Harry Carey, Jr. died this past December at age 91. He was never a star, seldom had the leading role in a film and was not a conventional leading man. So why is he important? Harry Carey, Jr. was the son of a famous silent Western star and created his own career mostly working in the films of legendary director, John Ford. In fact, Harry Carey, Jr.'s connection to John Ford is his principal claim to fame. He not only had roles in most of Ford's great westerns but also wrote a book called Company of Heroes - My Life as an Actor in the John Ford Stock Company. This wonderful book, along with Maureen O'Hara's memoir, are the best of the books on what it was actually like to work with the Oscar winning (A record 4 Best Director Awards) director. Plus growing up I always had a crush on Harry Carey, Jr. - he was cute with killer reddish blond hair and the bashful charm of a true star.
Harry Carey, Jr. was born in 1921. His father was the legendary silent star Harry Carey and his mother - Olive Carey also had roles in many of John Ford's films. (She is the kindly mother who collects Natalie Wood from John Wayne at the end of The Searchers.)
When Harry Carey died in 1948, John Ford put his son into 3 Godfathers starring John Wayne. This gorgeous technicolor film is the story of 3 bandits who find an orphan baby and attempt to save it even if it means giving up their freedom. Harry Carey, Jr. played The Abilene Kid and was sexy as hell as the youngest of the desperadoes. He had a great death scene and the cantankerous Ford has earlier warned him: "You're going to hate me when this picture is over, but you're going to give a great performance." Dobe Carey, as he was called due to his reddish hair, followed with good roles in She Wore A Yellow Ribbon and Rio Grande. He was given his only starring role in Ford's Wagonmaster - a brilliant film (thought to be the director's favorite) and Carey gave a sensational performance.
Dobe Carey appeared in a number of John Ford's 50s classics including The Searchers, Mister Roberts, and The Long Grey Line. He also did other films and even television appearing on the popular Spin and Marty Mickey Mouse series as the ranch counselor.
Harry Carey, Jr. worked for the rest of his life. He had a great marriage of 68 years and three children. But Harry Carey's most valuable contribution to film history may be his wonderfully anecdotal 1974 book in which he talks about all his movies and co-stars like John Wayne and Maureen O'Hara plus his wonderful love/hate relationship with John Ford.
Years ago I got to meet Dobe Carey at LACMA where he was signing his book and they were showing 3 Godfathers. I had him autograph my book and the laserdisc of the film. He was charming then and still handsome in his 50s. Harry Carey, Jr deserves to be remembered for the following reason he points out in his wonderful memoir: "I can see the white billowy clouds that John Ford loved so much, drifting southwest toward Monument Valley. I know everything that's under those clouds. I watched and heard things that only a handful of other actors have experienced. I know film history was made under clouds like those, and I was part of it."