The director John Ford tamed the Wild West with a celluloid whip. Long considered the King of the Western and of war films, Ford’s pictures are the benchmarks for their genres. In making his masterpieces, Ford used a dedicated corps of actors, casting them so often that they became known as the John Ford Stock Company. The Careys were among the most prominent of this distinguished band of actors.
The Carey family’s association with Ford began when Olive Fullen Golden introduced Harry Carey, Sr. to the young director. Olive was soon to become Olive Carey, marrying Harry in 1916. Harry and Ford became quick friends, and Carey influenced the head of Universal Studios to employ Ford as a director. The two first worked together on the film “Straight Shooting” in 1917.
Harry and Ford maintained a personal and working relationship that lasted for five years and 27 films. Unfortunately, the two experienced a rift in their friendship in 1921, and the Carey’s involvement with Ford did not resume until 1939, when he agreed to a role in “The Prisoner of Shark Island.”
Harry Carey, Jr., was born on May 16, 1921, and grew up on the Carey’s 1000-acre ranch, where he quickly became familiar with life among cattle and horses. It was unsurprising that a boy who spoke Navaho before he spoke English would end up working in John Ford’s films. Harry Jr.’s first Ford film was “Red River” (1948) in which he appeared with his father. It was to be one of Harry Sr.’s final pictures.
After his father’s death, Ford offered Harry Jr. a leading part in “3 Godfathers” (1948). This began Harry Jr.’s membership in the John Ford Stock Company. Over the next two decades, Harry Jr. would appear in 10 films with Ford at the helm.
Olive returned to acting in the wake of her husband’s death. In 1956, she continued the Ford family tradition when she appeared in his Western classic, “The Searchers,” with Harry Jr. and John Wayne. Although she never became a member of the John Ford Stock Company, she did appear in two more of Ford’s films, “The Wings of Eagles” (1957) and “Two Rode Together” (1961).
In 1973, Ford passed away, ending the long film relationship forever. In 1988, at the age of 92, Olive Carey also died. After his mother’s death, Harry Jr. continued his appearances in film and television, including “Tombstone” (1993) and “Wyatt Earp: Return to Tombstone” (1994).
If John Ford did tame the Wild West, he didn’t do it alone. He deputized his own posse of actors and actresses, which included John Wayne, James Stewart, John Carradine, Henry Fonda, and of course his favorite hired guns, the Carey Family. Even after they had taken their final ride into the sunset, their memories, their lives, and of course their films remain to entertain us all.