Happy Birthday Mr. Ford
by Alex Smith
Harrison Ford, who turns 71 this week, created one of the most beloved and lasting characters in movie history with his role in Star Wars as the irascible but lovable space smuggler Han Solo. But that isn't even his greatest and most iconic part -- that superlative must go to his archaeologist adventurer character Indiana Jones, star of Raiders of the Lost Ark and its sequels, TV prequels, graphic novels, actual novels, and more. But few people know how close this force of culture came to not being our Indy at all.
Raiders Stole Its Character Design Fair and Square
Jones is a no-nonsense, rough-and-tumble adventure seeker with a trademark brown fedora, leather jacket, and stubble. But so was the Charlton Heston character in 1954's Secret of the Incas, a movie that was looted for our hero's character design, costume, and even his attitude. Director Steven Spielberg and producer George Lucas have admitted as much, and perhaps because of a wish to cover their tracks, Secret of the Incas has never been released on video. A big difference in Indy's case, however, is that he is irrepressibly good-hearted and honest -- Heston's character in Secret was a horrible louse.
Magnum, P.I. was almost Indy ... peeyew!
When Spielberg and Lucas were created their movie's hero, his rough charm and charisma, the director was drawn to casting one of the hottest television stars of 1980: Tom Selleck, best-known as Magnum, P.I.. Selleck was the favorite to play Indy -- his falsetto voice notwithstanding -- until Spielberg saw a little movie called The Empire Strikes Back, where he was blown away by the actor playing Han Solo. Since Selleck couldn't get out of his contract with CBS to allow him to do the movie anyway, Harrison Ford (Lucas's first choice the whole time) stepped in and made motion picture history. And his voice is deep, too.
Other Actors Who Would Have Been Indiana Jones
How might gravel-voiced Nick Nolte been as the titular scholar-adventurer? Steve Martin had the chance to don the fedora, but he chose the musical Pennies from Heaven instead. Bill Murray was ready to crack the whip but, like Selleck, couldn't get out of his TV obligations for long enough. Fellow SNLer Chevy Chase was one of the most popular stars in the world in 1980, but he passed. Animal House star Tim Matheson had the look, as did future E.T. actor Peter Coyote. Finally, Jack Nicholson turned it down, and Harrison Ford was cast just three weeks before filming began.
His name was almost Dr. Indiana ... Smith. And he was almost a duck
The name everyone knows almost wasn't Harrison Ford's character's at all. It wasn't until the first day of filming that Indy's name was changed from "Indiana Smith" to "Indiana Jones." Somehow the lack of a long vowel in the original last name makes the character's moniker less impactful ... which is probably why they made such an important change once they heard the actors saying the old name. But at least it wasn't "Indiana McDuck," since Spielberg and Lucas have both cited the 1950s Disney Ducks comic books as inspiration for the series, including one issue where Uncle $crooge steals a native idol and has to run from a giant round boulder!
The Biggest Hit of 1981, But So Much More
Indiana Jones is an unforgettable character, and his portrayal by Harrison Ford both showed that the actor could do more than Han Solo and also propelled Raiders of the Lost Ark to the No. 1 box office spot. The original movie also lifted director Spielberg to iconic status, something that would be cemented with his next movie, 1982's E.T.: The Extra-Terrestrial.
Author Bio: Alex Smith is a movie blogger for Direct2TV.com where he covers everything from the latest rumors about up coming releases to retrospectives of cult classics and forgotten cinema gems. He’s particularly interested in sci-fi and horror flicks from the 1970s and 80s. He lives in Washington, D.C.
Note: For those who are interested, Secret of the Incas is available to view online via the Amazon Prime instant streaming service.