Here is the latest in a series of examinations into urban legends about movies and whether they are true or false. Click here to view an archive of the Movie urban legends featured so far.
MOVIE URBAN LEGEND: Harrison Ford first met George Lucas while building some cabinets for him.
A while back, I wrote a Movie Legends Revealed about the surprising journey Harrison Ford took to auditioning for the role of Han Solo in “Star Wars”. “Star Wars”, of course, was not the first film that Harrison Ford worked on with Director George Lucas.
Ford’s first big movie role was as the closest thing Lucas’s first hit film, “American Graffiti,” had to a villain. While Lucas was wary of casting someone from “Graffiti” in “Star Wars,” Ford ultimately made it impossible for him not to go with him (this was a similar situation Lucas later found himself in with Ford and Indiana Jones – Lucas wanted to cast anyone but Ford as Indy, but circumstances kept leading him back to Ford). Obviously, though, “American Graffiti” played a huge role in Lucas even knowing who Ford was, so it is an undeniably large piece of Ford’s journey to becoming a movie star. In that previous Movie Legend, I said that I would eventually feature a legend about how Ford got the role in “American Graffiti,” so now here we are. It’s really one of the most prolific legends I have come across, which is that Ford first met Lucas while Ford was installing some cabinets for him during his side job as a carpenter.
Is that true?
It is not.
As I wrote last time, Ford’s carpentry was really quite a godsend for him, financially. Without any background as a carpenter, Ford taught himself to be good enough to soon be working on major projects during the early 1970s, like a $100,000 studio for Brazilian band leader Sergio Mendes (Ford later explained that Mendes had never though to ask Ford if he had actually built something like this before. Ford did not volunteer that he had not).
I think people accidentally believe that Ford had essentially retired from acting at the time. That was not the case. He later recalled:
Through carpentry I fed my family and began to pick and choose from among the roles offered. I could afford to hold out until something better came along. But I never gave up my ambition to be an actor. I was frustrated but never felt defeated by my frustration.
His longtime manager Patricia McQueeney (she represented him from 1970 right up until her passing in 2005) once spoke about that period in his career:
Harrison always had enormous dignity and was extremely smart. If he didn’t like a role that I gave him, he would just turn it down. And sometimes they were good jobs, very lucrative. But they were television jobs, and he wouldn’t tie himself up with a series. He had two little boys and a mortgage, but he’d say, ‘No, I’m not going to do it. I’ll go build a cabinet.'”
So carpentry definitely played a major role in Ford’s acting career, but an even larger role was played by Hollywood producer Fred Roos. Roos had taken a shine to Ford back when Ford was still a contract player for Universal in the late 1960s. He got Ford one of his earliest film roles, a small uncredited part in Michelangelo Antonioni’s 1970 flop, “Zabriskie Point.”
Roos gained prominence in Hollywood when he became Francis Ford Coppola’s producer following “The Godfather.” It was in that role that he worked as casting director on the Coppola-produced “American Graffiti.” Thus, it was Roos, not carpentry, that got Ford an audition for the role of Bob Falfa with Lucas.
Roos also helped get Ford a small role in Coppola’s 1974 film, “The Conversation.” And yes, in 1976, Ford did do carpentry work for Coppola, which likely led to a cameo in “Apocalypse Now.” However, Ford never did any carpentry work for Lucas. It is actually kind of fascinating to see just how the legend has proliferated. The most common reason, I imagine, is that Ford’s Wikipedia page says, “He was then hired to build cabinets at the home of director George Lucas, who subsequently cast him in a pivotal supporting role for his film American Graffiti (1973).” However, the citation they give for that story is Ford’s appearance on Inside the Actor’s Studio, where he categorically does NOT say that, but instead says the story that I just told you (that Fred Roos got him the audition).
So I really don’t know how this has lasted this long as a legend.
Anyhow, in an amusing sidenote, Ford originally was going to turn down “American Graffiti,” as the $485 a week salary just wasn’t enough, as he was making more than that as a carpenter. Roos got Lucas to bump it up to $500 a week and the rest is film history.
The legend is…
Thanks to Harrison Ford: The Films by Brad Duke for the great Ford and McQueeney quotes.
Feel free (heck, I implore you!) to write in with your suggestions for future installments! My e-mail address is firstname.lastname@example.org.