Theodore Roosevelt, 1903

"Let us speak courteously, deal fairly, and keep ourselves armed and ready." - Theodore Roosevelt, 1903

Saturday, September 29, 2012

A True American Western Icon - Ward Bond

Unlike actors today, his voice was as rugged as the West.

Some have said he was hard as nails and no non-sense on and off  screen. Others have said his tough and proud - yet understanding - manner depicted the essence of being an American.

His full name was Wardell Edwin Bond, but the world knew him as Ward Bond. He was born on April 9th, 1903, and died on November 5th, 1960.

He was an American film actor. And yes, most of his characters were  gruff and burly Cowboys in one form or another. Fact is that he acted in so many Western films that he was inducted into the Western Performers Hall of Fame at the National Cowboy & Western Heritage Museum in Oklahoma City in 2001.

For his contribution to the television industry, Bond has a star on the Hollywood Walk of Fame at 6933 Hollywood Blvd. And yes, there is also a Ward Bond Memorial Park in his birthplace of Benkelman, Nebraska.

Lately, with all of the junk in the movies these days, like many of us I've turned to watching old movies on DVDs. Westerns are my preference, but there are a lot of old movies that I enjoy that are not Westerns. Tonight, I talked my wife into watching one of my favorite old movies - The Long Gray Line.

The Long Gray Line is a 1955 American drama directed by famed Western director John Ford. It is based on the life of Marty Maher - a soldier who spent 50 years of his life at West Point Military Academy. In  the movie, famed actor Tyrone Power stars as the Irish immigrant Martin Maher whose 50-year career at West Point took him from dishwasher to NCO (non-commissioned officer) and athletic instructor.

Maureen O'Hara, who most will surely remember as co-staring with John Wayne in classics such as Rio Grande, The Quiet Man, The Wings Of Eagles, McLintock, and Big Jake, plays Maher's wife and fellow Irish immigrant Mary O'Donnell. The film co-stars Ward Bond as Herman Koehler, the Master of the Sword (West Point's athletic director) and Army's head football coach in 1897, who also befriends Maher.

The phrase "The Long Gray Line" is used to describe, as a continuum, all Army graduates and cadets of the United States Military Academy at West Point, New York. It is based on a true story as the film recalls the first days at the Point for Irish immigrant Maher (Tyrone Power), who can't seem to fit in with the Army and in especially West Point's regimen of unquestioning discipline.

As the Point's Athletic director, Ward Bond takes a liking to Maher and arranges for the young man to become his assistant. Bond even goes so far as to play Cupid between Maher and Irish maidservant Mary O'Donnell (Maureen O'Hara).

The movie is one of my favorites and I recommend anyone to check it out. My favorite scene in the movie is when Ward Bond as Captain Koehler orders Marty Maher (Tyrone Power) into the ring to give him some one on one boxing instruction. It doesn't turn out well for the scrappy Maher.

Ward Bond played that part as he did most others. He fit the part of a hard as nails, yet insightful leader. Ward Bond depicts the soldier's soldier in this film. And no, no other could have played that part.

Of course, growing up in the late 1950s and early 60s when TV Westerns were hot, I remember Ward Bond as the take charge Wagon Master in the television series Wagon Train.
Wagon Train was inspired by the 1950 film Wagon Master, in which Bond also appeared, and was influenced by The Big Trail.

In her recent article WAGON MASTER 1950, Ms Keith Payne, talks about how the film Wagon Master was named many times by famed director John Ford as being one of his favorite movies.

Ford was one of the most visual of directors, at this time working near the peak of his career, and he called Wagon Master not only his favorite Western but described it as, “along with The Fugitive (1947) and The Sun Shines Bright (1953), the closest to being what I had wanted to achieve.”

In a rare starring role, Ward Bond plays the leader of a group of Mormons who, shunned by society, struggle to cross the American West to reach their “promised land,” where they can settle and form a community.

They ask two horse traders (Ben Johnson and Harry Carey, Jr.) who know the territory to lead their wagon train. It takes some convincing, but they finally agree to do it, and the rest of the story follows their journey and the obstacles they must overcome, including Indians, gunmen, and Mother Nature.

