Former carpenter Harrison Ford tells Reba Merrill: “I have my tools packed and ready”

By on December 19, 2017

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In the Spring of 1977, celebrity interviewer Reba Merrill sat down with actor Harrison Ford, who had just appeared onscreen as galactic smuggler Han Solo in Star Wars.

Ms. Merrill’s exclusive interview — in which Ford tells her the story of his early acting career and how he’d dropped out of acting after not getting the kinds of parts he wanted and became a carpenter — has previously only been seen on her CBS morning show.

We’re no longer streaming Ms. Merrill’s interviews online, but if you’re a subscriber to Night Flight Plus you’ll be able to see a lot more celebrity interviews over there, including an interview with Ford’s Star Wars co-star, Mark Hamill

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Thirteen years earlier, in 1964, Ford and his soon-to-be first wife Mary Marquardt had moved to Los Angeles, where he finally landed acting jobs through Columbia Pictures’ new talent program, making $150 a week.

Later, he moved over to Universal Pictures, making his film debut in Dead Heat on a Merry-Go-Round (1966).

He also worked as a stagehand for the Doors, sometime prior to 1970, as you can see here.

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Harrison Ford (left) with members of the Doors, including Jim Morrison (center)

He continued to act, mostly appearing in dramatic TV one-off episodes, which he thought might actually destroy any chances he might have at a film career.

By 1970, Ford and Marquadt were married, with two young sons, and they’d just purchased a home in the Hollywood Hills which Ford has described as a “bit of a wreck of a house.”

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To save money on the home remodeling that needed to be done, Ford taught himself carpentry skills he learned by checking out books on the subject from the Encino Public Library.

Ford began supplementing his occasional acting jobs with carpentry work. His first paid gig, in fact, was Brazilian composer/musician Sérgio Mendes’s recording studio, which Ford and his crew built at a cost of $100,000 in Mendes’s backyard in Encino, California.

Mendes hadn’t even asked him before hiring him if he had any actual experience as a carpenter because he thought Ford looked the part.

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Sérgio Mendes (center) after his recording studio was built, in 1970, with Harrison Ford (right) and the rest of his carpentry crew

In 2015, Mendes shared a photo of the scruffy and devastatingly handsome young carpenter and his crew on Facebook, adding:

“Before Han Solo, there was a great carpenter named Harrison Ford. And here he is, with his crew, the day he finished building my recording studio back in 1970…Thank you Harrison…may the force be with you.”

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Sometime around 1973, Ford was doing a favor for director Francis Ford Coppola’s art director — he’d built a door for Coppola, but couldn’t find anyone to install it — Ford was doing the work at Coppola’s when director George Lucas walked in with actor Richard Dreyfuss.

Ford ended up landing small roles in Lucas’s American Graffiti, and on Coppola’s The Conversation (1974), and was still working as a carpenter when Lucas asked if he’d help him run lines during some of the screen tests he was doing for a sci-fi/fantasy film.

Ford rehearsed with the actors during their auditions and was actually surprised when Lucas offered him the major role of Han Solo.

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Here’s what Reba Merrill has to say about this rarely-seen interview from the 1977 Star Wars press junket on her website:

“I am on my way to Los Angles to do some interviews for my morning TV show on CBS in San Diego. I love movies and their stars so I am looking forward to the short plane trip, limo ride and hotel suite that Fox is providing. It’s early May and this is one of three films that I that I will work on over the weekend.”

“The first screening is arranged for that night with interviews set for the following morning, then more screenings and interviews to follow. I see the film and like it but do not love it, so I only ask questions from the production notes that the studio provides. Since I have never heard of any of the actors I am looking for stories that would introduce them to my TV audience.”

“The last interview for the film is with the star, a really good looking guy with starling blue eyes. Oh so handsome and oh so boring, it could have been my questions, but I cannot wait for the interview to be over. I even look at my watch to see how much time is left and know he has no idea that I cannot wait to leave, as I keep smiling.”

“I have to wait three weeks for the film to open and when it does on May 25,1977, it becomes the biggest film of that year. I know you guessed it, the film is Star Wars and the boring star: Harrison Ford.”

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Reba Merrill and Harrison Ford (photos courtesy of R. Merrill)

In a recent Facebook post, Ms. Merrill describes Harrison as looking “stoned” and “silly” during their interview.

She’s also posted that he “was wonderful and so charming, but I remember thinking… Star Wars, huh? Not sure if this will fly. We’re all entitled to be wrong once in awhile.”

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At the end of the interview, Ms. Merrill asks Ford, “You’re not going to drop out again, are you?,” and he replies: “I hope not…,” before adding, “I have my tools packed and ready.”

Luckily for us, Harrison Ford didn’t need to fall back on his Plan B and return to working on building houses and recording studios again after the boffo box-office success of Star Wars.

Check out our exclusive Night Flight interview with Harrison Ford’s Star Wars co-star, Mark Hamill on Night Flight Plus!

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About Bryan Thomas

Bryan Thomas has been a freelancing writer/critic for All Music Guide, and a contributor to Launch, Music Connection, Big Takeover and numerous other publications and entertainment websites, blogs and zines, most of them long gone. He's written more than sixty sets of liner notes. He’s also worked for over twenty years at mostly reissue record labels -- prior to that he worked in bookstores and record stores, going all the way back to the original vinyl daze. He lives in the Miracle Mile neighborhood of Los Angeles, CA.