Thursday, June 14, 2012

Smoke Signals Monthly eMagazine

Roaming Range Reporter

Continued from June 2012, Smoke Signals

Photo oa Gary E BrownReel Cowboys of Western Cinema

A Century of Silver Screen Heroes on Horseback

By Gary Eugene Brown

A continuing series on the leading men who made western films a special art form. Many, in the beginning, had been actual working cowboys; while others were accomplished actors who applied their craft in such a manner as to appear as though they had just rode into Hollywood on horseback. This is the story of one of them.


When two of the most respected cowboy icons pay homage to a former stage actor from the Bronx, one takes notice. Will Rogers said Harry Carey "was the most human and natural of the Western actors." John Wayne hailed him as "the greatest Western actor of all time." In addition, the legendary director John Ford who once remarked "[Harry] Carey was a great actor," dedicated his 1948 film, Three Godfathers to "Harry Carey - the Bright Star of the early Western Sky." However, if it wasn't for Harry Carey, we might not have heard of John Ford. The story begins in New York City on January 16, 1878.
Collage of Harry Carey PhotosHenry Dewitt Carey, the 2nd, was born the son of a future New York Supreme Court Jurist. Harry attended military academy before going on to college. At age, 21, Harry was stricken with pneumonia. During recuperation, he wrote a play he called Montana. Harry would go on to produce, direct and play the lead role of Cheyenne Harry in his play for four years, beginning in 1903.
Harry in 1910 joined Biograph, a motion picture company in New York City and became a stock player for the pioneer director D.W. Griffith. He was given an opportunity to make 1- and 2-reel western pictures, which led to a contract with Universal (1915) and a one way trip to Hollywood.
This venture led to meeting his future wife, 18 year old starlet, Olive Golden. They had two children: Harry Jr. (Dobe) and Ellen. Universal's Carl Laemmle, upon the urging of actor Francis Ford, gave Harry his own film company. In turn, at Francis's request, Harry helped his benefactor's younger brother, Assistant Director Jack Ford by giving him an opportunity to direct films for him. Harry and John Ford, made many westerns together; however, the full length western Straight Shooting (1917) is the only surviving film of the Carey/Ford era. The two also filmed Marked Men (1919), a remake of Peter B. Kyne's novel Three Godfathers that had earlier also starred Harry Carey.
In 1922, Universal, due to the popularity of Fox's Tom Mix films, decided not to renew Harry's contract and replaced him with his former costar Hoot Gibson. Harry, age 44, went on to make films for lessor known studios, as well as Pathe' who featured him in westerns: Silent Sanderson, The Prairie Pirate, and Satan Town, among others. Pathe' released him in 1928. To maintain the ranch he and Ollie owned in the San Francisquito valley near Newhall (now Santa Clarita), the two formed a vaudeville act and went on tour. On March 13. 1928, the St. Francis dam, constructed for the LA Aqueduct, collapsed at midnight and Carey's ranch caretakers along with 300 to 600 souls were swept away. The Careys lost everything and had to rebuild, however they were alive.

Ollie Carey, in a rare interview for the outstanding 1980 documentary: Hollywood Series - A Celebration of American Silent Film, commented on her husband's fascination with the West: He was not your typical cowboy, "he was an Easterner"; however he was "romantically in love with the West...absolutely and with the pioneer spirit...he just loved being a cowboy." In the same segment, John Wayne shared that he "loved" both Harry and Ollie and looked upon Harry as a father figure. Wayne was also impressed with Carey's natural way of acting. At the conclusion of John Ford's classic western The Searchers, the Duke recalled the final scene where he returns his niece Natalie Wood to safety after years of captivity. The scene is blocked so it is a black frame looking on Ethan Edwards. He notices Ollie Carey, who was featured in the movie along with Dobe, standing with the film crew. The thought came to him to convey a subtle message to her and so he took his left hand and grasped his upper right forearm, a habit that her late husband "incessantly" did in his films. Ollie picked up on the silent tribute and the tears came flowing down...a special moment just between the two of them.
In 1931, MGM released a major epic on the larger than life Trader Horn and his exploits on the Dark Continent. They had Harry play the lead with a young Duncan Renaldo (later TV's Cisco Kid) as costar. The film was a major hit for MGM and rejuvenated Harry's movie career. After returning to B westerns for Artcraft Studios, Harry made two 12-chapter serials in 1932 for Mascot Studios, including the classic The Last of the Mohicans. He then costarred with Walter Houston in the B+ western Law and Order for Universal Studios. RKO later chose Harry to head up an all-star B western cast in 1935 - Powdersmoke Range. Joining Harry were Hoot Gibson, Bob Steele, Tom Tyler, Big Boy Williams, Wally Wales and Buddy Roosevelt, all whom had been leading men in B oaters. His last starring role was in 1936 in RKO's The Last Outlaw...Harry was 58 and the title was fitting as he was no longer young.
Harry Carey played all types of roles besides cowboys and starred on Broadway in Eugene O'Neil's Ah Wilderness. Harry even received an Oscar nomination for Best Supporting Actor in Frank Capra's revered Mr. Smith Goes to Washington (1939). Interestingly, the Oscar went to Thomas Mitchell for his role in John Ford's Stagecoach. Ford last used Harry in 1936 in The Prisoner of Shark Island. Harry went on to play key roles in The Shepherd of the Hills, The Spoilers, China's Little Devils, Angel and the Badman, Duel in the Sun, The Sea of Grass and Red River, among others. His last film was Walt Disney's So Dear to my Heart (1948).
Harry Carey was ill with emphysema and later cancer. On September 21, 1947, Harry crossed over the Jordan River. Present in his bedroom was the Doctor (a close friend), a nurse, his son Dobe and John and Mary Ford. John Wayne flew back from Catalina Island that morning to be with his friend and mentor. The Duke, according to Harry Carey Jr.'s fine book My Life As An Actor In The John Ford Stock Company, was keeping himself busy running errands for the family while Ollie played hostess to the visitors who came by to pay their respects. After the physician closed his father's eyes - Dobe claims - "Then the wake began. It went on for about a year. I'm serious, it did."
A year before Harry died, Dobe asked his father, why Ford hadn't used him in many years. Harry, instead of complaining or criticizing Ford's many "faults and egomania," paused, puffed on his cigarette and replied, "He won't ask me...But you will [be asked]...not till after I croak...but then you will. You can bet on it." His father was right as Ford on the day Harry died told Ollie that he was going to feature Dobe as "the Kid" in his next western - a remake of Three Godfathers. Ford kept his word. In essence, the kind gesture of an older, leading man, many years ago, in reaching out to a youthful, would be director, was repaid to the son (Harry Carey Jr.) many years later. The son went on to be a major stock player in some of the finest westerns ever made.
"But you will...not till after I croak...but then you will. You can bet on it."
is the retired Police Chief of Monterey, CA; Ashland, OR and San Clemente. However, his avocation is collecting western art and memorabilia including many Tom Mix items. Tom Mix was his father's hero, so he is Gary's as well. Gary wrote an article on Tom Mix for The National Film & Collectors Magazine - Hollywood Studio Magazine, as well as a recent article on Tom Mix's final day for American Cowboy magazine. He has also written articles on the Western Photoplays of the Golden Era and lectured on the Western Heroes of the Silver Screen. He can be reached at or found, most mornings, at his son Jordan's Mavericks Coffee House in Visalia, CA....the site of "possibly the best coffee in the world" with walls of vintage cowboy movie posters and a collection of 66 original, autographed photos of yesterday's cowboy heroes.

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