Ward Bond

Bond made a ton of great movies, but this character actor was also a star athlete, well educated, unabashedly patriotic, and a political activist whose close friendship with John Ford and John Wayne was a mainstay in his life and career.

Classic Hollywood had many prolific and talented character actors, but there’s just one that had more appearances in Oscar nominated movies and appeared in more AFI “best of” picks than any other actor, one who seemed to pop up in almost every movie made in Hollywood during the first decade of his career, and that man was Ward Bond. Even with his booming voice and hulking presence, Bond naturally and subtly conveyed emotion and meaning, and brought life to the smallest of roles. While on screen he was often John Wayne’s sidekick, in real life he played a leading role as an outspoken Hollywood conservative, a culture warrior, a fearless, determined and persistent anti-Communist activist. He helped establish and eventually headed a Hollywood organization dedicated to countering progressive messages and influence, and to promoting positive portrayals of traditional American values in film.

Wardell Bond was born in 1903 in Benkelman, Nebraska, to descendants of homesteading pioneers, and though he rarely returned, the town still remembers Bond with a memorial park and Wagon Train festival in his memory. The Bonds– mother Mabel, sister Berniece, and father John–worked their farm there until Ward was 15, when the first of many moves took them to Denver, which most studio biographies later gave as Bond’s birthplace. There Ward finished high school and spent two more years in Colorado studying mining and engineering, before the family moved to Oakland, California. After his college expenses Ward was penniless and worked as a truck driver until he got into USC on athletic scholarship to study architecture, and made the Trojans football lineup in 1928. Though John Wayne (then still Marion “Duke” Morrison) had also been on that team, Wayne left USC in 1927 and was at Fox, working as a laborer and getting acquainted with director John Ford.

The story of how Bond got his first role has been both embellished and challenged over the years; one version has Wayne sent back to round up former USC teammates, and the uninvited Bond didn’t know Wayne but knew an opportunity to break into movies and/or get a free meal, and stowed away on the bus. Possibly Wayne was sent to convince USC’s president to allow the then-conference champion Trojans to appear in Ford’s 1929 movie Salute, and Bond was an obvious choice. Another version has it that Ford visited the campus himself or (most likely) just looked through photos of the most popular players and picked out the 6’3” Bond because he liked (in Ford’s words) his “great big ugly mug.” With exact circumstances of their meeting obscured by apocryphal retellings–primarily by Ford who was a story weaver extraordinaire–the fact remains that the three men became the best of friends, hard-drinking, hunting, shooting, sailing, fishing, motorcycle-riding, smoking, card-playing, epic prank-pulling lifelong soulmates, with a camaraderie that was noisy, coarse and rough, peppered with affectionate arguing, swearing, insults and abuse, leaving a treasure trove of ribald quotes.

Despite the temptation of a bigger studio contract, and Ford’s urging to grab it, Bond stayed at USC as all-star tackle for the Trojans, playing through to their win in the 1930 Rose Bowl. He used his Hollywood earnings to briefly study medicine and finished an engineering degree in 1931. His acting income beat anything a beginning engineer could earn back then, so he returned to movies full time, working at almost every studio, taking the tiniest roles and donning every imaginable type of costume, playing cowboys, working stiffs, gladiators, boxers, thugs and convicts, and along the way gained more lifelong, likeminded friends like Clark Gable and director Victor Fleming.

Bond married in 1936 to socialite Doris Sellers Childs, but his home away from home was with Ford, Wayne and other friends at the Hollywood Athletic Club, where they gathered to drink, swap stories and play cards in a barroom the club created especially for them. They invented a mock establishment men’s association dedicated to the furtherance of drinking and all things politically incorrect, and called it the “Young Men’s Purity, Abstinence and Yachting Association.” Members in good standing included actors Preston Foster and Frank Morgan (The Wizard of Oz), Olympic champion turned Tarzan Johnny Weissmuller, producer-director-adventurer Merian C. Cooper (King Kong), writer-director Tay Garnett (The Postman Always Rings Twice), and Fox producer Gene Markey. Screenwriter Dudley Nichols (Stagecoach), a close friend of Ford’s, and Bond were part of a running  joke where they took turns getting and losing “full membership” in the sham club. Nichols was repeatedly refused because he was too light a drinker and too liberal and therefore by club standards was “socially reprehensible,” while Bond was deemed vastly overqualified due to his expert proficiency in consuming alcohol and leaving a trail of destruction after benders. When Nichols was given Bond’s seat he promptly moved to have the club renamed the “Young Workers of the World League” with mentions of Total Abstinence and the proletariat (motion soundly denied). By the late ‘30s the group did more fishing and boating and so became the “Emerald Bay Yacht club,” the “yacht club for people who don’t like yacht clubs,” with a fabulously detailed hierarchy of ranks and the flashiest marine uniforms they could put together. After World War 2 Bond took over running the club with Ford, and one of their big events was celebrating Myrna Loy’s marriage to then Admiral Gene Markey.