Yet the story often pauses to revel in the characters dancing, whittling or singing (the soundtrack is packed with old Western songs), and to show pastoral sequences of the wagons simply moving through the landscape or crossing a river. These scenes become the emotional core of the film, and they undoubtedly are what Ford was so satisfied to have achieved.

Although Ben Johnson, Joanne Dru and Harry Carey, Jr. received top billing on the film, Ward Bond was paid the top money, $20,000 for a film with a one million dollar budget. Dobe Carey said many times that Ward actually was the star and was the glue for the entire movie.

One quote from his book, “A Company of Heroes” was that he had great regard for Ward Bond and said that he brought stability in every scene he was in.

One scene required Ward Bond to break up a fight between Sandy and one of the Mormons. John Ford had wanted two of the dogs who had been fighting each other most of the filming days to be fighting in the background. Instead, when the take began, both dogs froze, then one took off and the other ran in and tore Ward Bond’s pants as he was separating the boys.

Being the consummate actor he was, Ward Bond continued on with the scene. At the end, Mrs. Ledyarde blew her horn, (which, by the way really sounds like that unless you have enough wind to blow it…I know, I have one), to help separate the two, and then saw the tear in Ward Bond’s trousers.

It happened to be large and right at the spot where he had been subjected to years of operations, grafts, and physical therapy for a leg that was almost completely severed in the 40s. In fact, Ward Bond had only in the last few years just been able to walk without aid of a cane, and in some scenes did not have to wear the large heavy brace.

For Wagon Train, Bond specifically requested Terry Wilson for the role of assistant trail-master Bill Hawks and Frank McGrath as the cook Charlie Wooster. Wilson and McGrath stayed with the series for the entire run. 

Ward Bond was born in Benkelman, Nebraska, a small town located in the Southwestern corner of Nebraska just a few miles from the Kansas and Colorado borders. The Bond family lived in Benkelman until 1919 when they moved to Denver. Ward graduated from East High School in Denver.

Bond attended the University of Southern California and played football on the same team as future USC coach Jess Hill. At 6'2" and 195 pounds, Bond was a starting lineman on USC's first national championship team in 1928.

He was a football player at the University of Southern California when, together with teammate and lifelong friend John Wayne, he was hired as an extra in the silent film Salute (1928), directed by John Ford.  

Actually Ward Bond, John Wayne and the entire Southern Cal team were hired to appear in Salute (1929), which was a football film starring George O'Brien and directed by John Ford.   It was during the filming of this movie that Bond and Wayne became friendly with Ford, and both actors would appear in many of Ford's later films.

Both Bond and Wayne continued in films, but it was Wayne who ascended to super stardom. Bond was content with smaller roles and character parts throughout the 1930s. Ward Bond was one of the most prolific of Hollywood's actors over a period of 30 years. He regularly appeared in 10 to 20 films per year, with the record year for him being 1935, when he acted in 30 movies.

He worked with director John Ford on 26 films. Few, if any, actors, have appeared in so many films for a single director. Mostly playing traffic cops, bus drivers and western heavies, Ward Bond began getting better breaks after a showy role as the murderous Cass in John Ford's Young Mr. Lincoln (1939).

After that film, John Ford cast Bond in important roles all through the 1940s. It's said that Ford would usually contrive ways to include at least one scene per picture in which the camera would favor Bond's rather sizable posterior. It was an "inside" joke which delighted everyone on the set with the exception of Bond.

Ward Bond has been in some really big movies. Today we call them classics, and they are some of the most memorable roles for film history.

For example, we can find Ward Bond as a bus driver with Clark Gable & Claudette Colbert in It Happened One Night; as "Bert" the policeman in the Jimmy Stewart classic It's A Wonderful Life; as Reverend Captain Clayton in John Wayne's The Searchers; as the fly fishing Catholic priest in John Ford's The Quiet Man which starred John Wayne and Maureen O'Hara; and as one of the hard-boiled detectives harassing Humphrey Bogart in The Maltese Falcon. And for you trivia buffs out there, Ward Bond has the last line in The Maltese Falcon.

