Harry Carey Jr., western movie character actor, dies at 91

Handout / Reuters
Actor Harry Carey Jr. in an undated family photograph.

LOS ANGELES -- Veteran character actor Harry Carey Jr., who appeared in scores of television shows and films including nine of famed movie director John Ford's classic Hollywood westerns, has died at age 91, his family said on Friday.

Carey, a frequent supporting player in films starring John Wayne, died peacefully of natural causes on Thursday morning in the seaside town of Santa Barbara, Calif., surrounded by family members, said his daughter, Melinda Carey.

"No cancer or nothing, he just got old," she said of her father, who is survived by his wife of 68 years, Marilyn, and three adult children.

Carey's more notable big-screen credits included a co-starring role with John Wayne in Ford's 1948 outlaw film "3 Godfathers," the role of a young cavalry officer in Ford's 1949 western "She Wore a Yellow Ribbon," also with Wayne, and a turn decades later in a saloon scene in the 1990 sci-fi comedy "Back to the Future Part III."

In all, he made 11 movie appearances with Wayne.

Among other Ford-directed films in which Carey appeared were "The Searchers" (1956), "Wagon Master" (1950) and "Rio Grande" (1950).

In addition to a prodigious movie career that encompassed more than 90 films, Carey was a fixture on television during an era when westerns proliferated on the small screen, popping up in various character roles on such prime-time hits as "Bonanza," "Gunsmoke" and "Wagon Train" in the 1960s and 1970s.

In the 1950s, he had a recurring role in "The Adventures of Spin and Marty," a series of TV shorts that aired as part of "The Mickey Mouse Club."

Carey was born in 1921, the son of silent film star Harry Carey and his wife, Olive, who also was an actress.

The young Carey was raised among cattle and horses on his parents' 1,000-acre ranch in California's Santa Clarita Valley, north of Los Angeles, and he earned the nickname "Dobe" because his hair color was the hue of the ranch's reddish adobe clay. Even late in life, he went by that nickname.

The John Ford Stock Company

The family's affiliation with Ford dated back to the director's earliest westerns, with Carey's father appearing in some of Ford's silent films in 1917.

During World War Two, the younger Carey worked with Ford on training and propaganda films for the U.S. military. He went on to become a regular performer, along with his father, in the John Ford Stock Company -- actors and crew members who Ford used repeatedly in his films. Carey Jr. was reported to be the last surviving member of Ford's stock company.

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Carey's first feature collaboration with Ford in "3 Godfathers," playing the Abilene Kid, saw Carey, Wayne and Mexican-born actor Pedro Armendariz co-star as cattle rustlers and bank robbers who care for an orphaned baby boy while dodging the law. Carey's father starred in the original 1919 version, also directed by Ford.

Carey began his association with Wayne in another 1948 release, the classic Howard Hawks western movie "Red River," which also starred the elder Carey, though father and son had no scenes together.

Among Carey's last screen appearances were his turn as a U.S. marshal in the 1993 film "Tombstone," which starred Val Kilmer and Kurt Russell, and a supporting role in the 1997 TV movie "Last Stand at Saber River," which starred Tom Selleck.

The Carey family ranch, which was visited over the years by Wayne and fellow actors William S. Hart and Gary Cooper, has been turned into a Los Angeles County historic park called Tesoro Adobe.

Laurene Weste, city councilwoman in Santa Clarita, said Carey Jr. remains a beloved figure in the area where the family ranch was once so prominent. "He was just a wonderful, loving, kind, down-to-Earth man," she said.

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