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(Courtesy of Les Adams)

Above, Carey and Raymond Hatton in a crop from a lobby card for THE THUNDERING HERD (Paramount, 1933), which starred Randolph Scott.  Hatton would wear a similar outfit when he portrayed 'Rusty Joslin' in the Three Mesquiteers - click HERE for a photo.

(Pressbook cover above courtesy of Les Adams)

Harry Carey

Real name: Henry DeWitt Carey, II

1878 - 1947

Special thanks to guest commentator Bill Russell for authoring the biography on Harry Carey.

In 1948 when John Ford remade his 1926 William Fox classic THREE BAD MEN as THREE GODFATHERS (MGM), he dedicated the picture to Harry Carey (whose son Harry, Jr., was one of the three outlaws along with John Wayne and Pedro Armendariz). Ford called Carey the Bright Star of the early western sky. In the opening scene of the film, released a year after the cowboy star's death, a lone rider is shown atop a hill silhouetted against the setting sun. The dedication is a rightful tribute to the great Western star, whom, probably represented the true 'Westerner' better than any other cowboy actor of both silent and sound eras. (Carey played the lead role in the 1916 Universal version of the same film.)

Harry Carey wasn't destined to become a cowboy star. Born far from the Western plains and prairie in the Bronx, New York (actually on 116th Street), the son of a New York City judge and the president of a sewing machine company, Harry attended Hamilton Military Academy or Institute (sources differ, but it was a military style prep school). After graduation he was apparently offered an appointment to West Point, which he turned down in favor of attending law school at NYU and following in his father's footsteps. But a boating accident in the cold waters of Long Island Sound at the age of 21 resulted in a severe case of pneumonia, and caused young Carey to give up the pursuit of law, temporarily, at least. Some accounts claim that his father sent him to Montana to recuperate and while there Harry wrote a play entitled MONTANA. One can't imagine recuperating from pneumonia in Montana in the winter, so that story may be fiction. Likely, he wrote the play while recovering at home in New York. At any rate, he was so impressed with it that he decided to play it on the stage. It turned out to be such a huge success that Harry toured the country with it for the next three years.

Following this success, Harry wrote another play entitled HEART OF ALASKA, but alas, this play proved to be a flop and a loss at the box office. He was bitten with the acting bug, however, and turned his attention to the up-and-coming movie industry, discarding all thoughts of becoming a lawyer. With all of his money gone, he found work at the old Biograph studios in New York, thanks to an introduction by actor Henry B. Walthall, and became part of D. W. Griffith's stock company. BILL SHARKEY'S LAST GAME ('09) is reported to be Carey's first film of importance.

When Griffith packed up and headed west, Carey went with him and continued to make numerous one and two-reel Westerns in the new environment of Hollywood. In 1913 he appeared in THE BATTLE AT ELDERBUSH GULCH, that great early classic that starred Lillian Gish and Lionel Barrymore. For the next two or three years, Carey would stay very busy alternating between Westerns and non-Western roles. The year 1915 could be described as a turning point in Carey's career, when he signed up with Universal at a reported salary of $150 a week, big money in those days. He then began a series of two-reel Westerns playing the character 'Cheyenne Harry', the first of which was KNIGHT OF THE RANGE, directed by Jacques Jaccard (not John Ford as is often credited). Co-starring with him in most of the two-reelers was Carey's future wife, the young Olive Golden (fourteen years his junior), and his young pal, Hoot Gibson.

Others directing the Carey Universal two-reelers during this period were Edward Le Saint and Fred Kelsey, but it was his association with John Ford that set the stage for both of their future successes in motion pictures. The first of 26 features films that would come out of the Ford/Carey combination was Universal's STRAIGHT SHOOTING in 1917. Although fairly crude by today's standards, it is a very entertaining film and noteworthy in that it featured Gibson in one of his earlier better roles.

Carey's portrayal in the early silent films, and in fact, during his entire career, has been linked somewhat to the William Hart tradition of Westerns with emphasis on realism and grittiness. Like Hart, he was not youthful appearing, nor did he dress like the streamlined Western stars of the time ( i.e, Maynard and Mix), and his films were often true portrayals of the West. His taciturn expression, a trademark of his Western role-playing, was depicted in every picture he made yet his personality was more engaging than the dour Hart. Many of his gestures were strictly Carey, however, such as the way he sat a horse (a good example of that is displayed in the John Wayne 1947 THE ANGEL AND THE BADMAN), a sort of slouch with elbows resting on the saddle horn. Some of Carey's gestures were picked up by Wayne, who has been quoted as saying that Harry Carey "was the greatest Western actor of all time." One of Carey's traits adopted by the Duke can be seen in Ford's classic THE SEARCHERS (1956) when Wayne is framed in the doorway in the final scene, walking away holding his left arm with his right as Carey often did.