Bond worked hard through the ‘30s, appearing in more than 130 films. 1939 turned out to be his big year; he made almost 20 movies, including Submarine Patrol, Dodge City, and Gone with the Wind, but juiciest and most prominent were his roles in two John Ford films starring Henry Fonda. In Young Mr. Lincoln, Bond is great as the trial witness whom Fonda rattles at first glance, and further mocks by calling him “Jack Cass” (if that doesn’t seem funny, you either have a humor deficiency or need to say it faster). Bond is confident, arrogant, disbelieving, and panicked but always a half-step behind as Fonda dismantles his story in cross-examination and (spoiler!) reveals him as the killer. In Drums along the Mohawk, Bond is a comical pioneer and Edna May Oliver’s good-looking man, and they have a sweet romance. With these films, ten years after they met, Bond found a place in Ford’s stock company and Bond proved himself a valued player.

By 1941 Bond got in two more films with Ford (The Long Voyage Home and Tobacco Road) before the director went off to war to head the Naval/OSS field photographic unit. Bond was exempt from military service because of his epilepsy, but served as an air raid warden and kept busy acting. He was great in The Grapes of Wrath, in John Huston’s The Maltese Falcon as Bogart’s detective pal, and gave what is arguably his best performance in Raoul Walsh’s Gentleman Jim, as Errol Flynn’s heavyweight boxing opponent John L. Sullivan, an egotistical hulk who shows honor and humility in defeat. Bond so loved the role that he bought the rights to a Sullivan biography, hoping to play him again with Walsh directing. Bond had a starring role in Hitler–Dead or Alive (a big influence on Tarantino’s Inglourious Basterds) as a gangster who joins a team formed to assassinate the dictator. Bond was also great in A Guy Named Joe as Spencer Tracy’s best friend who’s left to comfort Irene Dunne.

Bond was also assuming a more prominent role off-screen. As the war went on, it was becoming clear that the world would be shaped as much by the expansion of ideology as by the clashing of armies, and so movies which were always a powerful propaganda machine, were more closely scrutinized for the messages they carried. In the fall of 1943, over dinner at Chasen’s, about 20 Hollywood conservatives met to discuss recent studio-union tension, protests and organizing efforts by film industry leftists and considered what they could do to promote the concept of American Exceptionalism, while also exposing and combating progressive and pro-Communist messages. That meeting led to the February 1944 formation of the MPA, the Motion Picture Alliance for the Preservation of American Ideals. Director Sam Wood (A Night at the Opera, Goodbye Mr. Chips, Kings Row) was voted first president of the group that eventually grew to over 1000 members, including Walt Disney, Leo McCarey, Charles Coburn, Bruce Cabot, Gary Cooper, Clark Gable, Robert Taylor, Ronald Reagan and John Wayne. Ward Bond was an early and key member and over the years committed a great deal of his money and star power to the MPA’s activities which were typical of a watchdog group. Whenever they saw forwarded in positive terms a progressive-Communist-collectivist agenda, leftist bias or underreporting, they published pamphlets (a founding one, basically the MPA mission statement, was written by member Ayn Rand), issued statements, wrote letters to government representatives and signed petitions to media outlets.

