Harry Carey Jr., actor in John Ford films, dies at 91

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LOS ANGELES — Harry Carey Jr., a venerable character actor who was believed to be the last surviving member of director John Ford’s legendary western stock company, died Thursday. He was 91.

Carey, whose career spanned more than 50 years and included such Ford classics as “She Wore a Yellow Ribbon” and “The Searchers,” died of natural causes in Santa Barbara, said Melinda Carey, a daughter.

“In recent years, he became kind of the living historian of the modern era,” film critic Leonard Maltin told the Los Angeles 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.”

The son of silent-film western star Harry Carey Sr. and his actress wife, Olive, Carey made more than 100 films. They included “Red River,” “Beneath the 12-Mile Reef,” “Big Jake,” “Cahill U.S. Marshal,” “The Long Riders,” “The Whales of August” and 1993’s “Tombstone.”

The boyishly handsome Carey lacked the screen-dominating star quality of his longtime pal and frequent co-star, John Wayne. Instead, Carey brought a rare authenticity to his westerns as one of Hollywood’s best horsemen.

That was amply illustrated in 1950’s “Rio Grande,” for which he and cowboy-turned-character actor Ben Johnson learned to ride two horses while standing up, with one foot on the back of each horse.

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