Wagon Master (1950)

By far the most popular post on my blog is this one, on the life of WARD BOND.   Not a day’s gone by since that someone searching for Ward-related info hasn’t come upon that piece. The post also brought a frequent commenter who’s become a great person to know, and so I’m pleased to host this guest post by Keith Payne, writing on Ward’s WAGON MASTER, a movie I’d only briefly touched on in my bio, mainly because I hadn’t seen it then. Please make Keith feel welcome and enjoy !

WAGON MASTER 1950  by Keith Payne

In honor of the anniversary of the death of Ward Bond 11/5/1960

Ward Bond, although probably the most underrated actor of all time, will be remembered longer than most of the stars who won multiple academy awards. Why? A big part of it is a little film made in 1950 by legendary director John “Pappy” Ford called Wagon Master. This film was named many times by Pappy as being one of his favorites. He was one of the most visual of directors, at this time working near the peak of his career, and he called Wagon Master not only his favorite Western but described it as, “along with The Fugitive (1947) and The Sun Shines Bright (1953), the closest to being what I had wanted to achieve.”

In a rare starring role, Ward Bond plays the leader of a group of Mormons who, shunned by society, struggle to cross the American West to reach their “promised land,” where they can settle and form a community. They ask two horse traders (Ben Johnson and Harry Carey, Jr.) who know the territory to lead their wagon train. It takes some convincing, but they finally agree to do it, and the rest of the story follows their journey and the obstacles they must overcome, including Indians, gunmen, and Mother Nature. Yet the story often pauses to revel in the characters dancing, whittling or singing (the soundtrack is packed with old Western songs), and to show pastoral sequences of the wagons simply moving through the landscape or crossing a river. These scenes become the emotional core of the film, and they undoubtedly are what Ford was so satisfied to have achieved.*

Although Ben Johnson, Joanne Dru and Harry Carey, Jr. received top billing on the film, Ward was paid the top money, $20,000 for a film with a 1 million dollar budget. Dobe Carey said many times that Ward actually was the star and was the glue for the entire movie. One quote from his book, “A Company of Heroes” was that he had great regard for Ward Bond and said that he brought stability in every scene he was in.

One scene required Ward to break up a fight between Sandy and one of the Mormons. Pappy had wanted two of the dogs who had been fighting each other most of the filming days to be fighting in the background. Instead, when the take began, both dogs froze, then one took off and the other ran in and tore Ward’s pants as he was separating the boys. Being the consummate actor he was, Ward continued on with the scene. At the end, Mrs. Ledyarde blew her horn, (which, by the way really sounds like that unless you have enough wind to blow it…I know, I have one), to help separate the two, and then saw the tear in Ward’s trousers. It happened to be large and right at the spot where he had been subjected to years of operations, grafts, and physical therapy for a leg that was almost completely severed in the 40s. In fact, Ward had only in the last few years just been able to walk without aid of a cane, and in some scenes did not have to wear the large heavy brace. I suppose the actress just couldn’t suppress the chance to see what that famous injury looked like, because she reached down and parted the trousers right in front of the camera. Ward and her reaction cannot be seen in the film, but here it is below. You can see her open the pants and see the large dent in his leg just above the knee.

Next shows Ward covering his leg and his shock that she would do such a thing, especially on camera.

This shows that she has realized what she has done to a man who was her friend. Luckily, Ward was not the type to hold a grudge. She guest starred on Wagon Train a few times.

Pappy Ford sent Duke Wayne a telegram telling him about the incident and said he hoped the dog had had his rabies shot! Of course, the dog had only torn the pants, not bitten Ward.

Another scene involving Ward occurred when Ben Johnson and Ward were riding along the river looking for a crossing. In the commentary with Peter Bogdanovich, Dobe Carey had been saying that Pappy Ford had given Ward a horse that was too small for him, (obviously trying to make Ben look taller than he was since he was the Wagon Master). Well, all of a sudden, down the horse went. Ward was able to spring free as the horse fell on his left side and could have severely damaged his never completely healed leg. Ward jumped up, strode to catch the horse, all the time adlibbing about the horse’s clumsiness. However, you can easily see in frame by frame that Ben’s horse was mired up to his fetlocks…..apparently they were in deep mud or quicksand.

