An Interview with Western film star Harry Carey, Jr.
The other day I met with Western film star Harry Carey, Jr. and his wife Marilyn, and it was like hanging out with old friends. They were gracious enough to grant an exclusive interview to Wonders of the West to highlight the Golden Age of Western Film making and talk about what they’re up to these days.
For those who don’t know, Harry Carey, Jr. is a very well known actor from the golden era of the Westerns, appearing in over 100 Western films and television series from the 1940’s through the 1990’s.
He worked with the acting and directing greats of the classic Westerns, and was one of the first actors to have a star on the Hollywood Boulevard Walk of Fame.
These days he is properly honored as a film legend — he hosts of the annual Durango Western Film Festival which grants the annual “Dobe Award”, is a speaker and lecturer, receives cards and letters from around the world, and is one of the leading authorities on Western Film making.
Harry was born into a movie-making family, the son of silent Western stars Harry Carey and Olive Carey. He was surrounded by famous people as a child, with house guests and neighbors that included Will Rogers, the Western painter Charles M. Russell, silent screen star William S. Hart, and the legendary director John Ford.
His wife Marilyn was also the child of silent film star Paul Fix, who was one of the key influences on John Wayne’s style as an actor.
It seems that many of the Western stars had nicknames, such as “Duke” Wayne. Harry picked up the nickname Dobe, or Ol’ Dobe at birth, because of the bright red hair on his head that matched the red adobe bricks of the farmhouse he was born in. Ford and Wayne always used this name for him, and today most people still call him Dobe.
At 26 Harry was was cast in Red River, in a memorable part as a young singing cowboy working for cattle baron Tom Dunson (John Wayne). After that he was off and running, working in a string of over 100 Westerns, 10 of them John Ford films, including such epics as Rio Grande, She Wore A Yellow Ribbon, The Searchers and Cheyenne Autumn (Ford’s last film).
Young Ol’ Dobe went on to earn his own place in Western film history playing alongside all the greats. An expert horseman with a charming, almost shy demeanor, he was typically cast as a working cowboy.
He acted opposite John Wayne, William Powell, Montgomery Clift, James Stewart, Maureen O’Hara, Henry Fonda, Richard Widmark, Robert Mitchum, Pedro Armendariz, Tyrone Power, Walter Brennan and many others.
In addition to “Uncle Jack” (John Ford), Harry worked with some of the greatest directors of Western filmmaking including Raoul Walsh, Howard Hawks, and Andrew McLaglin.
Harry was in an excellent position observe film history being made by greats such as John Ford, for several reasons. First, as part of an elite group of actors he had access to everything going on. Second, he usually had a second level part, so he had time to watch most of the film being shot. John Ford required that all actors be on the set every day, whether they were working that day or not. Third, he happens to be a wonderful storyteller, recounting fascinating scenes in flawless detail. Finally, he is one of the few actors left from that era and is gracious enough to share his fascinating life with us. This combination makes him not only a living legend but a national treasure, and I feel very fortunate to have caught up with him.
Harry wrote a book about his experiences working in John Ford films entitled COMPANY OF HEROES, My Life as an Actor in the John Ford Stock Company, published in 1994. For me it was exactly what I have always wanted to know about the behind-the-scenes real life stories of what really happened when movies were made back then, and what happened during the off hours. The book includes hundreds of fascinating and funny stories. It’s a must read for all film buffs, especially Western film buffs. Harry and his wife, who now reside in Colorado, are currently working on the next book of stories, which should be a great sequel.
by Tom Nora