While Ford was away at war, both Bond and Wayne went through divorces and lived at the Ford home, where the men indulged their love of frat boy pranks and then made good by doing errands and repairs (some required due to aforementioned frat boy pranks) and showering the family with gifts. In the summer of 1944, Bond was struck by a hit-and-run driver while crossing the street, suffering a shattered and nearly severed leg. He was briefly in a coma, but despite the danger, he adamantly refused to allow an amputation. In the deluge of get well letters, flowers, medals and religious items sent by thousands of fans, there was also notification from his studio that he was off salary and under suspension. When Ford came back he kept Bond in his next movie They Were Expendable, adding a scene to explain his crutches. For months afterward Bond wore a brace, had several surgeries (including removal of the steel plate in his shin) and was left with a limp, but on the plus side he eventually won $50,000 in damages in a lawsuit against the driver, a beauty product salesman. Coincidentally, Ford fell and broke his leg at the end of the Expendable shoot, which led to Robert Montgomery taking on some of the directing duties.

In 1946 Bond was great as the villain in Canyon Passage, ended his time at Fox with the classic western My Darling Clementine, and played Bert the cop in It’s a Wonderful Life. That year Bond was cast in a real life drama that would have him typecast for years to come. Political conflict polarized Hollywood as the House Un-American Activities Committee (HUAC) expanded into formal investigations on Communist Party influence in Hollywood, guided in part by letters the MPA had written identifying actively subversive members. As the Hollywood Ten were cited for contempt and jailed for refusing to testify on the fact of their Communist party membership, and as awareness and evidence grew of the Soviets’ direct influence on the party, Hollywood executives and guilds distanced themselves by instituting a blacklist and denying employment to those considered controversial, from the most devoted radicals to people tainted by close association or perceived sympathy. Career and reputation damage also extended to some of the conservatives involved; Bond was one of the prominent anti-Communists and blacklist supporters who were targets of considerable and lasting vitriol for their views, and shunned  by industry liberals. Bond later said this was the reason he got work much less often in the decade to follow, and when he did it was mainly on friends’ projects, or at Warner’s once John Wayne had a production deal there. John Ford, at that time an anti-Communist liberal and later in life more conservative, was opposed to the blacklist and often publically disagreed with Bond’s MPA activities, joking that Bond just loved to feel important, but their friendship never suffered for political differences, and Ford called Bond his “good luck charm.” They next worked together on The Fugitive and Fort Apache, where Bond, now in his mid-forties, fully acquired the persona of a maturing, genial authority figure–crusty with a soft center. Ford’s shots around Bond’s ample rear end can be chalked up to another running joke (when shooting Rio Grande in 1950, Ford and Wayne mailed Bond a picture of a horse’s ass with the message “thinking of you”). Bond played a variation on the fatherly role the next year in Ford’s Three Godfathers, a film dedicated to the memory of the recently deceased close Ford friend Harry Carey.As the 1950s began, Bond was slowed further by a heart attack, but his films included Kiss Tomorrow Goodbye, Johnny Guitar, and On Dangerous Ground. With Ford he did The Quiet Man, The Long Gray Line and Mister Roberts, and the last in particular presented a range of new responsibilities. On location in Hawaii in 1954, he was married for the second time, to his business manager Mary Lou May, with Ford as best man and Henry Fonda giving away the bride. Bond was also de facto, if uncredited assistant director, several times finishing a day’s shoot when Ford got drunk (Bond said he mostly stayed away from the stuff by this time). Fonda had played his role on stage for 7 years, and clashed with Ford over the film’s direction; at one point Ford took a swing at Fonda, effectively ending their friendship. That tension plus Ford’s gallbladder attacks led to Ford leaving the set, so Bond and Fonda finished the Midway scenes before Mervyn LeRoy and Josh Logan took over directing. Bond was politically active as ever, working with Wayne to support Senator Robert Taft in the 1952 GOP presidential primaries. Bond interviewed Taft on TV, noting afterward how important it was going to become for candidates to be image conscious on TV and complaining that Taft was hurt by unfavorable treatment by the networks. Bond’s profile grew with a service award from The American Jewish League against Communism, his participation in a radio reading of the Bill of Rights, and his becoming president of the MPA in 1955, after years of stepping aside to let more famous figures like Wayne and Robert Taylor lead the group.Ford’s The Searchers has another strong performance by Bond as Reverend Captain Samuel Clayton, parson and leader of the Texas rangers, in a role that wasn’t in the original Alan Le May novel, but was created by Ford. The part allowed for many wonderful understated contributions by Bond, who is comical, emotional and wise. Consider the touching scene where he prays over the bodies of Wayne’s murdered relatives, or where he recognizes with the briefest glance, then tries not to reveal that he’s understood the true relationship between Wayne and his sister in law (Dorothy Jordan, real-life wife of Ford friend and producing partner Merian Cooper, you can read my post on Cooper here). And of course Ford didn’t pass up an opportunity to once more make Bond the “butt” of a joke. In Ford’s next movie The Wings of Eagles, Bond essentially played John Ford (with a name shifted one car maker over, John Dodge instead of Ford). Wings was Ford’s most personal and autobiographical film, the life story of his most admired friend, courageous and accomplished Navy aviator turned screenwriter Frank “Spig” Wead (who wrote They Were Expendable). For his role as Dodge, Bond worked up his definitive (and uncannily accurate) version of an already well-known and oft-performed impersonation of his own close friend and mentor (as seen in the pic below). It was to be their last film together.
In 1957 Bond had a new job as Major Adams on the TV series Wagon Train, a show inspired by Bond’s similar role in Ford’s 1950 movie Wagonmaster. Bond was ambivalent about doing TV but Ford talked him into it, and good thing he did, because the series was hugely successful, a number one hit with TV’s biggest audience to date –up to 30 million viewers—finally making Bond a bonafide star at the age of 54. As he got more involved in story and casting decisions for the series (he was known to veto and help rewrite scripts to avoid forwarding what he considered negative, unpatriotic or immoral messages) the punishing pace took a toll on his health. Within the first couple seasons he got an ulcer, was hospitalized for pneumonia and bronchitis, and had an emergency appendectomy. During hiatus playing a priest in China Doll he broke a bone in his hip but finished a days’ work to keep costar Victor Mature from missing his trip to Europe. Bond also gained a lot of weight and then tried to slim down with pills and crash diets, a bad combination given his epilepsy and blood pressure problems, though he had cut back his chain-smoking and intake of booze and coffee. Still, he worked hard as ever, appearing in the classic Howard Hawks/John Wayne western Rio Bravo, and certainly didn’t cut back on his activism.