It happens when Sam Spade (Humphrey Bogart) hands over a fake version of the supposedly priceless Maltese Falcon to San Francisco Detective Tom Polhaus (Ward Bond).

Bond asks, "It’s heavy, what is it?" 

Bogart replies, "The stuff that dreams are made of." 

Bond then says, "huh?" - which is the last line of that classic movie.

Actually, Ward Bond has been in 11 films that were nominated for the Academy Award for Best Picture, which may be a record because its more than any other actor:

 Arrowsmith (1931), Lady for a Day (1933), It Happened One Night (1934), You Can't Take It with You (1938), Gone with the Wind (1939), The Grapes of Wrath (1940), The Maltese Falcon (1941), Sergeant York (1941), It's a Wonderful Life (1946), The Quiet Man (1952) and Mister Roberts (1955).

He made 16 movies with his friend John Wayne.

They were The Big Trail (1930), Conflict (1936), The Long Voyage Home (1940), The Shepherd of the Hills (1941), Tall in the Saddle (1944), Dakota (1945), They Were Expendable (1945), 3 Godfathers (1948), Fort Apache (1948), Operation Pacific (1951),  The Quiet Man (1952), Hondo (1953), Rookie of the Year (TV drama 1955), The Searchers (1956),  The Wings of Eagles (1957), and his last film Rio Bravo (1959).

One of my favorite Ward Bond roles is his portrayal of boxing champion John L. Sullivan in Gentleman Jim. At 6'2" tall and 195 pounds, he's very believable in that role. Yes, Ward Bond played in over 250 movies during his career.

Some might wonder why he didn't serve in the military in World War II like say John Wayne and other stars in Hollywood did back in those days? The answer to that is because Ward Bond was an epileptic, and he was rejected by the draft board during World War II.

But don't count Ward Bond out of the fight or think that he didn't do his part in some way during World War II. You see besides making great movies to keep the morale of our troops high, he along with another actor by the name of Ronald Reagan made training and morale films for the troops, and there is something else -- because Ward Bond couldn’t serve on active duty in the military during the war, he became an Air Raid Warden and was known to pull duty every chance he had subsequently putting in many long days.

It's interesting to note that because of his efforts during the war, he was given full military honors with an honor guard and flag draped coffin during his funeral.
As for his politics? Well, to give you an idea of how Conservative he was, during the 1940s Ward Bond was a member of the conservative group called the Motion Picture Alliance for the Preservation of American Ideals.

The Motion Picture Alliance for the Preservation of American Ideals was an American organization of high-profile, politically conservative members of the Hollywood film industry.

It was formed in 1944 for the stated purpose of defending the film industry, and the country as a whole, against what its founders claimed was Communist and Fascist infiltration. It's just my opinion, but I don't think they know how right they were.

Besides Ward Bond, other prominent members of the Alliance included Clark Gable, Ayn Rand, Ronald Reagan, John Wayne, Charles Coburn, Gary Cooper, Cecil B. DeMille, Walt Disney, Irene Dunne, Victor Fleming, Ginger Rogers, Robert Taylor, Barbara Stanwyck, King Vidor, Frank Wead and Sam Wood.

In 1960, Bond campaigned for the Republican presidential nominee Richard M. Nixon. Bond died three days before Democrat John F. Kennedy narrowly defeated Nixon.

As for away from films and television? It is said that Ward Bond, John Wayne and John Ford all loved the outdoor life, and probably did more than a bit of drinking and "raising hell."

Their fishing trips to Catalina Island were well known, and their hunting trips into remote areas in Baja California and other destinations, via horseback, were the stuff of legends.

On one hunting trip, it's true that John Wayne accidentally shot Ward Bond with Bond's own shotgun.

In case you are curious about the shotgun incident, Duke accidentally shot Ward in the butt. That was part of the private joke that Duke and Ford shared about always "shooting" Ward’s backside.

