Carey's love of horses was inculcated in him at a young age, as he watched New York City's mounted policemen go through their paces in the 1880s, and while recuperating, he wrote a play, "Montana," about the Western frontier. He decided to star in his own creation, and the play proved a big success when mounted as a stock production in the middle of the decade. Audiences were thrilled by a bit of business where Carey brought his horse onto the stage.
For three years, Carey made quite a bit of money touring the provinces with "Montana." After that production was played out, he wrote another play, a Klondike tale entitled "Heart of Alaska," which was presented as "Two Women and that Man" on Broadway. Despite the production's attention to detail - the play featured live sled dogs and wolves and the theater was scented with pine oil before the doors opened - it flopped, playing only 16 performances after opening at the Majestic Theatre on October 18, 1909. Harry, credited as Henry D. Carey, took the show on the road, but as the Chicago Tribune pointed out about the play, only the dogs were convincing.
Carey was wiped out financially, but he did have the consolation of marrying his leading lady, Fern Foster. (In 1928, now a movie star, Carey would appear in 'Clarence Browns Klondike epic "The Trail of '98" (1928), one of his co-stars, in a small role, would be Francis Ford.) Discarding thoughts of following his father's footsteps and becoming a lawyer, Harry continued his involvement with acting, now well past the flirtation stage. Having lost his money on the "Alaska" play, Harry turned to the movies, the production of which was centered in the New York City metropolitan area at that time. His first credited picture of any importance was "Bill Sharkey's Last Game" (1909). In 1911, with the help of the actor Henry B. Walthall, he became part of the Biograph stock company. He began appearing in films for director D. W. Griffith, most memorably in The Musketeers of Pig Alley (1913), in which he played a hood in the 'hoods of New York. Carey's movie acting career was safely launched at Biograph's studios in the Bronx, and he would eventually appear in almost 250 motion pictures and became a big star in silent Westerns. He appeared in two films with his wife Fern Foster for the Progressive Motion Picture Co. which he wrote and directed, and "The Master Cracksman" (1914) and "McVeagh of the South Seas (1914)" (a.k.a. "Brute Island"). Foster retired from the movies after appearing with her husband. Carey followed Griffith to Hollywood and appeared in his "The Battle at Elderbush Gultch" (1913) with Lillian Gish, Lionel Barrymore, and a young stud whom Griffith would rename Elmo Lincoln, the first of the cinema Tarzans. Carey also appeared in another early Griffith classic, Judith of Bethulia (1914). Carey's creased, weather-beaten face made him look older than his age, and it proved ideal for westerns in the laconic William S. Hart mold. He alternated between Western and non-Western roles for the next couple of years, until in 1915 he signed with the Universal Film Manufacturing Co. at $150 a week (approximately $1,850 a week in 2005 dollars), a substantial salary for a movie actor nearly a century ago.
It was at Universal that Harry Carey became a silent film cowboy star playing "Cheyenne Harry" in a series of two-reel Westerns. In most of the films, his co-stars included the teen-aged 'Olive Golden' as the love interest, and Hoot Gibson as his young sidekick. The movies were made under the auspices of producer-director Francis Ford's shorts and serials department, and when Carey created his own unit, he took along Olive as his co-star and Ford's younger brother, Jack, as his director. Jack, the former John Feeney, late of Portland, Maine, thereafter to become renowned under the name 'John Ford', made his bones directing 26 two-reel Westerns and features with Carey as 'Cheyenne Harry.' The first Carey-Ford collaboration was Straight Shooting (1917), an entertaining if crude-by-today's standards Western most notable for Carey's performance. Carey eventually married Olive in 1920, who became known professionally as Olive Carey. They settled on a ranch in the Santa Clarita Valley, near Saugus, California, in the San Francisquito Canyon. It was there that their son Harry Carey, Jr. was born in 1921. Harry, Sr. nicknamed his infant son 'Dobe' shortly after his birth as his red hair and skin reminded him of the reddish adobe soil around the Carey ranch.
