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. The 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 watch 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 an 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.”

Ward Bond starred in Wagon Master where he played the leader of a group of Mormons in their journey across the West. Headed to their supposed promised land, they sought a place where they would be able to settle down and form a community without the prejudices and hardships of where they came from.

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 later that it was Ward Bond who was actually the star. Bond is also credited with being the glue that held the entire movie together.

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. In 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 the 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 superstardom. 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 it's 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. 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


  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: 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 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.

  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. 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

  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!

  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!

  5. What you said made a ton of sense. But, think about this, suppose you were to write a killer headline?
    I ain't suggesting your information isn't good, however suppose
    you added a post title that makes people want more?
    I mean "A True American Western Icon - Ward Bond" is kinda boring.
    You ought to glance at Yahoo's front page and see how
    they create article headlines to grab viewers to click. You might add a video
    or a related picture or two to get people excited about what you've got to say.
    In my opinion, it would make your website a little

    My web blog; รับทำ seo

  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..

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

  8. I have never been able to find out which episode of Wagon Train was the LAST ONE filmed with Ward Bond just before his death on 11/05/60. Was it episode 13, The Roger Bigelow Story, or episode 22, The Beth Pearson Story? After episode 13, Bond never appeared again until episode 22. These episodes were not aired in the same order in which they were filmed.

    1. Since there was a two month gap in airing between episode 13 and episode 22, I guess we can just presume that episode 22 was his final filmed episode? For that matter, he also appeared in episode 12, The River Crossing. How would we know that was filmed before episode 13?

  9. John Wayne never served in the military.

    1. I don't know what that has to do with Ward Bond, but you are correct in that John Wayne did not serve in the military. Yes, just like a great number of actors during World War II. But I believe that while he was given a temporary 3-A family deferment, I don't believe he could have served because of what happened when he was at USC. According to the biography John Wayne: The Man Behind the Myth, Wayne said, "When we moved to California, I discovered the ocean, and I loved it. My ambition was to become an officer in the United States Navy." With a naval career in mind, Wayne applied to the Naval Academy in Annapolis, Maryland. But, he was turned down. He then accepted a football scholarship to the University of Southern California. Yes, USC. This worked out find until he got hurt surfing. Because of his injury to his collarbone and shoulder, he lost his scholarship. I believe that injury could have made him ineligible for enlistment. As for serving in World War II, there are some records that say he did serve with the OSS while touring with the USO -- but who knows if that's true or not.

  10. I have always wondered if Bond has some respiratory problem as well. He always sounded as if he somewhat short of breath. BTW I never knew about his leg injury or his epilepsy before this. He was a great actor and obviously a fine man.

  11. Ward Bond will always be well known for his role as Major Seth Adams from the show "Wagon Train". I watch it whenever I can and sometimes his face will pop up. It's a shame he had to die before he could film any more episodes. But the good thing is that he left behind so many wonderful memories. Sad but still wonderful. Happy trails, Major Adams. Happy Trails.

  12. I also forgot to mention that Ward Bond is one of my favorite actors of any Western film and one of my favorite actors from "Wagon Train" besides Terry Wilson, Frank McGrath, John McIntire, and Denny Scott Miller. I had a dream the other night where I worked with him on the show, "Wagon Train". It was one of the episodes from 1958 but I can't remember which one. But anyway, in the dream, Ward Bond asked me who I was prior to filming, where I was from, what I did, how old I was, and oh, get this, he also asked if I was a true cowboy fan. So I told him. "My name is Benny Bence. I'm from Bartow, Florida. I am (not gonna say my actual age for the sake of the dream) years old, I'm a singer and actor, I'm part Irish, part Italian, part Mexican, part Cherokee, but all American, my dad's name is Benji but we call him "Spanky", my mom's name is Terrie, my brother's name is Billy, (he was also working on the show as a stuntman in the dream I had), I have autism, and I came to Hollywood to work in Westerns. Not only that Mr. Bond, but I came to see you." And yes, I did tell him I was a fan of Westerns. Ward Bond then asked me, "Boy, can you shoot a gun?" I told him I could. He then asked, "Can you ride a horse?" I told him I could. Then he asked me what my first film was. I told him, "I worked with an actor named David Scott on a film called 'Desert Plains'". He asked who I played. I said, "I had an uncredited role as an Army officer." Later on, after we wrapped up the episode on "Wagon Train", I was invited to lunch by Ward along with Terry Wilson, Frank McGrath, Michael Dante, Michael Landon, Steve McQueen, Clint Eastwood, Robert Fuller, (Who would later appear on the show as Cooper Smith), Robert Horton, Lorne Greene, Pernell Roberts, and this actress I did not recognize but knew I had worked with. I asked Ward Bond, "Hey Ward, who is that lovely girl over there?" He said, "Oh, that's Janice Cooper". He told me that I had some scenes with her on the episode of "Wagon Train" that we just did together. Later on, I got invited to a fast draw contest by Audie Murphy and Sammy Davis Jr. and actually won. I must remind you I'm left-handed. I know, I'm a southpaw. I had a Great Western Colt .45 replica revolver with mother-of-pearl grips and nickel finish in a dark tan holster and gun belt. I cocked the hammer and thumb slipped the gun three times and fanned it twice. Must I remind you that I was using live ammo? I later married Janice Cooper and we went on to have three children: David Scott Cooper, John David Bence, and Ward Bond Bence. David Cooper later changed his legal name to Scott Cooper Bence when HE became an actor. Mind you, this is in the dream. Later on, I got to work in multiple Spaghetti Westerns and even appeared in some pretty crappy cartoon shows. But I never again worked with Ward Bond. He died before we could do anything else together. I'm gonna be writing a book about this soon called, "The People I Met In Hollywood Western Heaven" and hopefully it will be published. Wish me luck, Tom. Your friend, Benny. And as always, because you know I have to say it, GET YOUR OWN DORITOS.