On November 5, 1960, midway into Wagon Train's fourth season, Ward Bond and his wife were in Dallas to attend a Cowboys-LA Rams football game. He was to receive some sort of award at the game. That night, at the couple's hotel, Ward suffered a massive heart attack and was rushed to the hospital where he was pronounced dead. Bond was 57 at the time of his death.

At his funeral, John Wayne gave the eulogy. Legendary director John Ford is said to have been in tears.

Duke and Ward owned a private 400 acre “hobby farm”. He gave Duke the option of buying out his half in his will. But besides the farm, later when Ward Bond's Will was read, he bequeathed to John Wayne that same shotgun with which the Duke had once accidentally shot Bond.  I'd say that that was pretty fitting.

I've always believed that Ward Bond was the perfect example of what an American should be. Sure I didn't know him other than in his movies. And sure, during his career he played good guys and bad. But when I saw him on the screen as a Cowboy, a Trail Boss, a Rancher, an Oil Rig Roughneck, a Cop, or even as the Cavalry Top Sergeant, he was that part -- and it was always great.

One writer once wrote of him, "Ward Bond acted best what he was in reality: a dyed-in-the-wool social and political conservative, a perfect expression of the American West."

I agree. I believe Ward Bond was what he was. He played the many facets of Ward Bond extremely well. And yes, that's why Ward Bond is truly an American Western Icon. He was his own man.

Editor's Note:

This article is growing as I get more information in. And yes, I want to thank Ms Keith Payne for all of her assistance with this article.  She knows a great deal about Ward Bond! You can find her at Speakeasy - Where classic stuff is always on tap 

And yes, Keith is a great gal!

Story by Tom Correa

7 comments:

  1. Great article Tom; enjoyed it thoroughly. I am writing a book on the uncredited stunt men and character actors in the Pappy Ford era. It will be told through the eyes of Ward, Terry Wilson, and Frank McGrath. Ward is "my guy", LOL, and I write a piece on him every year on the anniversary of his death. So, used a small part of your article and credited you by your name and your website link. You can find the article here:
    http://hqofk.wordpress.com/2012/11/05/wagon-master/ If you care to use it, you are more than welcomed to. Just needed an "outside source" who considered Ward to be the star of the film. Ben and Dobe were super and had top billing, but Ward was the old timer that held it altogether in my opinion......also made the highest salary, LOL! Thanks and love to hear from you, Keith Payne Hawkswill@yadtel.net....or comment on Kristina's Speakeasy site...the more the merrier! Oh, if you ever need to know ANYTHING about Ben Johnson, I have the person for you.

    ReplyDelete
  2. Glad you included part of my article, Tom. I signed up for your blog. You have a couple of inconsistencies in your piece. Be glad to straighten them out for you if you would like, just email me. Also, I believe I am the only woman in the world named Keith. Yep, a 62 year old woman Keith.
    Hawkswill@yadtel.net If you find time, would love for you to add your name to the bloggers who have read the piece on Speakeasy. Thanks and HAGO, KEITH

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  3. I am really pleased to see all this information on the GREAT Ward Bond included here, especially Keith Payne's excellent article on the fabulous WAGON MASTER. Her enthusiasm, depth of research, and dedication to getting the facts right are very impressive. I share her view of this VERY underrated, supreme American character actor (and argue quite extensively to this effect in my forthcoming book, THREE BAD MEN: JOHN FORD, JOHN WAYNE, WARD BOND, available soon). I hope the material on Mr. Bond continues!

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  4. Ward Bond was a wonderful actor, and it's nice to see him appreciated like this. Thanks Tom for a great article! And thanks to Keith for telling me about your site. I've been spending a lot of time looking around and enjoying all that I have seen! Keep up the great work!

    ReplyDelete
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    ReplyDelete
  6. Ward Bond was truly an American Icon...Ward & John Wayne were close friends & Duke once said to Bond.. Your too ugly to be in pictures... the life long friends made many movies together.. Duke took it really hard when he heard of Wards death...Good friends pass away all too quickly..

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  7. Wonderful. Thank you. I've always loved Ward Bond.

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