To this fan who never met him, Harry Carey, Jr. was always a welcome, reliable, even comforting, presence on the small and big screens. He could play any kind of character -- heroic cowboy, dependable sidekick, military man, townsman, lawmen both upright or corrupt, craven outlaw -- and if we were extra lucky, he would sing for us with his beautiful warm baritone. Turn on the TV in the 1960s and 1970s and you were sure to see him; he appeared in 13 episodes of Have Gun Will Travel and 12 of Gunsmoke and made multiple appearances in just about every other major western series, while continuing his feature film career. In 1955, he played ranch counselor Bill Burnett in six episodes of Disney’s The Adventures of Spin and Marty. He seemed like a tall, gangly kid well into his thirties, but in his older years he put on a little weight and grew a beard, and his onscreen persona became more avuncular. In the post-Ford years he continued to work with John Wayne, appearing in The Undefeated, Big Jake, and Cahill U.S. Marshal. Some of his later films are The Long Riders, Gremlins, Mask, The Whales of August, Back to the Future Part III and Tombstone. His very appearance on screen in these later years signaled an appreciation for his importance in the history of the classic film western. He began to slow down a little in the late 1980s, working more in small roles in feature films and TV-movies and less in episodic television. His final acting credit (according to the IMDB) is the TV-movie Last Stand at Saber River starring Tom Selleck in 1997.
According to Company of Heroes, Harry Carey, Jr. first met Ben Johnson at Fat Jones’s ranch in the San Fernando Valley (Jones, Ben’s father-in-law, was one of the biggest providers of horses, cattle and rolling stock to the film industry). John Ford had told them to report there to work on a stunt for the upcoming 3 Godfathers. They became the closest of friends and remained so until Ben’s death in 1996. They were an unforgettable pair in Wagon Master and Rio Grande, Ben’s character laconic and thoughtful, Dobe’s more cheerful and innocent. They made ten films and three TV mini-series together, and occasionally appeared together at film festivals. In their last feature film together, Cherry 2000 (1987), he gave a very amusing performance as a goofy fellow called "Snappy Tom;" once again he and Ben displayed the easy camaraderie that had always marked their on-screen relationship. In 1995, they traveled to the Cannes film festival (scroll down to July 9 for more on the Cannes trip) and returned to Europe in March 1996 for the Bergamo Film Market’s celebration of Westerns.
Harry Carey, Jr. and Ben Johnson did an interview together for AMC television in 1986, which ended with Dobe stating he would also like to be remembered for the same qualities that Ben wanted to be remembered for: honest, realism and respect. "I hope that my grandkids and all those kids you put through school and their kids will remember us that way," he said. Ben replied, "They will," and Dobe turned to him and said, "It's been good being with ya."
Harry Carey, Jr., for us film fans, it was always good being with you whenever you were on screen. Happy Trails. Ride Easy.
Information about a memorial for Harry Carey, Jr. is forthcoming.
Obituary -- Los Angeles Times
Directed by John Ford.
50 Westerns from the '50s
Laura's Miscellaneous Musings
Lynn's Afternoon with Dobe Carey and family
Leonard Maltin: "Remembering Harry Carey, Jr."
Some Came Running Movie Blog
A Shroud of Thoughts Blog
Two newspaper articles about Ben, in the "Newspaper Articles" album in the Memorabilia section. The first article was published in the April 13, 1986 Washington Post in conjunction with the broadcast of the TV mini-series Dream West. The second is a piece in the October 19, 1986 Houston Chronicle publicizing that year's Ben Johnson-Bum Phillips Pro-Celebrity Rodeo with a story about how Ben recovered a prize buckle that had been stolen ten years ago.
Owen Wister's 1902 western novel The Virginian was one of the first great novels of the American West. Set in the semi-mythical town of Medicine Bow, Wyoming in the 1890s, it chronicled the lives and relationships of the people who came west and settled the wild land. The Virginian was the first 90 minute television western, airing in prime time time on NBC from 1962-1971. The stellar cast from Season Seven includes James Drury, Doug McClure, John McIntire, Jeanette Nolan and David Hartman.
