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When Harry Met Ally

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The Scorpion King could wait. On April 28 the hottest movie ticket in Los Angeles—in the opinion of one very well-qualified film buff—was for the sexy Spanish-language road-trip film Y Tu Mamá También. First in line for that day’s noon showing at Westwood’s Mann Plaza cinema? Harrison Ford, sporting a blue baseball cap, his signature left earring and a distinctive date: Ally McBeal‘s Calista Flockhart. After paying for a pair of $6.50 tickets, Ford and Flockhart, clad in jeans and T-shirts, hit the concession stand for a Diet Pepsi (his), a pink lemonade (hers) and a medium-size popcorn (theirs). “Her arm was around his waist,” recalls theater employee Jose Lopez. “They acted like no one else was around. They didn’t take their eyes off each other.” The movie proved less engrossing. “They left 10 minutes before the film ended,” says Lopez. “Maybe they were hungry.”

Or maybe the two are simply more interested in new beginnings. Since meeting at the Golden Globes Jan. 20, Flockhart, 37, and Ford, 59, have turned up hand in hand everywhere from Santa Monica to New York City to Taos, N.Mex. “It’s a serious relationship,” says a source on the Ally set, who adds that Flockhart “was on the phone with [Ford] every 20 minutes” while filming the five-year-old show’s final episode this month. “She’s talked about moving to New York to be closer to him. Their relationship is moving forward. It’s more serious than ever before.”

Not that Ford is likely to find himself on bended knee anytime soon. For one thing, he’s still married to his wife of 18 years, E.T. screenwriter Melissa Mathison, 51. (After a three-month reconciliation following an October 2000 split, the pair finally separated in August 2001.) What’s more, the $25 million-per-film superstar has approached his newfound bachelorhood—and his upcoming 60th birthday in July—with zeal. Whether rubbing elbows with MTV darling Ozzy Osbourne at the White House Correspondents’ Association Dinner, overseeing construction of his new 5,600-sq.-ft. Manhattan penthouse or conducting real-life rescue missions with his Bell 407 helicopter, Ford is making the most of his new single existence. “He is in the firmament,” says Edward S. Feldman, producer of Ford’s July release, K-19: The Widowmaker. “He should have a good time.”

Just don’t call it a midlife crisis. The demise of Ford’s marriage to Mathison—long admired as one of showbiz’s sturdiest unions—disappointed friends and fans alike. And though reps denied it was anything serious, tongues wagged when Ford and actress Minnie Driver, 32, were spotted on a dinner date as recently as January. But pals of the actor say that he is unfairly held to the impossible standards set by his action-star film roles. “He is not Jack Ryan. He is not Indiana Jones,” says costume designer Bernie Pollack (brother of director Sydney), who has known Ford for 10 years. “He does very well as an Everyman, reluctant-hero kind of guy. And that’s where people want to keep him. Everybody should allow him to do whatever he feels and not judge him because what he does may be different from the scenario that everyone has scripted for him.”

Ally McBeal herself might not have scripted the meet-cute scenario that first united Ford and Flockhart. At the Golden Globes in January, where Ford was honored with a lifetime achievement award, Flockhart “spilled her drink on him intentionally in order to meet him,” says a source close to the Ally star. “It worked out.”

And how. Since then the pair have hopscotched the country to be together. In March they turned up at Santa Monica’s trendy Café Montana, where they chowed down on eggs Benedict and chicken hash (and yes, “Calista does eat,” Café owner Ausra Silkaitis says of the waifish star). The pair then spent the afternoon shopping for a charm bracelet for Georgia, Ford’s 11-year-old daughter with Mathison. (The two also have a son, Malcolm, 15, and Ford has two grown sons from his 12-year marriage to college sweetheart Mary Marquardt, which ended in ’79.) But Flockhart seemed charmed by a different category of jewels. At the pricey boutique Cabochon, the Emmy winner and single mom to Liam, 16 months, “made a prolonged stop at the counter where engagement rings are displayed,” says a store employee. Later that evening Ford, Flockhart and Georgia arrived at the sushi bar Takao, where they munched on tuna and yellowtail rolls. “They all had a good time,” says the owner, Takao. “They were smiling and laughing.”

