Lucas took the news quite well, better than the staff of the Holiday Inn who asked Ford to leave. He was moved into the nearby Howard Johnson’s, separated from the rest of the cast.

‘I was a bit of a carouser in those days and was in the company of other hell-raisers,’ confessed Ford. ‘If I’d been in the company of priests I would have behaved differently.’

However, working with director Lucas was an entirely new kind of experience for Ford. Completely different from the old-school, ‘just do it, okay?’ directors that Ford had been used to working with in Hollywood, Lucas seemed to be open to suggestions and listened to the people around him. At the beginning of filming, Lucas asked Ford to get his hair cut even shorter than Ronny Howard, Paul Le Mat and Charles Martin-Smith to make him seem different from the local kids. Reluctant to loose the remainder of his longish hair, Ford countered with, ‘What if I wear a cowboy hat?’ Lucas thought for a moment, then said, ‘Yeah, that’s a good idea. Let’s try it.’

At the ‘wrap’ party, at the end of filming, Lucas screened a twenty-minute extract for the cast and crew. Most were sure that they were on to something good. When the lights went up. Ford turned to his neighbour, Cindy Williams, and said, ‘This is great!’

The film had been shot, on schedule, inside 28 working days (or rather, nights), but George Lucas’s problems were far from over. Universal didn’t like the movie and wanted to re-cut it. It was here that Coppola really earned his money as producer. He flatly refused to allow Universal to tamper with the film, and offered to write Ned Tannen a cheque for the whole of the budget, in effect, buying American Graffiti, lock, stock and soundtrack from Universal. After much arguing back and forth, Tanner sort of got his way and was molified with a couple of cuts, then previewed the film. American Graffiti was a hit with everyone except Harrison Ford and Richard Dreyfuss, who sneaked out of the preview before the film ended, because they were so embarrassed at their big-screen appearance.

The scenes that disappeared were Terry the Toad’s encounter with a fast-talking car salesman, John Milner and Carol’s walk through the automobile scrapyard and Bob Falfa singing Some Enchanted Evening to Laurie. Ford’s scene, which he had ad-libbed and Lucas had kept, was cut not because his singing was inferior (though, admittedly, it’s not Caruso either) but because Rodgers’ and Hammerstein’s estates, who owned copyright on the song, wanted too much money for its inclusion in the movie (though, for the 1978 re- release, these scenes were reinstated).

The critics were pretty much of one voice in loving the film. The New York Times wrote, ‘American Graffiti is a very good movie, funny, tough, unsentimental. It is full of marvelous performances from actors (especially Candy Clark, Richard Dreyfuss, and Cindy Williams) hardly known for previous screen credits.’

Trade newspaper Variety said, ‘Without exception, all players fit perfectly into the concept and execution, and all the young principals and featured players have a bright and lengthy future. And so does Lucas.’

Graffiti was released and eventually pulled in a staggering $115 million on the modest outlay of $750,000. Universal made its money back 50-fold.

As a bonus, the movie received five nominations at the 1974 Academy Awards (the one with the streaker), including Best Editing, Best Screenplay, Best Director, Best Picture (all lost out to The Sting) and Best Supporting Actress (Candy Clarke, beaten by 10 year old Tatum O’Neill), though it won Golden Globes for Best Musical and Best Newcomer for Paul Le Mat.