They're joined by a distinguished array of guest stars, including John Smith (Laramie), Pete Duel (Alias, Smith and Jones), Yvonne De Carlo (The Munsters), James Gregory (The Lawless Years), Anne Baxter (All About Eve), Burgess Meredith (Rocky), and many more!
"I Never Get Too Busy to Talk to a Friend": Don Young and Ben Johnson
Don Young has been acting in the Atlanta area for more than 35 years. His credits include films films including The Prize Fighter with Tim Conway and Don Knotts, Tank with James Garner, Sweet Home Alabama with Reese Witherspoon and Josh Lucas, Big Fish with Ewan McGregor and Albert Finney, and We Are Marshall with Matthew McConaughey. His TV work includes In the Heat of the Night and Unsolved Mysteries, and he has also made dozens of commercials, including a Philip Morris commercial directed by the late Tony Scott. He will soon be back on the big screen playing “Regular No. 1” in the baseball movie Trouble With the Curve starring Clint Eastwood and Amy Adams.
A tall, spare man in his mid-70s with a melodious Georgia accent, Don met Ben Johnson in 1975 at a film festival in Florida, and, as Don puts it, they “hit it right off” and formed a friendship that lasted until Ben’s death in 1996. But Ben remains a presence in Don’s life and he is fond of passing on to the directors with whom he works the stories that Ben once told him.
Don graciously agreed to an impromptu interview at the Western Trails Film Club of Georgia gathering in Newnan, Georgia, on August 25. Here are his memories of his 20-year friendship with Ben Johnson.
Don Young and author Chuck Thornton at the Western Trails gathering
I’ve been in the Screen Actors Guild for 34, 35 years. I met Ben in, let’s see, ’75, Florida, at a convention. Ben and I hit it right off. Of course he was an old ranch hand and I’ve fooled with horses myself, and we just sort of fell in and got to know each other. I was at his home [in Westlake, California], I think it was 1978. We went out there and I never been more at home, more relaxed. We just propped our feet up.
Ben’s mother was part Indian and they came from North Georgia on the Trail of Tears. I found that out after he died, it was on some program they interviewed him on.
Ben was always nice. His wife Carol was [movie stock and vehicle contractor] Fat Jones’ daughter. I was in his house talking to Carol, and I said, “I guess you were a pretty good rider.” She said, “Noooo!” “But your dad had the horses!” “He told us to be afraid of them! He said, they’re scary, don’t be around no horses.” They didn’t ride. Of course old Ben, that’s how he got his start. He was a wrangler in Oklahoma and got a contract to haul horses to [the set of The Outlaw]. He was working in Oklahoma for 30, 40 dollars a month as a ranch hand. He said, “The first week I was out there, I made a 175 dollars. I ain’t too smart, I can’t count too good, but that’s a lot more money.” Of course, Ben died well off. But Ben never forgot his origins.
Don Young and Ben Johnson, circa early 1980s
That time I was talking to his wife, Carol, she said, “Yeah, he’s like an old shoe!” He didn’t meet a stranger, and he knew where he came from.
He was a good friend of the guy that built the Spruce Goose, Howard Hughes. They used to ride together. And Ben said every time they’d go riding, Hughes would put a hundred dollar bill in his pocket. He got to know Howard Hughes really well, and he said that after he had that plane crash he wasn’t the same.
Ben was working on Smoky  and he had four rides that day. So he billed the director and the director didn’t like it, and they got in an argument and he fired Ben. Ben said, “I went and got my two shirts and my pants and packed my clothes, and I was leaving.” Fred MacMurray [the movie’s star] called him. “Where you going, Ben?” “Oh well, the director fired me.” Fred went and got his clothes. He came out then and the director said, “Where you going, Fred?” “If you don’t need Ben, you sure don’t need me!” So the director re-hired Ben. And Fred told Ben, “Any time you lead a horse, you sit on a horse, you tie up a horse, or you ride a horse, charge him.” Ben said, “After that, I robbed him!” He could tell some tales. I’ve told several directors that. In fact, the director I just worked for, Robert Lorenz in Trouble With the Curve, I told him about it. Directors kind of like that too.
