Harry Carey Jr. remembered as the last Hollywood cowboy

Thumbnail image for harry-carey-jr-rifleman.jpgDirector Peter Bogdanovich wrote a short tribute for Saturday's memorial for the actor Harry Carey, Jr., who had been the last surviving member of director John Ford's company of western actors. Carey also was perhaps the last tie to a one-time Valleywood institution, the Field Photo Memorial Farm that Ford opened in Reseda as a drinking refuge for his movie and war buddies. I wrote about that in my Carey obit in December and earlier in my San Fernando Valley book.

Carey grew up on the working ranch of his actor father in the Saugus area, and might have been the best horse rider in Hollywood's westerns era. From Bogdanovich's tribute, at his blog on IndieWire:

Harry Carey, Jr.—Dobe to his friends and family—was the son of one of the very first great Western stars, and now he has become the last of the cowboys from the Golden Age. Introduced to pictures by John Ford, who had been championed as a director by father Harry Carey before they did about 25 pictures together, the son soon became an attractive and charming Western star himself in such Ford classics as Three Godfathers, She Wore A Yellow Ribbon, Wagon Master, Rio Grande, and The Searchers. He also made a remarkable impression in Howard Hawks’ first Western classic, Red River. And he has written with grace, humor and perception of his days on the Ford pictures in a loving memoir appropriately titled "Company of Heroes." He is now the last of that valiant company to “go West,” as Jack Ford used to put it.

I was privileged to know Dobe (nicknamed short for adobe because of his red hair) for nearly half a century, since we met on the set of Ford’s Cheyenne Autumn in Monument Valley in 1963. I was even more privileged to have Dobe in the cast of two pictures I directed, Nickelodeon in 1976, and Mask in 1985; he was terrific in each of these, and a joy to have around, a solid professional, but also a brilliantly deadpan, hilarious raconteur of the days of the giants in pictures. We also shot an amusing interview with Dobe in 2006 for my documentary, Directed by John Ford, and three years later we got together again and recorded a commentary track for the DVD release of Wagon Master; it was a wonderful time, seeing and hearing Dobe reacting to the movie—among his biggest roles too--as he watched it, and often very funny.

Odd but true: Barry Lopez, the author who wrote last week about being sexually abused during his boyhood in the Valley, wrote a lovely piece for the LA Weekly in 2002 about that childhood — and he mentions the Field Photo Farm:

The John Ford place I remember as huge, but it was only 8 acres, on Calvert Street off Lindley. He had it built in 1946, a retirement home and recreation center to honor 13 men from his Field Photographic Unit killed while filming frontline combat in WWII. (The unit's films won Oscars for Best Documentary Short Subject in 1942 and Best Documentary in 1943.) A horse paddock and big swimming pool at Field Photo lured us to these private grounds. We'd sneak in for night swims, and during the day try to steal bareback rides on the horses, mounting with a fistful of mane and a boost from two friends. The men who worked around the big barn, with its racks of elaborate Western tack and its fresh hay and grain smells, hardly paid us any mind.

We were also greatly impressed by a sign at the gate: No Women Allowed.

Every Memorial Day weekend (when women were welcome), a celebration began with services at the farm's small war-memorial chapel. It continued on a parade ground with an equestrian show, and finished with a torchlight dinner at picnic tables around the pool. An aluminum canoe filled with iced cases of beer (no charge) and a band in Western regalia kept revelers going into the night. My friends and I, some having slipped away from home in pajamas, studied the final blowout from the cover of oleander bushes, fully expecting someone to fall into the pool.

The weekend festivities included stagecoach rides, a bonfire and flamenco, rancho events resembling those that might have unfolded in the Valley a hundred years earlier, during the waning days of the Spanish dons. Much of the festive life of Valley residents in the '50s, in fact, which played itself out at places like Ford's movie-set hacienda and at horse farms in Northridge, recalled the privileged life of the dons, with its sharp class, race and gender distinctions, its emphasis on horsemanship, its whole-beef barbecues and its disinclination toward labor.

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