Paul Ford

Paul Ford (November 2, 1901 – April 12, 1976) was an American character actor who came to specialize in authority figures whose ineptitude and pompous demeanor were played for comic effect, notably as Mayor Shinn in The Music Man (1962) and as Colonel John T. Hall in The Phil Silvers Show.

Paul Ford
Ford as Sam Bailey in The Baileys of Balboa, 1964.
Paul Ford Weaver

(1901-11-02)November 2, 1901
DiedApril 12, 1976(1976-04-12) (aged 74)
Years active1945–1974
Spouse(s)Nell Weaver (? - 1976, his death)
Children2 sons
2 daughters

Early years

Ford was born Paul Ford Weaver in Baltimore, Maryland.[1] His father was described as "a well-to-do businessman" who lost his fortune when his investment in a soft drink company failed.[2]

At an early age, he showed an adept talent for performance, but was discouraged when directors thought he was tone-deaf.

After attending Dartmouth College for one year,[3] Ford was a salesman before he became an entertainer.[4]

He took his middle birth name, which was his mother's maiden name, as his stage last name.[5] The change occurred after he failed an audition as Paul Weaver but was successful when he auditioned again as Paul Ford.[3]


In later years, Ford made his hollow, reverberating voice one of the most recognized of his era. His success was long in the making, and he did little acting, but instead raised his family during the Great Depression.

Franklin Delano Roosevelt's Public Works programs provided Ford with work, and to the day he died, he was a passionate Democrat. He first ventured into entertainment, however, in a puppet theater project that the Works Progress Administration sponsored.[6] Years later, he said of that opportunity: "I got on the puppet project of the W.P.A. and helped write and put on shows for the Federal Theater. We did puppet shows at the World's Fair in 1939 and 1940, and I served as narrator, a kind of Hoosier cornball in beard."[3]

Following his experience with puppets, Ford worked as an attendant at a gas station before turning to acting for a career.[7] His first professional acting job was in an Off-Broadway production in 1939.[4]

In 1955, Ford played the bank president in the NBC comedy series Norby.[8] He became an "overnight" success at age 54 when he played Colonel John T. Hall opposite Phil Silvers on Silvers' The Phil Silvers Show TV show (often known as Sergeant Bilko or just Bilko).[8]:830

His signature role may well be the part of Mayor George Shinn, a befuddled politico in the film adaptation of the Broadway show The Music Man. Ford played the role straight and received glowing reviews. The other role he is most identified with is that of Horace Vandergelder opposite Shirley Booth in the 1958 screen version of The Matchmaker. Ford had an active career in both films and television until his retirement in the early 1970s.

Despite being a respected Broadway character actor, Ford was notorious for being unable to remember his lines. This would cause difficulty forcing him and those around him to improvise. This became especially notable on The Phil Silvers Show.

He appeared in the 1962–1963 season in the CBS anthology The Lloyd Bridges Show. He starred in The Baileys of Balboa, which lasted only one season (1964–1965).

His stage credits include Another Part of the Forest (1946), Command Decision (1947), The Teahouse of the August Moon (1953), Whoop-Up (1958), replacing David Burns as Mayor Shinn in The Music Man (1957), A Thurber Carnival (1960), Never Too Late (1962), 3 Bags Full (1966), and What Did We Do Wrong? (1967).

Most actors who worked with Ford claimed he was a kindly and very funny man. He was known for his quotes about the Depression in later years, including, "My kids used to think everyone lived on peanut butter sandwiches."

His final role prior to his death was a Washington doctor in Richard.


In 1976, Ford died of a heart attack at Nassau Hospital in Mineola, New York. He was 74.[9] He was buried in Holy Cross Cemetery, Culver City, California.[1] He was survived by his wife, two daughters, and two sons.[3]


Ford was nominated for three Emmy Awards: Best Supporting Performance by an Actor (1957), Best Continuing Supporting Performance by an Actor in a Dramatic or Comedy Series (1958) and Outstanding Performance in a Supporting Role by an Actor (1963). The first two were for his work on The Phil Silvers Show; the third was for a role on the Hallmark Hall of Fame.[10]

Ford was nominated in 1963 for a Tony Award for Best Performance by a Leading Actor in a Play for Never Too Late.

Ford's obituary in The New York Times noted, "In 1967 Mr. Ford was cited by the National Board of Review of Motion Pictures as the best supporting actor for his role in The Comedians."[3]

Partial filmography


  1. Wilson, Scott (2016). Resting Places: The Burial Sites of More Than 14,000 Famous Persons, 3d ed. (2 volume set). McFarland. ISBN 9780786479924. Retrieved 28 June 2017.
  2. Ryan, Jack (May 5, 1963). "Paul Ford--He Found It's Never Too Late". Eureka Humboldt Standard. California, Eureka. Family Weekly. p. 32. Retrieved June 27, 2017 via
  3. Fraser, C. Gerald (April 14, 1976). "Paul Ford, Actor, Dead; Colonel in 'Bilko'". The New York Times. Archived from the original on 28 June 2017. Retrieved 28 June 2017.
  4. Hischak, Thomas S. (2003). Enter the Players: New York Stage Actors in the Twentieth Century. Scarecrow Press. pp. 112–113. ISBN 9780810847613. Retrieved 28 June 2017.
  5. Room, Adrian (2010). Dictionary of Pseudonyms: 13,000 Assumed Names and Their Origins, 5th ed. McFarland. p. 181. ISBN 9780786457632. Retrieved 28 June 2017.
  6. Monush, Barry (2003). Screen World Presents the Encyclopedia of Hollywood Film Actors: From the silent era to 1965. Hal Leonard Corporation. p. 248. ISBN 9781557835512. Retrieved 28 June 2017.
  7. "Bilko's Colonel Gave Up Job In Gas Station To Be Actor". Waco Tribune-Herald. Texas, Waco. SPL. December 14, 1958. p. 44. Retrieved June 26, 2017 via
  8. Terrace, Vincent (2011). Encyclopedia of Television Shows, 1925 through 2010 (2nd ed.). Jefferson, N.C.: McFarland & Company, Inc., Publishers. p. 771. ISBN 978-0-7864-6477-7.
  9. "Paul Ford dies; was 'Bilko' star". The Day. Connecticut, New London. Associated Press. April 13, 1976. p. 21. Retrieved 28 June 2017.
  10. "("Paul Ford" search results)". EMMYS. Television Academy. Retrieved 28 June 2017.
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