By 1919 Carey's salary had increased considerably from his earlier $150 per week paycheck. Now he was getting $1,250 a week by the studio, putting him in the top echelon of Western stars. Carey and Ford would continue their winning combination throughout the late teens and early twenties. It has been said, for example, that certain traces of the later Ford could be seen in such Carey Westerns as the 1921 DESPERATE TRAILS. The film also highlighted Carey's fine acting ability.

Carey left Universal and John Ford in 1922 when the Big U's boss, Carl Laemmle, decided to feature Hoot Gibson as the leading star. The trend was leaning away from realism and strong plots, which had been the trademarks of the Ford/Carey pictures. The public wanted flash and dash, the way Tom Mix was dishing it out. Carey was also getting up there in age for a leading cowboy star (he was 44 in 1922).

Despite this 'new trend' in making Westerns, Carey would continue to turn out solid performances with several other picture companies beginning with FBO, then joining Hunt Stromberg's Producer's Distributing Corporation (PDC), and finally signing in 1926 with Pathe Pictures, one of the finest makers of silent Westerns. Such titles as THE NIGHT HAWK, THE PRAIRIE PIRATE, THE MAN FROM RED GULCH, all released in 1924 proved that Carey could still captivate an audience. Pathe's SATAN TOWN ('26) was the best of the lot and was highly reminiscent of Hart's classic HELL'S HINGES, released in 1919.

Between 1912 and 1928 Carey made scores of Westerns (and a few non-Westerns) and as the silent era was coming to a close, his salary had mushroomed and he found himself among the top Western stars, but somewhat discouraged that he had not quite reached the elusive fame garnered by Gibson, Maynard, Jones, or Mix.

When his Pathe contract was not renewed, Carey decided to hit the vaudeville stage with wife Olive (whom he had married in 1920), but it did not prove to be successful and the incessant traveling from town to town, was enough for the two. Unfortunately during this stint, the San Francisquito Dam burst and flooded the Santa Clarita Valley, killing hundreds of people and totally destroying the Carey's ranch.

However, producer Irving Thalberg and MGM came to his rescue in 1929 casting him as the lead with Duncan Renaldo and Edwina Booth in what has been called the greatest adventure film of all time, TRADER HORN. It was a tough film to make, requiring the cast to spend the next seven months in Africa and Mexico. But it was a huge success and it earned Harry enough to rebuild and re-stock his ranch. But misfortune struck again shortly afterwards when their ranch was totally destroyed by fire.

Despite the bad luck, the success of TRADER HORN generated new interest in Carey and he was soon signed by Mascot Pictures' Nat Levine to star in the 1931 serial, THE VANISHING LEGION. He was immediately contracted for two more in 1932 --- LAST OF THE MOHICANS, and THE DEVIL HORSE. That same year he was cast in Universal's highly acclaimed LAW AND ORDER, based on the novel Saint Johnson, by W. R. Burnett, about the famous gunfight in Tombstone. Carey plays a Doc Holliday character and Walter Huston is 'Saint Johnson', in a Wyatt Earp role --- "a must see" according to Michael Pitts in his extensive Western guide, Western Movies (McFarland Classics).

For the next several years, Harry starred in a number of Westerns for various independent producers such as Artclass, Berke and Commodore, and he had the lead in the 1935 RKO all-star POWDERSMOKE RANGE. The following year, Carey and Hoot Gibson would team up again in RKO'S THE LAST OUTLAW, which John Ford helped to script. It is noteworthy to observe that Carey was billed over Gibson in both these films, indicating that perhaps over the long haul, Carey's career was more consistent than Gibson's. Fred Scott is cast in the role of a singing cowboy.

(From Old Corral image collection)

Above, Bob Kortman in Indian guise and carrying a tomahawk in the role of 'Magua', the scowling, vicious Indian war chief in the cliffhanger THE LAST OF THE MOHICANS (Mascot, 1932). Kortman was in his mid-forties when he did this early sound serial. Star Harry Carey is wearing the coonskin cap and buckskins. On the far left with the 'X straps' is Hobart Bosworth (as The Sagamore / Chingachgook), and on the far right is Walter McGrail (as 'Dulac'). Other players are unidentified.

(From Old Corral image collection)

Carey is center stage with the bullwhip; Gertrude Messinger is the gal with the pigtails and red dress; standing to her right is Carmen Bailey.  On the right and wearing the brown suit jacket is Edmund Cobb and directly behind him (with the moustache) is Charles 'Slim' Whitaker. Lobby card from RUSTLERS' PARADISE (Ajax, 1935).

