Harrison Ford’s Time Under Contract At Columbia Was A Far Cry From The Hollywood Dream

According to Brad Duke’s book, Harrison Ford wasn’t much interested in acting when he was attending university at Ripon College in Wisconsin. Indeed, Ford was a philosophy major. Despite his confidence on camera and forthright attitude in interviews, he claims to have been a shy individual and wanted to take acting classes to combat it. Ford loved acting so much, he decided to make it his calling and moved to Los Angeles to look for gigs. 

Luckily — or perhaps unluckily — Ford was welcomed into Columbia Pictures‘ New Talent program. The program, however, wasn’t geared toward helping young actors be discovered, instead keeping them legally bound to low-paying studio work. Ford, not knowing much about the industry, signed a seven-year deal with Columbia, forcing him to appear in Columbia movies exclusively in exchange for very small paychecks. Ford was fine with the terms in 1964, however, through nothing more than monumental naivete — thought that he would have to pay the studio for the honor of working there. In Ford’s own words: 

“I started at Columbia Pictures at $150 a week, and I enjoyed all the respect that it implies. I think mail clerks were making more money. I wasn’t worth more than $150 a week, to tell you the truth.”

However much he felt he was worth, Ford’s time at Columbia was horrendous, and he talks a lot about how the talent “factory” was still running through filmmaking and acting practices from several decades previous. He wasn’t so much allowed to participate in acting projects or rehearsals as he was expected to follow very fast orders. And, to make things worse, none of the American studios were making very interesting movies. Ford claims that the good work was in Europe, and the local studios were too busy partying.

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