Carey's cowboy persona with its taciturn expression has been linked to that of the dour William S. Hart, the first Western superstar. Hart's gritty Westerns, like Carey's, emphasized realism. Carey did not dress as flashily as Ken Maynard or the great Tom Mix, and his films were often true portrayals of the West instead of Mix's flashy hoss operas. Good with physical business, particularly involving his hands, he developed signature gestures such as the way he sat a horse, a semi-slouch with his elbows resting on the saddle horn. Another signature was his holding his left forearm with his right, a physical gesture that in the elocutionary style of stage melodrama and the early silents signaled thoughtfulness, but which Carey made uniquely his own. (John Wayne, who said that Harry Carey "was the greatest Western actor of all time," paid a tribute to him by using this trait at the end of John Ford's classic The Searchers (1956), when he walks away from the character played by Carey's widow Olive, and is framed by the doorway in the final scene.) By the end of the decade, Carey was one of the highest paid Western stars, earning $1,250 a week (approximately $15,400 in 2005 dollars) in those pre-income tax days. In 1922, when Universal decided to make Carey's sidekick Hoot Gibson their top Western star, Carey left the studio, thus ending his collaboration with John Ford. Universal czar "Uncle" Carl Laemmle had decided to de-emphasize realism and play up the flash that had made 'Tom Mix' the reigning cowboy box office champ. Strong plot and realism had been hallmarks of the Carey/Ford collaboration, but the formula was passé.
Throughout the 1920s, Carey was a Western superstar who occasionally assumed screenwriting, producing and directing assignments, as he had in the early days at Universal. Carey signed with 'Joseph P. Kennedy' 's F.B.O. and continued to make his brand of realistic Western before signing up with Hunt Stromberg's Producer's Distributing Corporation (PDC). In 1926, Carey left PDC for Pathe Pictures, a studio that had a reputation for turning out some of the finest of the silent Westerns. He made one of his best silent Westerns at Pathe, "Satan Town" (1926), a movie evocative of the William S. Hart classic "Hell's Hinges" (1919). When the Sound Era dawned at the end of the decade, Carey was still a top Western star and very highly paid, but he did not enjoy the superstar status of Mix, Gibson, Maynard, and 'Buck Jones'. He also was fifty years old with a career stretching back twenty years to the days of the nickelodeon. Considering him passé, Pathe failed to renew his contract. Subsequently, Harry and Olive Carey made the rounds of vaudeville, but their act wasn't very successful and the couple disliked the incessant traveling. While traveling the vaudeville circuit, their ranch was completely destroyed when the San Francisquito Dam burst and flooded the Santa Clarita Valley, a natural disaster in which hundreds of people perished.
Carey returned to the movies, demoted to supporting roles in the early talkies. Carey had a face and body that could express emotion, trained as it was n the silent picture, but also had a voice that registered strongly on film. Both Universal studio boss Irving Thalberg and PDC honcho Hunt Stromberg had moved over to Metro-Goldwyn-Mayer, and Thalberg decided to give Carey a shot at sound cinema stardom in the new extravaganza he had planned and would personally produce (un-credited, as always, during his lifetime).
Carey's star assumed a new luster playing the lead role in M.G.M.'s Great White Hunter African epic "Trader Horn" (1931), in which he overpowered his rather callow second-lead, Duncan Reynaldo (who would later mature and ensure his cinematic and television immortality limning "The Cisco Kid"). His wife Olive also was in the picture. (Interestingly, though he made a dozen movies for Stromberg at PDC, he never appeared in one of his MGM-produced pictures. Carey reportedly was blackballed at MGM by Louis B. Mayer in retaliation for Carey supporting a lawsuit filed against the studio by his "Trader Horn" co-star Edwina Booth.)
"Trader Horn" was an arduous shoot, requiring seven months of location work in Africa and Mexico. However, it was a box office smash, and Carey earned enough from the movie to rebuild and re-stock his ranch, which shortly thereafter was destroyed by fire and then rebuilt in the adobe that gave his son his nickname.
