05/07/2001 at 01:00 AM EDT
When Harrison Ford and his wife, screenwriter Melissa Mathison, announced last November that they were separating after 17 years to "work out our differences," the news—coupled with Ford's appearance at several nightclubs—baffled friends who knew the star as a scene-shunning homebody. "This is a guy who wears a hat with earflaps around town," says Tucker Smith, a musician pal of the couple's who lives near their Jackson Hole, Wyo., ranch. "He doesn't look like a playboy of the Western world."
Now the actor is back in a role he knows well: stay-at-home husband. Ford, 58, quietly reconciled with Mathison, 50, about two months ago. "They're definitely back together," says a source close to Ford. "He seems happier."
Even after he moved out of the New York City apartment he shared with Mathison and their children Malcolm, 14, and Georgia, 10, and into a hotel last fall, Ford never strayed far from his family. He joined them for Thanksgiving, then stayed with the kids when Mathison traveled to Los Angeles on business in December. "When she came back, that's when they talked," says one of Ford's relatives. The family spent Christmas together in Jackson Hole. Then, when Ford began shooting the submarine thriller K-19: The Widowmaker in Canada in February, he started spending his time off with Mathison and the children in Manhattan. "I was always under the impression it was just a trial separation," says a family friend. "He was probably having some doubts [about his marriage] as he was getting older, but he missed his kids, missed being with the family."
To Tucker Smith, the reconciliation came as a relief but not a surprise. "Harrison and Melissa," he says, "are two that Hollywood hasn't gotten to."