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Danger Is His Business : It may not look like it as Harrison Ford sits on the front porch of his Wyoming retreat. But trust us: Hollywood is a dangerous place, and Ford has certainly done well in the action game.. (Just don't hold your breath for 'Fugitive II.')

August 14, 1994|Bruce Newman | Bruce Newman is an occasional contributor to Calendar

JACKSON HOLE, Wyo. — "Oh, Jesus, no," Harrison Ford says, suddenly throwing the hulking tan pickup he is driving into reverse.

Instantly, Ford's jaw muscles tighten, his eyes harden, and the unmistakable stench of death fills the air. (Later it turns out that the unmistakable stench of death was actually a dumpster filled with day-old chicken bones.) "We can't go in there," he hisses, the unmistakable stench of fear in his voice, and it is only then that it becomes obvious. Harrison Ford is afraid.

The offer of lunch had come as Ford climbed behind the wheel, and was then followed by 10 minutes of circling through the narrow streets at the center of town, choked almost to overflowing now with the summer tourist trade. Had Ford fastened his seat belt? Maybe yes, maybe no. It had all happened so fast. "I don't really know any good places," he said, and then fell silent again. He seemed like he meant it.

Ford came to this place 12 years ago, liberated from Los Angeles and the maw of the movie machine by the enormous success of "Raiders of the Lost Ark," a near-vertical ascendancy from which there would be--could be--no turning back. He and his second wife, screenwriter Melissa Mathison, looked briefly at Sun Valley, then drove over the Teton Pass and into the almost empty town of Jackson. "I preceded the first stoplight into town by about six months," he says, marooned briefly in a traffic jam near the new J. Crew store. "Now it's become the T-shirt center of the universe."

He is wearing jeans and a T-shirt himself, though not one of the ones that came out last year with his picture and the word "Fugitive" in huge black letters. Still, as he slips the tan tank around the corner and past the tightening noose of the crowds, Ford looks worried.

It is not until Ford finally finds a restaurant, and noses the old butte of a Chevy that he drives past an exit-only sign, that the trouble begins. Outside the restaurant Ford spots a small group of people--international narco-terrorists? crypt-robbing Nazi swine? Darth Vader, party of eight? who?--and begins backing into the street so fast that he narrowly avoids hitting a dumpster. The stench of death and fear--and something else that you can't quite put your finger on--fill the truck.

Chicken.

"I don't think, um. . . ."

Ford is mumbling softly, almost to himself. "I don't think that would have . . . ummm . . . worked out," he says. "Too many people."

On his infrequent trips into town, Ford walks with his neck stiff and his eyes riveted straight ahead, as if by refusing to engage the world peripherally he could ward off the intrusive stares that follow him. He is aided in this act of camouflage by features that have a pleasing ordinariness about them. His nose sits just enough off plumb to make his face consistently interesting in films. When he is provoked--or afraid--his brow descends like the cornice of a great mountain, and his eyes form blue lakes at the foot of this undulant granite mass.

Unlike a lot of actors, Ford doesn't ever refer to himself as an artist, preferring to engage in a rear-guard campaign of reductionism, describing himself variously as a "worker in a service industry" and an "assistant storyteller." He deflects all attempts to correlate the success of his films with any underlying personal affection that audiences might feel for him.

"I think that that's a result of a relationship not to who I am, but a degree of satisfaction with the product that I am part of," he says, sounding strangely like a vacuum cleaner salesman. "I make audience movies. I work for them. And I think they have a sense that I am a loyal, and to whatever degree, capable employee of theirs."

Well, whatever. This faithful old retainer has punched the clock--and anything else that got in his way--in seven of the 20 top box-office movies of all time. He was named "star of the century" earlier this year by the National Assn. of Theater Owners, who apparently felt that with domestic ticket sales of more than $2 billion , Ford could spot Macaulay Culkin six years and still carry the title on into the millennium.

With "Clear and Present Danger," his second installment in the canon of espionage author Tom Clancy, Ford has earned ecstatic reviews for himself and more than $28 million for Paramount in the first five days of release. Audiences may just as eagerly flock to see Stallone and Schwarzenegger in their armor-plated adventure vehicles, but when their no-brainer formulas get even slightly overheated, epic disasters like "Last Action Hero" periodically result. On the other hand, people do not go to Harrison Ford movies, they go to see Harrison Ford in movies.

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