Days later there were more smiles going around in Taos, where the couple spent the Easter weekend at the elegant Fechin Inn and dined at Joseph’s Table—a favorite of Taos resident Julia Roberts. Then it was back to L.A. for more family time. Flockhart and Liam, whom she adopted in 2001, “are inseparable,” says a source close to the actress—even when she is with Ford: The three have been spotted several times strolling and playing on the streets of Brentwood. Ford, whose sons Benjamin, 35, a chef, and Willard, 32, a teacher, both have young children, brings plenty of toddler-taming experience to the relationship. And he has drawn Flockhart into his family fold as well. In mid-April the happy couple joined 40 or so guests at a birthday party for Benjamin’s wife at Chadwick, Benjamin’s Beverly Hills bistro, where Ford often stops by to snuggle with his 18-month-old grandson Ethan. The night of the birthday party he took his ladylove for a brief spin on the dance floor. “She’s a little quiet,” one observer says of Flockhart, but “they were all having a good time.”

As for the 22-year age difference between them, friends of both stars say it is a nonissue. Pointing to Flockhart’s reported past romances with American Beauty director Sam Mendes, 36, actor Ben Stiller, 36, and comedian Garry Shandling, 52, the Ally source notes that Calista “chooses funny, creative, intelligent men. Those are the qualities she responds to.” For his part, Ford, who is well aware of the spotlight his fame attracts, has “spoken with nothing but admiration and ultimate respect” for Flockhart, says Pollack. “He’s an intelligent guy with enough principles and integrity that he’s not going to do this whimsically. I think he has given a lot of thought to it.”

That approach seems characteristic of Ford, a serious-minded neatnik whose punctuality rarely errs—”You can set your clock by his arrival,” says producer Feldman—and whose split from Mathison was the result of long and cautious deliberation. Despite the emotional strain, Ford remained stoic throughout the 2001 production of K-19. “It never interferes with his business,” says Feldman. “He doesn’t flaunt it.”

He is similarly tight-lipped about his well-publicized acts of derring-do. Since the summer of 2000 Ford has volunteered his aviation skills and helicopter to the Teton County Sheriff’s Department in Jackson Hole, Wyo., where the actor owns a 700-plus-acre ranch. Two rescues later (of a dehydrated college student in ’00 and a lost 13-year-old Boy Scout in ’01), Ford is now a deputized, badge-wielding sheriff who lends a hand with wildlife-rescue missions. The crew on the K-19 set nicknamed him Cowboy, but Ford, who owns a half-dozen airplanes, will have none of it. “Does that make him a local hero?” asks Sheriff Bob Zimmer. “Not in his mind. He’s not in it for that. He just wants to be a member of this community and give something back.”

Ford splits his time between the Wyoming ranch and New York City, where Georgia and Malcolm attend private school. (He and Mathison share custody of the children.) In Manhattan he stays at a rented three-bedroom luxury apartment in the 90-story Trump World Tower (construction is being completed on his $6.25 million penthouse in the city’s arty Chelsea neighborhood) and occasionally entertains Flockhart. Whether sweeping through the Trump World Tower lobby or chowing on chicken tikka masala at the Indian restaurant Shaan in Rockefeller Center, “they look tremendous together,” says one observer. “He seems to be extremely happy.”

So what does their future hold? With FOX’s cancellation of Ally—the finale airs May 20—Flockhart is out of a job. Not that she minds. “Part of her feels like she’s gotten out of jail,” says a source. Ford “really didn’t need to console her. She’s sad to say goodbye to her friends, but she’s at peace with the end of the show.” Ford, meanwhile, is focusing on his environmental activism. A decade-long member of Conservation International, he recently volunteered to patrol New York’s Hudson River in a helicopter for the Riverkeepers organization, and on May 9 he was to be honored for his activism by the International Center for Tropical Ecology at the Missouri Botanical Gardens.

These days his personal life is also reaping rewards. “I’ve been around him long enough to know that he has every opportunity at any given moment of the day to be with almost anyone,” says his colleague Pollack. “The fact that he chooses to be with Calista shows me that there’s something that they’re both completing in each other that makes it worthwhile.”

Michelle Tauber

Elizabeth Leonard, Ulrica Wihlborg, Rachel Biermann and Julie Jordan in Los Angeles, Keith Raether in Jackson Hole, Inez Russell in Taos and Diane Herbst in New York City