Down goes Ward’s horse with him on it.


Next picture shows Ben’s horse Steele’s back legs mired up, with him trying to get him out.

Ben comes over and tells Ward about the quicksand, and it wasn’t the horse’s fault. Ward remounts and says, “Sorry horse”!
So, that night Pappy Ford sent Duke Wayne another telegram this time saying that Ward took a bad horse fall on his injured leg side but that he and horse were OK.

This movie was almost a musical with all the songs by the Sons of the Pioneers, even Ward, Ben, and Dobe sang a bit. Then they had two celebration dances. You could see the exuberance on Ward’s face as once, he never thought he would walk again, and there he was whooping it up on the dance floor!

So, now you know why one of the most underrated actors of all time will be remembered longer than the legendary, Oscar winners will be. Because, that fun little movie brought Ward Bond the role of Major Seth Adams in Wagon Train which is still a household show all over the world even 52 years to THIS DAY after Ward’s Death.

WE, YOUR FANS, WILL ALWAYS MISS YOU, WARD, BUT ARE THANKFUL KNOWING YOU ARE WITH YOUR BUDDIES, DUKE, PAPPY, HANK FONDA, AND ALL THE REST! WARD BOND LEFT US NOVEMBER 5, 1960

all pictures provided by Keith, except for the 1st pic (source)

you can find Keith on facebook (need to be logged in) but make sure to leave us some comments here

*  credit for paragraph to Tom Correa, who wrote this post on Ward’s life

and the Ward post here at Speakeasy 

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36 thoughts on “Wagon Master (1950)

  1. super for your first post! now I hope you make it a habit so I can host you, won’t spill any beans but boy do you have a lot of great stories and memories to share, look forward to other people reading them. thanks!

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      • would like to know if any family of Ward Bond is left alive, he was 1st cousin to my grandmother, i miss all of Bond, family since my 88 year old aunt daughter of my grandmother told me of being related to Ward Bond. could you email any info on any living relatives that i could just talk to? l_desimone1@yahoo.com thanks.

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  2. Great post. I never get tired of Ward Bond stories. I absolutely agree that he was underrated as an actor. I always think that he would have been fun to sit across the table from and shoot the breeze. I know that he was very politically opinionated and was involved with the HUAC and that had an affect on his career. There’s a comment made by John Ford one time that goes something like this: “Oh, that big ugly is full of shit, but he’s the kind of shit I like”.

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    • Thanks ELISE, I know you as a true Ward fan as well as others such as Terry Wilson, Frank McGrath, Dobe Carey and many of Pappy’s Stock Troupe. I neglected to give you credit for the info you gave me from Dobe’s book where he said that he had great regard for Ward Bond and said that he brought stability in every scene he was in. The rest you sent I had already written about but appreciate greatly everything you send me for the book. And I WILL not forget you again! I trust you see that some of what Dobe put in his book was not always correct as the screen catches show. However it is one of the foremost authorities on the majority of the actors and prominent stunt men. Thanks again for your additions. Oh, do you perchance know where that comment at the end of your reply came from? Would like to add it to all else. Keith (the old lady one)!

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    • Thanks Mark, due to your immense knowledge of all things western and many others, I consider your comments to be diamonds in the rough! You DO like those screen captures, don’t you, LOL! I think they go a long way to “proving” what you are writing about, especially when it is a new addition to previous knowledge. KEITH

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  3. As already mentioned, I love learning new stories and insights into Ward’s life. I hadn’t heard these and the screen captures are fantastic!

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    • Thanks PP. As known by the folks at JWMB, your comments are thoroughly appreciated. You and Mark both should sign up to Kristina’s blog….you will find some interesting things on the Classics, and many times a most helpful friend if you need a question answered.

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  4. Keith, I love your article on Ward Bond. Since he was one of the greats that I still enjoy watching, it means a lot to me that you took the time to help me with my article on Ward Bond. It is all about getting it right, isn’t it? You are a great gal! A fine writer. Much thanks!

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  5. I’m not an authority on old Westerns, but, I can appreciate good writing and your passion for the genre and in particular Ward Bond. Keep it up and your drawing, too.