Clint Eastwood and Don Young on the set of Trouble With the Curve
Ben told me one time, “I don’t wear short sleeved shirts -- my old arm’s been broke so many times.”
You know he saved the lives of some stuntmen. That’s how he got his start, with John Ford. Ben got the contract to hold the horses in Monument Valley. He was working on Fort Apache. Ben was there and was an old rodeo man. The horses hitched to a wagon were spooked, and the camera wasn’t running. The wagon was heading for the rocks, and Ben hops on his horse and stopped the horses before they ran into the rocks. John Ford said he’d reward him, and Ben said he figured it would be another stunt job. The next week Ford called him into his office. “Ben,” he says, “I got this contract. You probably want your agent to read it.” Ben said, “I looked down there and the third line was $5,000 dollars a week. ‘No sir, he don’t have to read this.’ I was afraid he would change his mind.”
One year he got out of the movie business, and went back to rodeo, and won that team roping award. Ben loved rodeo. “After that year,” he’d say, “All I had was a white truck and a mad wife!” Him and Carol was real close. I think what hurt him was she died two years before he did. I asked Harry Carey, Jr. -- they were good friends -- about that, and he said, “It didn’t help him any, with her dying first.” They were really close. Ben didn’t have any children. He said, “I got 30 or 40 around the neighborhood that I call mine.” They were just a nice couple. I didn’t have his phone number and a friend of mine gave me the number. My daughter always liked him. She was a teenager at that time and I called him and I said, “Ben, this is Don Young. A friend of mine gave me your number. If you don’t want me to call you anymore, I’ll tear it up and throw it away.” He said, “Why do you want to do that for?” I said, “I got a little girl that’s sitting here anxious to talk to you.” “Well, put her on!”
Don Young in one of his many movie roles
When I first met him, my daughter was with us. This was in ’75. He said, “Do me a favor.” I said, “What kind of favor can I do you?” He said, “Send me a picture of you and your daughter. I’ll let you have my address. Any time you’re out there, look me up!” And I did, when I went out there. He was living then in Westlake Village, in California. He worked with David Huddleston, who was in Gorp, a film I did years ago when I first started. Ben got into real estate and he bought and sold the next day and made a million dollars on some property. When I was at Ben’s home, he said, “I gotta go, I’ll be back in a minute.” And he went and talked to some people from Prudential who was investin’ money. Ben says, “Don, I grew up without anything. I wasn’t afraid of investing. It’s made money. I just want a little bit for me and my family.” But he didn’t got anybody but him and Carol!
I never worked with him in a movie, I just got to know him in his home and whatnot. I told him one time, “I know I worry a lot to call and talk to you,” and he said, “I never get too busy to talk to a friend.”
Ben was going to work on The Wild Bunch . He walked into [director Sam Peckinpah’s] office and Peckinpah was on the phone chewin’ out some stunt man. Ben got up and wanted to leave. Sam said, “Where you goin’, Ben?” and he said, “I couldn’t work for you!” Sam said, “Why?” Ben said, “You talk to me like that, I’d bust you in the damn nose!”
Ben Johnson, Sam Peckinpah and cast and crew on the set of The Wild Bunch
One time I was getting an autograph for a friend of mine. Ben was at the table. “Ben,” I said, “This guy Bill thinks there’s ain’t nobody like me and you.” He looked up and said, “We don’t want to change him, do we?”
Ben’s in the Cowboy Hall of Fame out in Oklahoma City. We went and seen it. Also, my daughter lives out in Colorado. I’ve been out there three times, three separate years, for brandin’ and ropin’ the old-fashioned way. Everybody out there knows me. You just mention Ben Johnson -- in the cattle industry, everybody knows who he is.
He was always gracious. One time in Knoxville, he was at a convention. We were sitting there, and he’s going to get something to eat. We were sitting around and jawing, and I got ready to pay the bill, and Ben had already paid it. I caught him and said, “Ben, I didn’t intend for you to pay that.” “Oh it’s all right.”
