Obituary: Harry Carey Jr. / Character actor in John Ford's legendary Westerns

May 16, 1921-Dec. 27, 2012

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Harry Carey Jr., a venerable character actor who was believed to be the last surviving member of director John Ford's legendary western stock company, died Thursday. He was 91.

Mr. Carey, whose career spanned more than 50 years and included such Ford classics as "She Wore a Yellow Ribbon" and "The Searchers," died of natural causes in Santa Barbara, Calif., said Melinda Carey, a daughter.

"In recent years, he became kind of the living historian of the modern era," film critic Leonard Maltin told the Los Angeles Times. "He would get hired on films by young directors who just wanted to work with him, to be one step away from the legends. Some hired him to just hear his stories between takes."

The son of silent-film western star Harry Carey Sr. and his actress wife, Olive, Mr. Carey made more than 100 films. They included "Red River," "Beneath the 12-Mile Reef," "Big Jake," "Cahill U.S. Marshal," "The Long Riders," "The Whales of August" and 1993's "Tombstone."

The boyishly handsome Mr. Carey lacked the screen-dominating star quality of his longtime pal and frequent co-star, John Wayne. Instead, Mr. Carey brought a rare authenticity to his westerns as one of Hollywood's best horsemen.

That was amply illustrated in 1950's "Rio Grande," for which he and cowboy-turned-character actor Ben Johnson learned to ride two horses while standing up, with one foot on the back of each horse.

His other films with Ford include "3 Godfathers," "Wagon Master," "The Long Gray Line," "Mister Roberts," "Two Rode Together" and "Cheyenne Autumn."

Mr. Carey also appeared in dozens of television shows, most of them westerns, and portrayed the boys' ranch counselor in the popular 1950s "Spin and Marty" serials on "The Mickey Mouse Club."

He was born Henry George Carey on May 16, 1921, on his father's ranch north of Saugus, Calif., and a 45-minute drive from Universal Studios, where Harry Sr. made westerns in the 1910s and 1920s. More than two dozen were directed by John Ford, who became a close family friend.

When the younger Harry Carey was born, his father, Ford and then-New York City Mayor Jimmy Walker awaited the baby's arrival by drinking a whiskey named Melwood.

From then on, as Mr. Carey wrote in his 1994 memoir, "Company of Heroes: My Life as an Actor in the John Ford Stock Company": "Every time Ford saw me with my father he'd say, 'Mellllwood ... li'llll Mellllwood,' alluding to how drunk he and my dad were that night."

Mr. Carey graduated from Black-Foxe Military Institute in Hollywood in the late 1930s, studied voice and made his stage debut, with his father, in summer stock in Maine.

During World War II, he served in the Navy in the Pacific theater, then worked in Washington on Navy training and propaganda films for Ford, at that time a naval officer.

After the war, Mr. Carey attempted a singing career but turned to film with a small role as a cowboy in the 1946 movie "Rolling Home."

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