(From Old Corral image collection)

Above from L-to-R are Bob Steele, Guinn 'Big Boy' Williams, Hoot Gibson, Carey and a wounded Tom Tyler in a scene from POWDERSMOKE RANGE (RKO, 1935).  This early Three Mesquiteers film had Carey as Tucson Smith, Gibson as Stony Brooke, and Williams as Lullaby Joslin.  Steely eyed Tom Tyler portrayed the good/bad gunman 'Sundown Saunders', and Steele played the 'Guadalupe Kid'.

(From Old Corral image collection)

In 1938, Harry starred in his last program Western, LAW WEST OF TOMBSONE, an RKO picture that featured a young Tim Holt as the second lead.

Carey was up for a Best Supporting Actor award for his role MR. SMITH GOES TO WASHINGTON (1939), but Thomas Mitchell won the Oscar for his role in STAGECOACH.

In the early forties, Harry returned to the stage, playing in several Broadway productions, including Eugene O'Neil's AH, WILDERNESS. He also continued portraying good, solid character and support roles in both Westerns and non-Westerns throughout the forties. One of the best was in support of John Wayne in Paramount's semi-Western, THE SHEPHERD OF THE HILLS ('41). The film produced fine performances by Wayne and Carey, as well as the entire cast. The following year he was cast as Wayne's partner, Al Dextry, in another version of the classic Rex Beach novel, THE SPOILERS.

THE ANGEL AND THE BADMAN, the 1947 Republic Western, brought out another fine performance by Carey as the understanding lawman trailing good guy outlaw Wayne. The following year would see him team him up again with Wayne in the classic, RED RIVER, by United Artists. Harry Jr. also appears in the film, the only time father and son were cast in the same picture, although they do not appear together in any scenes.

By this time, however, Carey was ailing but before he was forced into retirement, he would make the aforementioned RED RIVER, and play an understanding judge in Walt Disney's live partly animated family picture, SO DEAR TO MY HEART, starring a young Bobby Driscoll. Both pictures were released a year after his death which occurred on September 21, 1947 at Brentwood, California. Although he had been bitten by a Black Widow spider a month earlier, sources list lung cancer and coronary thrombosis as causes of death. He was buried in his cowboy outfit at a ceremony that was attended by more than 1000 admirers.

In addition to Harry Jr., who was given the nickname of 'Dobe' by his father because in the summer he turned the same color as the adobe bricks of which their ranch house was constructed, the Carey's also had a daughter named Ella, whose nickname was 'Cappy'. Both children were raised on the ranch near Saugus, California.

Olive, a creditable actor in her own right, would continue to act in films, most notable was her performance in Ford's THE SEARCHERS (1956) with son, Harry, Jr. She died on March 13, 1988 at the age of 92.

For a good insight into the Carey family, read Harry Jr.'s COMPANY OF HEROES, My Life as an Actor in the John Ford Stock Company, published in 1994. Also, it should be noted that Harry Carey wrote, directed, and produced a number of films during his career.

The Motion Picture Herald and Boxoffice polls were conducted from about the mid 1930s through the mid 1950s.  With a few exceptions, the annual results would list the 'Top Ten' (or 'Top Five') cowboy film stars.  In most cases, the winners were what you would expect --- Autry, Rogers, Holt, Starrett, Hoppy, etc.  Carey was ranked in the Boxoffice poll during the late 1930s.  However, it should be noted that the polls did not begin until 1936, which was well past his prime film-making days as a western film hero.

Popularity Rankings of Harey Carey
Year Boxoffice Poll Ranking
1937 8th
1938 9th


Marilyn Carey is the wife of Harry Carey, Jr. (nicknamed 'Dobe') and her father was supporting actor Paul Fix.  Marilyn e-mailed ye Old Corral webmaster in April-May, 2001 with some updates on her father-in-law, Harry Carey:

"Though reported as such in books, Harry Sr. was never bitten by a black widow spider. He died from a combination of lung cancer and long ongoing emphysema from cigarettes, and pneumonia as a young man. At the Woodlawn Cemetery (Bronx, New York) are Dobe's grandfather (who had the building built) his grandmother, a few other relatives, the stable boy, and Old Joe Harris. Joe Harris was an actor who was in the early plays that Harry did. He and Harry were working on a movie in the late twenties, and Joe said he wanted to get some exercise. Harry had just gotten the Saugus ranch so he told Joe to come up and help pull out tree stumps. Joe came and, like the 'man who came to dinner', stayed for 35 years. He died in our home in Brentwood in the fifties. He sits on the windowsill in an urn next to Harry."

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