“Harry Carey Jr., who was a member of John Ford‘s stock company of actors and played in a number of the director’s classic Westerns, has died of natural causes in Santa Barbara.” He was 91. Duane Byrge in the Hollywood Reporter: “The son of silent superstar Harry Carey and actress Olive Carey, he was one of moviedom’s most familiar faces. In all, he performed in roughly 100 movies and on numerous TV shows. With his large frame and rough-hewn look, Carey was one of Hollywood’s most prolific character actors from the 1950s through the ’80s. Carey played in many of Ford’s greatest Westerns that starred John Wayne, including She Wore a Yellow Ribbon (1949), Rio Grande (1950) and The Searchers (1956). He also appeared for the director in Wagon Master (1950), The Long Gray Line (1955) as Dwight Eisenhower, Two Rode Together (1961) with James Stewart and Cheyenne Autumn (1964). In all, Carey appeared in 11 Ford films and about 50 Westerns.”
“Carey’s first feature collaboration with Ford in 3 Godfathers, playing the Abilene Kid, saw Carey, Wayne and Mexican-born actor Pedro Armendariz co-star as cattle rustlers and bank robbers who care for an orphaned baby boy while dodging the law,” writes Alex Dobuzinskis for Reuters. “Carey’s father starred in the original 1919 version, also directed by Ford. Carey began his association with Wayne in another 1948 release, the classic Howard Hawks Western movie Red River, which also starred the elder Carey, though father and son had no scenes together.”
“During World War II, Carey served in a unit Ford formed and commanded, the Field Photographic Reserve, which shot films for the Navy and the Office of Strategic Services (forerunner of the CIA) and whose members included many Hollywood figures, among them writers Garson Kanin and Budd Schulberg,” writes Kevin Roderick at LA Observed. “John Wayne, who starred in Ford’s Oscar winner Stagecoach before the war, tried to get in but never was accepted…. The Field Photo Farm became the scene of charity events and family socials at Christmas where Santa Claus would be played by big-bodied Hollywood figures such as Burl Ives or Andy Devine, and Jimmy Stewart would play ‘Jingle Bells’ on the accordion while riding atop a stagecoach delivering presents. The coach and horses came from Valleywood’s famed Fat Jones stables, which supplied the westerns. When Harry Carey, Sr. died in 1947, after years of estrangement from Ford, the farm hosted an elaborate funeral. His body lay in state in the chapel for two days, with a uniformed honor guard and, out front, Carey’s horse Sunny. Ford, Wayne and actors Ward Bond and Spencer Tracy acted as pallbearers. It was after the funeral that the son, previously known as Henry ‘Dobe’ Carey, began to be billed as Harry Carey, Jr., on the insistence of Ford and Wayne, according to author Tag Gallagher in John Ford: The Man and His Films.”
Glenn Kenny posts a tale Carey told in his 1994 memoir Company of Heroes: My Life as an Actor in the John Ford Stock Company.
The Los Angeles Times‘ Dennis McLellan: “‘In recent years, he became kind of the living historian of the modern era,’ film critic Leonard Maltin told The Times on Friday. ‘He would get hired on films by young directors who just wanted to work with him, to be one step away from the legends. Some hired him to just hear his stories between takes.’ Director Joe Dante, who used Carey in his 1984 comic-fantasy Gremlins, told The Times in 2003: ‘You got a lot of free movie history when you cast him.’ … According to Dante, Carey was at his best in Ford’s 1950 western Wagon Master, in which Carey and Johnson co-starred as horse traders who join a Mormon wagon train. ‘Harry was a straight-arrow, realistic person on the screen,’ Dante said. ‘It didn’t seem like he was acting. He really had an aw-shucks quality.'”
Update, 12/30: Ronald Bergan, in his obit for the Guardian, tells a story about 3 Godfathers: “Carey sings ‘Streets of Laredo’ as a lullaby and has a moving death scene in which he lapses back into childhood to recite the Lord’s Prayer. According to Carey, after the first take of the death scene, which he fluffed, Ford left him to bake in the scorching heat of Death Valley for 30 minutes. When the director returned, a near delirious Carey delivered his speech, his mouth so dry he could not swallow and with a voice that resembled the croaking of a dying man. ‘Why didn’t you do that the first time?’ a grinning Ford asked Carey. ‘See how easy it was? You done good! That’s a wrap!'”
Update, 1/5: “The historian in me is tempted to divide Carey, Jr.’s career into three stages, though the divisions tend to overlap,” writes Susan Doll at Movie Morlocks. “The 1940s-1950s, which are highlighted by roles in Ford’s films, represent the first phase, which was followed by a period dominated by appearances in western television series. From Have Gun, Will Travel to Wagon Train to Bonanza, Carey guest-starred in every major western series of the day. He continued to appear in small roles in feature films during this time, ranging from Don Siegel’s revisionist Death of a Gunfighter to the dubious Billy the Kid vs. Dracula…. In the last phase of his career, Harry Carey, Jr. became a marker for the history of the genre, a signifier of its long-lasting mythic power in our culture. In films such as The Long Riders, Tombstone, and even Back to the Future, Part III, his appearance, his dialogue, or his death took on a meaning beyond the surface of the plot for the filmmakers who cast him and the savvy viewers who recognized him.”
Update, 1/15: Peter Bogdanovich recalls that he was “privileged to have Dobe in the cast of two pictures I directed, Nickelodeon in 1976, and Mask in 1985; he was terrific in each of these, and a joy to have around, a solid professional, but also a brilliantly deadpan, hilarious raconteur of the days of the giants in pictures. We also shot an amusing interview with Dobe in 2006 for my documentary, Directed by John Ford, and three years later we got together again and recorded a commentary track for the DVD release of Wagon Master; it was a wonderful time, seeing and hearing Dobe reacting to the movie—among his biggest roles too—as he watched it, and often very funny.”