So strong was his performance as Trader Horn, and so big a hit was the picture, Carey's career was revitalized. He went on to become a star of "B" Westerns while appearing in supporting roles in "A" features. The poverty row studio Mascot Pictures, one of the bastions of the serial hoss opera, starred Carey in "The Vanishing Legion" (1931), and studio boss Ned Levine then put him immediately into two more serials, "Last of the Mohicans" (1932)_ and "The Devil Horse" (1932). Universal brought their wandering star back to headline "Law and Order (1932), a retelling of the gunfight at the O.K. Corral by W.S Burnett that featured Carey playing the Doc Holliday character and 'Walter Huston' as the Wyatt Earp character.
Carey continued to bring home the bacon as a star of low-budget oaters made by such independents as Artclass, Berke and Commodore, though R.K.O. gave him the lead in its all-Western-star Powdersmoke Range (1935), which also featured his old sidekick Hoot Gibson. R.K.O. re-teamed Carey with Gibson in The Last Outlaw (1936), which was co-written by John Ford. Carey received top billing in both pictures, indicating the respect in which he was held in both the genre and in Hollywood. A real reunion with Ford was in the offing that year when he was cast in a supporting role in The Prisoner of Shark Island (1936). "Prisoner," which also featured Carey's old Universal boss Francis Ford in a supporting role as an actor, was the last of their 27 pictures together, though Carey would "appear" in a homage at the beginning of Ford's 3 Godfathers (1948).
Harry starred in his last program oater, Law West of Tombstone (1938), for R.K.O. in 1938. The film featured a young Tim Holt, who would one day find fame as a cowboy star himself, as the second lead. Carey appeared in Motion Picture Herald's ranking of the top 10 of cowboy box office stars of 1937 and 1938, an exhibitor's list inaugurated in 1936, when he was past his prime as a cowboy star. Carey won an Academy Award nomination for his performance as the Vice President who was Jimmy Stewart's taciturn ally in the 'Frank Capra' classic Mr. Smith Goes to Washington (1939). As Gary Wills points out in "John Wayne's America," in his role as President of the Senate, Carey seems to have the mannerisms of 1930s superstar Will Rogers. However, Wills believes that if there was any influence, it went the other way. John Ford directed several of Will Rogers early sound pictures, and likely inculcated some of Carey's movies business in him. On his part, an admiring Rogers acknowledged Carey as being the most realistic of the cowboy stars. Rogers, speaking of Ford and Carey, said, "Jack used to direct Westerns, and made great ones with Harry Carey, the most human and natural of the Western actors." Though Carey lost the Oscar to Thomas Mitchell, who won playing the whiskey-besotted sawbones in Ford's classic Stagecoach (1939) and benefited by simultaneously appearing in all-time "Blockbuster of Blockbusters" "Gone With the Wind" (1939), it was a nice gesture of respect from Hollywood to one of its own.
Though Carey and John Ford continued to socialize, they never worked together again after the 1920s, but for "The Prisoner of Shark Island." According to Wills' "John Wayne's America," Ford typically resented people whom had helped him in his career, and he was indebted to Carey more than any one other than his brother Francis, whom he continued to ritually humiliate by casting in bit parts throughout his lifetime. Ford could not do that to Carey, who had remained a star, so he did not put him in his films, even when Carey was financially troubled. Wills also writes that Ford had been in love with Olive Golden when he was a young man directing her in the Carey pictures, but of course, she had married her star. Ford compensated for his failure to maintain a professional relationship with Harry Carey, Sr. later when, after Carey's death, he made their son Harry Carey, Jr. a member of his stock company, and even cast Olive in several of his later films.