In 1959 Soviet premier Nikita Khrushchev was warmly welcomed to a star-studded televised banquet jointly hosted by the Los Angeles Mayor and the head of 20th Century Fox as part of a film exchange program. In response, Bond created a media event of his own when he flew the American flag at his home at half-mast, and gave interviews wherein he discussed the continuing evils of Communism. The battle was far from over, he said, the USSR still had American POWs, he reminded everyone, and he pointed out the sick irony of over 400 celebrities and industry insiders wining and dining the dictator of what was known to be a brutal, murdering tyranny that allowed zero freedom of speech and persecuted and killed artists. By then the blacklist was breaking; as far back as the early 50s Bond was on a council made up of industry players of all political persuasions that assessed people, helped them get work and clear their name if they had been wrongly swept up in the blacklist, or made an intellectual break from, quit and publically denounced the Communist party. In interviews Bond said people exaggerated his power to ruin or clear anyone, and that people’s own acts, statements, continued party membership and support was what made them undesirable hires and poor investments. He also said he obviously had less influence than people thought, since he’d frequently made news to call attention to the hiring of unrepentant Communists but such concerns were increasingly falling on deaf ears, and many former blacklistees who neither denounced their previous activities nor the horrors of Communism playing out overseas, had returned to studio payroll using pseudonyms or fronts. One notable instance of Bond’s vocal objection (along with protests by the American Legion) was against Frank Sinatra’s hiring of screenwriter Albert Maltz (for The Execution of Private Slovik); Sinatra eventually capitulated to the demands of the Kennedy campaign, and dropped Maltz to avoid inconvenient associations or protests during the upcoming presidential election.

