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Ford, Harriet

FORD, Harriet

Born 1863, Seymour, Connecticut; died 12 December 1949, New York, New York

Daughter of Samuel and Isabel Stoddard Ford; married FordéMorgan, 1930

Harriet Ford's earliest goal was to become an actress—not an entirely respectable pursuit for a young lady whose New England ancestors ran to, in her own words, "theologians and college presidents, a long, grim, wonderful line of unusual men." Buoyed by her ambition and by the conviction she too was unusual, Ford left home to train at the American Academy of Dramatic Arts, where David Belasco was one of her teachers.

Her difficulties in getting an acting engagement after graduation were later to impel her, as a successful playwright, to make protégées of numerous hopeful young actresses and bring them, like homeless kittens, to her producers. Ford's 10-year struggle to become known as an actress culminated in a season in London, where she appeared in several plays by her friend William Gillette. Reviewers acknowledged the American ingenue's attractiveness, but deplored her acting.

Her ambition switched to writing that year, when she won the prize in a British competition for the best poem celebrating the return of Henry Stanley from Africa. The poem was printed on silk and read at a banquet for the heroic explorer. After her return to New York, Ford's first produced play, The Greatest Thing in the World (1900), brought stage stardom to Sarah Cowell LeMoyne, for whom it was written.

Popular performers Eleanor Robson and Kyrle Bellew assured the gallery's approval of A Gentleman from France (1901), which Ford later ruefully described as "the last of the swashbucklers" and "the slaughter of eighteen." In 1923, Ford collaborated on a mystery play, In the Next Room, with Eleanor Robson.

The most flourishing period in Ford's quarter-century as a produced playwright on Broadway was 1912 through 1914, when she collaborated with Harvey O'Higgins on, among their many jointly authored plays, two murder-mystery comedy-thrillers, The Argyle Case (1912) and The Dummy (1914). To research the first, she and O'Higgins relentlessly pursued nationally prominent detective William J. Burns, who was at the time, said Ford, "in continual danger, as the people against whom he was working were particularly bitter against him." They grilled Burns in daily interview sessions about his real-life experiences, eking out the play's improbable plot with "interesting details in crime detection, playful little bits of business with thumbmarks and the like to pique curiosity and satisfy a craving for the unusual."

Ford described to interviewer Ada Patterson her methods of work with her two major collaborators: "When Mr. Patterson and I wrote The Fourth Estate we equally divided our labor. He wrote the first act while I was working on the second. Then he wrote the third while I was writing the fourth. Mr. O'Higgins and I have a slower and more satisfactory method.… We talk over a scene until we decide upon the lines. If he thinks of one upon which we agree he writes it, or if I hit upon one that pleases us I write it. I sit at my desk and Mr. O'Higgins does a great deal of walking around."

Ford felt her particular skill as a dramatist lay in her "constructive faculty, the power to build." Because of this technical acumen, producers frequently called upon her to "doctor" scripts by other writers. Although 1924 was the year of her last professionally produced play, Sweet Seventeen, Ford continued to write plays, mostly innocuous one-act comedies, published by Samuel French.

Other Works:

Audrey (with E. F. Boddington, 1902). The Honour of the Humble (1902). A Little Brother of the Rich (with J. M. Patterson, 1909). Dickey Bird (with H. O'Higgins, 1914). Polygamy (with H. O'Higgins, 1914). Mr. Lazarus (with H. O'Higgins, 1916). The Land of the Free (with F. Hurst, 1917). On the Hiring Line (with H. O'Higgins, 1919). Main Street (with H. O'Higgins, 1921). The Bride (1924). Where Julia Rules (with C. K. Duer, 1924). The Happy Hoboes (with A. S. Tucker, 1928). Mrs. Susan Peters (1928). Wanted—Money (with A. S. Tucker, 1928). What Imagination Will Do (1928). Christopher Rand (1929). Mysterious Money (1929). What Are Parents For? (1930). The Divine Afflatus (1931). Are Men Superior? (1933). Heroic Treatment (1933). Youth Must Be Served (1934).

With no date: The Hold-up, Old P. Q., Orphan Aggie, Under Twenty, When a Feller Needs a Friend.

Bibliography:

Current Opinion (Nov. 1916). Green Book Magazine (May 1912, Aug. 1913). Strand Magazine (May 1915). Theatre Magazine (July 1914).

—FELICIA HARDISON LONDRÉ

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