Carey finally appeared on Broadway debut in the play "Heavenly Express" in 1940, and followed it up with appearances in Eugene O'Neil's "Ah, Wilderness" and "But Not Goodbye," both in 1944. In the forties, Carey was featured in supporting roles in "A" films, including a memorable turn in Howard Hawk's wartime classic Air Force (1943). Although he was 65-years-old, Carey's on-screen strength playing Sergeant White, the crew chief of the B-17 'Mary-Ann,' was crucial to the success of the picture.
By the '40s, Carey and his face were an American icon, so much so that director Alfred Hitchcock wanted to cast Carey as the leader of a Nazi cabal ringleader in his movie Saboteur (1942). Carey, no stranger to playing heavies in his days with Griffith, had to reject the intriguing offer when his wife Olive insisted that Harry's legions of fans would never accept this casting against type. He was now the stuff of Presidents of the Senate, and - John Wayne's father.
He appeared as The Duke's Dad in the Technicolor picture The Shepherd of the Hills (1941) for Paramount, and the two bonded, with Wayne becoming a sort of surrogate son with his son Dobe away at war. Wayne, as a young Marion Morrison, had grown up watching the Carey Cheyenne Harry westerns, and he claimed that Carey and Yakima Canutt were the only two cowboy actors he ever learned from. Carey and his wife invited Wayne into their extended family (Olive gave the Duke Carey's western memorabilia after his death). It was an association that continued onscreen, when Carey appeared memorably as Wayne's partner in The Spoilers (1942) and as a sympathetic marshal trailing Wayne in _Angel and the Badman, the (1947)_ for Republic Pictures.
When John Ford came back from World War II (the Careys son, "Dobe," had been part of Ford's photographic unit), the extended family became larger. Ford resumed his legendary collaboration with Wayne, and the young Dobe was added to the Ford stock company.
The three, Harry Carey Senior and Junior and The Duke, first appeared together in for Howard Hawks classic Western Red River (1948). The movie made John Wayne a superstar and represented young Dobe's coming-out in pictures after two smaller movies. Sadly, it was the only film father and son were to make together, and they did not share any scenes. A smoker, Harry Carey developed emphysema and suffered from lung cancer. The ailing Carey, who had sold his ranch in 1944, continued to act, appearing in laborious Western Technicolor potboiler "Duel in the Sun" (1946), and shooting "Red River" in 1946 (the film was released in 1948). He also appeared in "The Sea of Grass (1947)," director Elia Kazan's first film, and _So Dear to My Heart (1949)_ for Walt Disney. He also had an uncredited bit part in the autobiography of the most famous Bronx Bomber of them all, The Babe Ruth Story (1948), playing the manager of the St. Louis Cardinals, a stretch for a native New Yorker born in the borough the Yankees call home.
Harry Carey died on September 21, 1947, the causes of his death given as emphysema, lung cancer and coronary thrombosis. When he was interred in the Carey family mausoleum at Woodlawn Cemetery in The Bronx, New York, clad in a cowboy outfit, over 1,000 admirers turned out for the funeral.
John Ford dedicated his film 3 Godfathers (1948), a remake of his 1919 version starring Carey, to Harry's memory and cast Dobe in one of the godfather roles. In the dedication at the beginning of the film, Ford eulogized Carey as the "Bright Star of the early western sky." The film opens with the image of a lone rider atop a hill silhouetted against the setting sun, leaning in that signature semi-slouch on the saddle horn. The dedication recognized a great Western star, one whom arguably represented the true 'Westerner' better than any other movie actor.
Harry Carey was honored with a star on the Hollywood Walk of Fame, located at 1521 Vine Street. In 1976, he was inducted into the Western Performers Hall of Fame at the National Cowboy and Western Heritage Museum in Oklahoma City, Oklahoma. He was posthumously awarded a Golden Boot by the Motion Picture & Television Fund Foundation in 1991. In addition to Dobe, the Careys had a daughter named Ella, who was nicknamed 'Cappy' and raised on the ranch along with her brother. Olive Golden Carey died on March 13, 1988, at the age of 92. He rode a horse named "Sonny".
Western film series, starring Harry Carey.
Write the second section of your page here.