As that 1960 election neared, Bond campaigned for Nixon, but said in an interview that he was unhappy with both candidates and parties, that politicians in general were ever more pandering and cowardly, and moving further away from understanding or governing the United States as a constitutional republic. Bond was all for celebrities speaking out about politics (in fact he said it was every citizen’s duty to do so) if they knew enough to actually discuss issues, but he didn’t like mindless pretension or use of star photo ops by candidates to impress the voters. He remained tireless in speaking out against subversive social forces that pushed for acceptance of drugs, pornography and progressivism, and for his example he was honored in 1960 by the Freedoms Foundation.

On November 5, Bond arrived in Dallas to attend the Cotton Bowl game (Cowboys vs. Rams) and appear during the halftime show. He got three weeks off Wagon Train because he’d been feeling unwell, and while in Dallas spent time with friends Bob Thompson and Clint Murchison, founder of the Cowboys, which had that year been approved as an NFL expansion team. After Bond returned to his motel to get ready for the game, he suffered a fatal heart attack. (Coincidentally only a few hours later Bond’s buddy Clark Gable also had a heart attack, and died 11 days later). John Ford shut down production on Two Rode Together and joined Wayne in making funeral arrangements. According to reports Ford was too devastated to appear in public until a few days later when he made a statement to the press, saying, “Ward will always be with us wherever actors gather for talk or stunt men get together for a card game. They’ll remember. He was a great character and a great guy.” The outdoor service, attended by 500 people, was held at the Field Photo Memorial Home for Purple Heart veterans established by Ford for OSS vets, Bond’s favorite charity. Pallbearers included a Navy Commander and Captain, Ken Curtis (The Sons of the Pioneers, Gunsmoke’s Festus, and Ford’s son-in-law at the time) and Harry Carey, Jr. sang, and Wayne gave an emotional eulogy. Bond’s ashes were scattered off Catalina, as per this instruction from the avid fisherman: “I loved lobster all my life, and I want to return the favor.” Bond left everything to his wife (they had no children) except for giving Wayne the option to buy out a 400 acre hobby farm in Bakersfield they had purchased together for hunting and fishing. Then there was a shotgun that Wayne had once admired and been accidentally shot with; when Wayne asked to have it, Bond said, “over my dead body,” and kept his word, bequeathing it to his friend.

Bond was no moderate, and few were moderate in their opinion of him, so for every story of him as a bombastic bully and blowhard who opened beer cans with his teeth, or cut Orson Welles’ tie off in public, there were many testaments to his likability and good character. He never wanted to be a star, and considered acting a rather unimportant profession full of pretension (he thought method acting was ridiculous) and considered himself blessed to be working at such an easy job. He loved his fans and constantly used his fame and money for charity performances, usually to raise funds for veterans. His reputation for generosity was abused when a group posthumously and fraudulently used his name to “raise funds” for a memorial geriatric clinic. He was a man of faith, and said to be a man of his word, a man who respected a promise and a contract above all else, and a loyal friend who got his longtime stunt double buddies regular gigs as his costars on Wagon Train. One reporter wrote of the time his teenage daughter was treated to lunch by Wayne and Bond while they were campaigning for Taft, and the men dared not drink alcohol in front of the teen for fear of setting a bad example. Fearlessly outspoken, opinionated and brash, Bond was known for relentlessly testing people through debate and loved a good argument, but  many celebrities and reporters who shared little to none of Bond’s politics still found him unselfish, generous, gentle, kind and funny. And though Bond made no secret of his patriotism, John Wayne said in his eulogy that “there was no one who loved his country more;” Wayne later said his friend was “beautiful where it counted–inside.”

As news of Bond’s death broke, TV Guide’s issue with him on the cover was literally hot off the presses, with a feature about a special event, a John Ford directed episode of Wagon Train. Ford was a frequent visitor to the set and asked Bond if he could work up a story about the background of Ulysses S. Grant for the show. John Wayne agreed to do a cameo playing General Sherman. It turned out to be the last time all three would work together. The episode which aired November 23, was almost a mini Ford film with some of his stock company (Anna Lee, Ken Curtis, John Carradine), images and shots echoed in later Ford movies (especially his part of How the West was Won). The story told by Bond’s character (about U.S. Grant) had a moral about “manning up” to overcome cowardice, flaws and self-pity, about building courage and self-respect and forging ahead. For Ford, it was a common theme as well as an apt description of men like Ward Bond–tough, blustery, unapologetically manly, protective and fair, but thought to be dumb, mean and heartless because they talk more about duty, patriotism and tradition than about their feelings. For months after Bond’s death, his best friends were depressed and inconsolable. Ford drank and lost weight until he had to be admitted to hospital. It wasn’t until he survived a close call in a plane crash landing early the next year that he moved beyond his grief and returned to work on The Man Who Shot Liberty Valance.

