Tuesday, January 1

RIP Harry Carey Jr.

A great and very familiar western character actor, Harry Carey Jr., died last week.  He was the last of that troup that worked constantly with director John Ford.  His parents, Harry Sr. and Olive, were both actors (also often a part of the Ford group) and his father-in-law was character actor Paul Fix.  Movies were in his blood.

I spoke with him once at the Spahn Movie Ranch in Santa Susana, California, the same place that Charles Manson and his crowd would take over in years to come.  I was a teenager horseback riding with a friend and stopped to rest on a ridge that offered a beautiful view.  At the same spot was Carey, fellow actor and frequent costar Ken Curtis and some other fellow and we all engaged in lively conversation.  Both Carey and Curtis were incredibly generous with their time and remembrances, talking to us mainly about the movies and horses.  We ended up with Carey quizzing me about what I knew about his films.  He was just about the most un-movie star movie star I have ever met.

His father nicknamed him Dobe because of his red hair which reminded him of the red adobe soil on the family ranch.  A bit of a stretch, perhaps, but it stuck.  He would eventually team up with John Ford who would use him (and sometimes abuse him-- Ford always needed a whipping boy on his sets).  Their first collaboration was Three Godfathers (about three cowpokes who discover a baby in the desert) and then came She Wore a Yellow Ribbon, Wagon Master, Rio Grande, The Long Gray Line, Mister Roberts, The Searchers, Two Rode Together and Cheyenne Autumn.

With Wayne & Pedro Armendariz in "Three Godfathers"

Most of those films also costarred John Wayne with whom Carey would also costar with in Red River, Rio Bravo, Island in the Sky, The Undefeated and more.

In 1994 Carey wrote a very heart-warming book about his years and films with Ford and others called Company of Heroes: My Life as an Actor in the John Ford Stock Company, recommended reading for western film buffs.

He was a western movie fixture and appeared in quite a few that didn't involve Ford or Wayne.  He was always so clean-cut and youthful looking, so he was ordinarily a good guy but once in awhile he played a villain, most memorably, perhaps, in the James Stewart-Maureen O'Hara starrer, The Rare Breed.

He also did non-westerns.  Early in his career he even managed small parts not in one but three Marilyn Monroe films, Monkey Business, Niagara and Gentlemen Prefer Blondes.  He appeared in the Cary Grant comedy, Kiss Them for Me, with Tony Curtis in The Great Impostor, with Cher in Mask and Bette Davis in The Whales of August.  Carey could do it all.

Like most character actors, he did a lot of series television.  The most memorable thing he did on the tube to me was the 1955-57 Walt Disney serial, The Adventures of Spin and Marty, as Bill Burnett, a kindly boys' ranch counsellor to Tim Considine and David Stollery, among others.  If I remembered him for nothing else, it would be his telling me behind-the-scenes stories of this series while we sat on that ridge at Spahn Ranch.

I think Harry Carey Jr. was beloved in the Hollywood community.  He was a good and decent man, never one to go Hollywood, although he certainly had a lot of tales in him.  He was a second-generation actor who went on to make more films than his parents did.  He was married to one woman all his life, for 67 years.  More than an actor, he was a cowboy and a legendary one.

Thanks a lot, Dobe.  May you RIP.  It's a wrap.

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1 comment:

  1. Nice story on Harry Carey Jr. He was one of those actors you saw in alot of movies/shows, but didn't know his name. Of course, you know I loved Spin & Marty (right next to FURY), because of Marty's horse SKYROCKET. Love your personal stories!