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    • I appreciate the nice comment Debbie. You are the only one who has commented on my ” passion” for Ward, and that it is. If you even see Wagon Master on the Classics channel, take the time out to watch it…..he, Ben, Dobe, and some of the other folks of Pappy’s Stock Troupe may become favorites of yours, also. And have started a site for my sketches. So far, only one page is available, and it will change greatly before I am finished, (it is not published yet but you can find it here):

      http://everythingwesternfilms.homestead.com/Sketches.html?_=1352724681671

      HAGO, KEITH

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    • Thanks William. Am thinking of giving Kristina here at Speakeasy some fairly unknown facts about The Searchers….thought it had all been written many times……maybe not? KEITH

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  6. The “accidents” that made their way into Wagon Master are a large part of its charm, giving it a randomness and goofiness that seems very real.

    Thanks for pointing a few of them out.

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    • Thanks Ringo. And glad to teach you about blogs. Should open a whole new world to you. Ringo is a regular on the John Wayne Message Board with me. It is the most complete site on Duke that you will find. It also discusses all types of movies and actors, musical scores, etc. from Film Noir to Vampires! And I don’t believe you will find anything that can compare to the original Posters, lobby cards, etc. that are displayed in the archives.
      http://www.dukewayne.com KEITH

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  7. WAGON MASTER is a magnificent film, and I share John Ford’s own assessment of it. I enjoyed Keith Payne’s article very much. It includes a nice level of personal detail that most fans of Bond would not know. (My forthcoming book, THREE BAD MEN: JOHN FORD, JOHN WAYNE, WARD BOND, will be available soon.) I really appreciate Keith’s dedication to Ward’s (yes, VERY underrated) talent, and attention to so many interesting details about the making of the film and Ward’s part in it. A fine job, indeed. I share Keith’s enthusiasm about Ward, whom I argue is THE supreme American character actor (in the introduction of my book).

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    • Thanks Scott. For as much as you know about Ward and the memorabilia that you have of his, I just cannot wait for your book. Plus, it is FINALLY a book about one of the most memorable and greatest triumverates in pictures both on and off stage. From what I have
      read on your Facebook page and from talking with you, it is obvious you are probably the most knowledgeable person concerning the relationship of these three most talented men. Please check out The Facebook page for THREE BAD MEN………it has letters from Ward to his family……….well, won’t spoil it. Also, there is a link where the book can be ordered pre-publication. http://www.facebook.com/ThreeBadMenJohnFordJohnWayneWardBond
      mcfarlandpub.com
      http://www.mcfarlandbooks.com
      And the author and crew who put together this book will be glad to answer your questions and hear your stories. Many thanks to Kristina for giving us the privilege of introducing his book to her followers. KEITH

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    • hi welcome to the blog, and thanks for your kind words, as a Bond fan I hope you find and enjoy my article on his life as well. Really looking forward to your book– the more attention these people receive the better and that trio was such a great combo. :) thanks to you both, so glad to provide this gathering place for fans of Bond et al

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  8. Great article Keith! I enjoyed it very much! And thanks for pointing me toward Kristina’s great site, I will be back here quite a bit, I think, and I look forward to more of your writing too!

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  9. Marilyn sent me, you came highly recommended and I can see why! Great post about a great and often underrated actor. You’ve got a new follower! Cheers for the wonderful post mate! :-D

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  10. Keith, I LOVE this piece on “Wagonmaster”. It’s one of my favorites. You nailed it when you said it’s almost a musical. Ford so weaved in the music with the story that it is an integral part of the film. Your anecdotes about the film are marvelous. I’ve always considered myself a “maven” but am learning things I never knew. As I said elsewhere, I look forward to sharing some of my anecdotes with you more directly. I think we’ll have fun.

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  11. Thanks Garry. Oh, I think we have a great many things to share! Thanks for your kind words about my little piece. I do one every year on the anniversary of Ward’s death. Check my reply to Mike who Marilyn recommended. Kristina’s article on Ward will hold you quite well until you get Scott’s book……..she did a bang up job! KEITH

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    • Thanks all for the visit, and the kind comments on my blog in general, the Ward article specifically, and so glad you enjoyed Keith’s WM post!! A fun and knowledgable guest for sure :) hope to host you more Keith!

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