He taught me something one time in my acting and I’ve told a lot of directors about this. Ben said, “Don, anybody can out-act me. Anybody can do what I do better. But they can’t play Ben Johnson better than me!” And I tell directors that. Anybody can do what I do, anybody can do better, but they can’t play Don Young better than me!
Don Young in Big Fish
Jock Mahoney also taught me a lot of things about acting. He and Ben worked together [in Slim Carter]. If ever there was a actor I would like to be like, it would be Ben Johnson. He could be the most gentle man, and then -- one movie he made, he advised women not to see it. We was talking one time and somebody came up and said, “I remember you in The Last Picture Show.” I said, “Yeah, he played Sam the Lion.” Ben said, “That was a dirty movie. I like something my family could see.” Ben was always talking about his family.
When you met Ben, you knew it. I never seen him be rude to anybody, I never seen him short with anybody. Ben was one of the greatest. He was easy to get to know and he never forgot his fans. Anybody I’ve talked with who’s worked with him and knew him felt that way. He was one of the greatest there are. There wasn’t a nicer person I’ve ever met. And like I say, in every act, he was a man.
One time, he was in a movie called Bordertown Gun Fighters , and all he had to do was to come in and leave a note, and walk out. I said, “That’s not a part for an Academy Award winner!” He said, “That was a long time ago.” He told me he’d never had a speaking part and he’d only done stunt work. He said he rehearsed it three days and three nights. It wasn’t nothing: “I’ve got a letter for you.” Well, he stopped the horse, tied it up, walked inside, “I got a letter for you.” He said he rehearsed it three days and three nights. And he said, “I bobbled the line!” Just goes to show you, even the professionals make a mistake! It’s all in the business, they expect that, it happens. I’ve done it myself many times. You can’t get it out!
I’ve met a lot of men, I’ve been coming to these conventions ever since ’73 and ’74 and I’ve met Eddie Dean and different ones I knew well, but I don’t think I knew anybody no better than Ben Johnson. At a convention, some girl mentioned James Garner, who I worked with in Tank. He was real nice. He’s got my vote. But I would have to say Ben’s the greatest of all of them. If I had to choose, I would choose Ben. He’s one of a kind.
I met Ben Johnson in 1976 [at the Florida Mid-Winter Western Film Round-Up in Orlando]. He just happened to be in the grouping there. Ben Johnson was just a likeable old guy from Oklahoma. He talked like an Oklahoman. He was just the same way off camera as he was on camera. Just a sweet guy. He was probably the same size as John Wayne. Made a lot of movies with John Wayne. I had seen him in several movies and we talked about [the recently released] Hustle. He said, “Oh my gosh, did you see that? I didn’t think you’d go to a movie like that.” I wanted to see him and Catherine Deneuve who was in that. Not a Ben Johnson movie! You usually think about him wearing a big old cowboy hat on a big old horse riding down a canyon.
Beverly and Ben at the 1976 Florida festival
We talked about the recent movies he was in. He was very cordial, a good old guy, talked old Oklahoman. It was a joy to meet him and you had more of a respect for him just to see him and touch him and there he is. He was really good.
Another picture of Ben at the Florida festival
Red Dawn will be released on Blu-ray on October 9, and will have three featurettes ("Red Dawn Rising," "Building the Red Menace: Training for WWIII" and "WWIII Comes to Town") plus the trailer. Ben plays the friendly rancher, Mr. Mason, who helps the young rebels.
Olive Films released Rio Grande today on Blu-ray and standard DVD. I have already watched the Blu-ray and it looks pretty good. You can tell they didn't do any digital restoration as there are occasional flecks and lines indicating damage to the elements, but these are minor and won't affect your enjoyment of the film. The Blu-ray and DVD include an extra, "The Making of Rio Grande," which includes interviews with Michael Wayne (son of John Wayne), Harry Carey, Jr. and Ben Johnson. The menu lists this extra as "The Making of High Noon." That's some typo!
A screen capture from the new standard DVD
This page has information about and photos from film festivals and other events celebrating Ben Johnson and his colleagues in the film and cowboy communities.