  13. Oh, I also forgot to mention that out of all the actors from "Wagon Train", Ward Bond is the best. I had a dream about being on "Wagon Train" just the other night and meeting Ward Bond. In the dream, we were doing an episode from 1958 but right now I can't remember which one. Before we filmed, Ward asked me who I was, how old I was, (I'm not gonna say for the sake of the dream), what I did, where I lived, and if I was a true cowboy fan. I said, "My name is Benny Bence, I'm from Bartow, Florida, I LOVE Westerns, I've done acting before, and I've come to Hollywood to make Westerns but most of all, I've come to see you." He then asked me, "Boy, can you shoot a gun?" I said I could. Then he asked, "Can you ride a horse?" I said I could. We started filming right away and when it was over, we all went to lunch and I was invited by Terry Wilson, (Bill Hawks), Frank McGrath, (Charlie Wooster), Robert Horton, (Flint McCullough), Michael Dante, Michael Landon, Pernell Roberts, Dan Blocker, Lorne Greene, Chuck Connors, and Clint Eastwood. There was this actress who was also there that I didn't recognize so I asked Ward Bond, "Hey Ward, who's that lovely lady over there?" Ward said, "Oh, that's Janice Cooper." He told me that we had some scenes together on the episode we had just filmed. Later on, I was invited to a fast draw contest by Audie Murphy and Sammy Davis Jr. and I won. I had a Great Western Colt .45 replica revolver with mother-of-pearl- grips and nickel finish in a dark tan gun rig. Now mind you, I'm left-handed. That's right, I'm a southpaw. And must I remind you that I was using live ammo? I later married Janice Cooper and we when on to have three children: Scott David Cooper. John Benjamin Bence. And Michael Bruce Bence. Scott would later change his name to Scott Cooper Bence when he himself became an actor. Oh, and I also told Ward that my first film was a 1957 film called, "Desert Plains" that I did with an actor named David Scott. I had an uncredited role in that movie as an Army officer. I went on to make Spaghetti Westerns for a film company known as "Euro Inc." Those Spaghetti Westerns included, "Ringo Does Not Forgive", where I played Ringo, "The Son Of Johnny Guitar", where I played Billy Logan, and "Paco The Bandido", where I played Paco Lopez. All were done between 1963 and 1966. I later retired in 1979 and opened up a gym in Australia. I was deported back to the United States however when I couldn't pay taxes to keep the gym going and it soon went out of business. I returned to acting in 2001 and did a TV Western called, "Harmon's Country" where I played "King" Joseph Harmon. But I never got to work with Ward Bond ever again. He died before we could do anymore work together. Both Terry Wilson and myself were devastated. Then I woke up from the dream thinking, "That's exactly what I wanna do! I wanna make movies one day!" I plan on writing a book about this called, "The People I Met In Hollywood Western Heaven" and hopefully it will be published. Fingers crossed. Wish me luck. And as always, because sooner or later you know I'm gonna say it, GET YOUR OWN DORITOS.

  14. Out of all the Western actors I dream about meeting that I wish I could have met, there are three that stand out. John Wayne, Gene Autry, and Ward Bond. There are others, but Ward Bond is on the top of that list. I wouldn't have cared if it was just that one time. But had I been alive back then, HE would definitely be an actor I wanted to meet. He would have been right up there with Glenn Ford, Dale Robertson, and all the others. I'm never really bothered by the fact that I've never met these fine actors because I believe that once you get to Heaven, you meet everybody. Wouldn't you agree, Tom? With that said, I also wanna point out that there will NEVER be another actor like Ward Bond. There can only be one. And that one was, and still is, legendary.


Thank you for your comment.