Yesterday I had one of those moments that comes to all of us as we get older, reading an obituary of someone I assumed had died years ago.
It was Harry Carey Jr, a Hollywood actor who, despite not being a big star, is a familiar face to all of us who love old westerns. He was one of the regulars in John Ford movies, which meant that he had significant parts in some John Wayne classics – The Searchers and She Wore A Yellow Ribbon – and a couple of starring roles – The Three Godfathers and Wagon Master. He had his highest profile in the 1950s but used to crop up in movies and on TV until the 1990s, and wrote a book about working on the Ford westerns.
No-one would argue that he was among the Hollywood greats, but he was one of those character actors who always contributed to a good movie and could sometimes provide a redeeming factor for a bad one. And he was one of the faces who would prompt many of us to point at a screen and say “Look who that is!”
I have to mark his passing because I’m a great fan of John Ford movies. I’ve watched some of them several times over – Stagecoach, My Darling Clementine, Rio Bravo, The Searchers – and always enjoy them even though I know what’s coming. I know there’s something dubious about many of them, feeding a myth about the west that airbrushes the fact that land was stolen and native Americans wiped out in their hundreds of thousands, but they’re great stories with intriguing characters and make magnificent use of the landscape.
Ford was the visionary, and there’s no arguing that the presence of leading actors like John Wayne and Henry Fonda was crucial to their artistic as much as commercial success, but the supporting actors were as much as part of it. They wouldn’t be the same without the likes of Walter Brennan, Victor McLaglen, Ben Johnson, and Harry Carey Jr.
I believe he’s the last to go, and he deserves a farewell.