Western Character Actor Harry Carey Jr. Dies

Harry Carey Jr.  - H 2012
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Harry Carey Jr.  - H 2012

UPDATED: The 91-year-old appeared in many of John Ford's greatest films, including "The Searchers" and "She Wore a Yellow Ribbon."

Harry Carey Jr., who was a member of John Ford's stock company of actors and played in a number of the director's classic Westerns, has died of natural causes in Santa Barbara, the Associated Press reported Friday. He was 91.

His daughter Melinda said he died Thursday of natural causes surrounded by family at a hospice facility.

The son of silent superstar Harry Carey and actress Olive Carey, he was one of moviedom's most familiar faces. In all, he performed in roughly 100 movies and on numerous TV shows. With his large frame and rough-hewn look, Carey was one of Hollywood's most prolific character actors from the 1950s through the '80s.

Carey played in many of Ford's greatest Westerns that starred John Wayne, including She Wore a Yellow Ribbon (1949), Rio Grande (1950) and The Searchers (1956). He also appeared for the director in Wagon Master (1950), The Long Gray Line (1955) as Dwight EisenhowerTwo Rode Together (1961) with James Stewart and Cheyenne Autumn (1964). In all, Carey appeared in 11 Ford films and about 50 Westerns.

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Carey's first film with Ford was the Wayne-starring 3 Godfathers (1948), which Ford dedicated to Harry Carey, the director's first patron and star. Along with such players as Ward Bond, Victor McLaglen, Jane Darwell and Arthur Shields, Carey was one of the players utilized gain and again by the four-time Oscar winner, a group that was informally known as the John Ford Stock Company.

He wrote a 1996 book about his experiences: Company of HeroesMy Life as an Actor in the John Ford Stock Company.

He appeared with Wayne in a number of other movies, including Red River (1948), Island in the Sky (1953), Rio Bravo (1959), The Undefeated (1969), Big Jake (1971) and Cahill U.S. Marshal (1973). He played opposite James Arness in Gun the Man Down (1956) and in Escort West (1958) with Victor Mature, two films produced by Wayne.

In addition, he appeared with his father in Red River and with his mother in The Searchers and Two Rode Together.

On TV, he co-starred with fellow Rio Grande star Ben Johnson in Wild Times, a miniseries about a Wild West show.

In later years, Carey played the leader of a group of bikers in Mask (1985). During that period, he also appeared in Walter Hill's The Long Riders (1980) as well as in Endangered Species (1982). Other films include the Marilyn Monroe starring Monkey Business (1952) and Gentlemen Prefer Blondes (1953), Mr. Roberts (1955), The Way West (1967), Nickelodeon (1976) and The Whales of August (1987).

Harry Carey Jr. was born May 16, 1921, on a ranch in Saugus, Calif., which his father owned to distance the family from Hollywood. The youngster wanted to be a singer and studied voice. Dreams of a musical career didn't materialize, and he entered the Navy and served for six years.

He planned on entering the cattle business but was cast by producer as a cowboy in a 1946 Western titled Rolling Home. He won a part the next year in Raoul Walsh's Pursued, and Wayne suggested him to Howard Hawks for a role in Red River. Wayne also recommended him to Ford.

After Westerns went out of fashion, Carey turned to TV. He guest-starred on such series as Have Gun -- Will Travel and Climax.

On TV, he played ranch counselor Bill Burnett in The Adventures of Spin and Marty, aired as part of The Mickey Mouse Club. He continued his association with Disney TV, appearing in Texas John Slaughter for Walt Disney Presents.

More recently in film, he appeared in Gremlins (1984), Back to the Future Part III (1990), Tombstone (1993), Wyatt Earp: Return to Tombstone (1994) and The Sunchaser (1996).

He was inducted into the Hall of Great Western Performers of the National Cowboy and Western Heritage Museum in 2003.

In 1987, Carey was awarded a Golden Boot by the Motion Pictures & Television Fund Foundation. In 2003, he won a Silver Spur Award from Reel Cowboys.

He married Marilyn Fix, a daughter of Western star Paul Fix, in 1944. In addition to his wife and daughter, he is survived by a son, another daughter, three grandchildren and two great-grandchildren.