Besides the well-loved Wagon Train series, Bond left an amazing career legacy and is a welcome sight in any movie. He racked up hundreds of film credits, and as previously mentioned, he appeared in more movies on AFI’s 100 greatest list than any other actor. He was in 11 movies nominated for the best picture Oscar (the most of any male actor). The three that won best picture: It Happened One Night, You Can’t Take it With You, and Gone with the Wind. The rest: Arrowsmith, Lady for a Day, The Grapes of Wrath, The Maltese Falcon, Sergeant York, It’s a Wonderful Life, The Quiet Man, Mister Roberts. In 2001 Bond was inducted into Hall of Great Western Performers at the National Cowboy & Western Heritage Museum.

Many thanks to Karen Hannsberry for additional research material.

related posts at Speakeasy : WAGON MASTER 

66 thoughts on “Ward Bond”

  1. You know I love this post, Kristina! Thanks for writing such as detailed article covering all aspects of the life and career of one of my favorite actors. 🙂

    Best wishes,

  2. Excellent read! Before today I knew of Ward Bond, and can recall the movies I’ve seen him in, but I never had the behind-the-scenes knowledge like I do now. Fascinating!

  3. Thank you both so much for dropping by, taking the time to read and leave nice comments!
    Love Bond, loved learning about him even more, and loved writing this–

    @Carrie: with you being a first time visitor here I have to take this opportunity to say I am a huge fan of your blog because you do such a great job focusing on one of my fave actors–I check it out often and everyone else should too.

  4. Thanks so much for this post. I have been a fan of Ward Bond since I was a kid and it is nice to see his work being taken seriously. I think the quality of his performances were often overlooked because of his political beliefs. Perhaps it has taken 51 years (next week will be the 51st anniversary of his death) to look at him objectively.

    Thanks again

  5. The name’s Bond, Ward Bond! 🙂 Seriously, Kristina, I’ve been a fan of Ward Bond since I first saw his movies on TV. I saw him in THE QUIET MAN and THE MALTESE FALCON in the same week when I was a tween, and I liked him right away — and I LOVE your fascinating, richly-detailed blog post about him! What a fascinating life he had, and what guts he had in sticking to his principles and beliefs even when it wasn’t fashionable! You deserve a book contract to write a biography of him, that’s how good your article is!

    Brava on your superb Ward Bond coverage, my talented friend! You’re doing yourself and Speakeasy proud!

    Happy trailers,

    1. Dorian thanks so much for taking the time to read this opus, and then leaving behind such nice comments! (all generous and high compliments indeed coming from bloggers I respect so much) very much appreciated, and more so on behalf of Ward –interesting subjects make interesting articles!–he deserves the spotlight and the attention.
      note to readers :since you linked to your twitter, dorian’s blog is here
      (ps, nice to see I’m not the only one who made that bond…ward bond joke!! great minds & etc)

      1. Kristina, re “Bond, Ward Bond,” it just goes to show that both of us are smart, witty, and charming! 🙂 I posted the link to your great Ward Bond blog on my Facebook page, too, so others could read and enjoy it, too. And thanks a million for thoughtfully including a link to TALES OF THE EASILY DISTRACTED; you are, as we say here at Team Bartilucci H.Q., the awesome!

        Happy trailers,

      2. I had met John Wayne once as a child, and I knew of his friendship and gags that he and Ward and Admiral Ford would play! It is a shame that today Holywood has been overrun by the elitist liberal socialist/communist writers, directors and actors that Ward fought so hard to prevent, that Holywood shapes and influences young minds has been known forever, and today more than ever the progressive liberals have been ruining the very fabric that is America. I urge everyone to go and find a copy of John Wayne’s patriotic CD that he had dedicated to Admiral Ford, and Ward Bond and the United States of America. It is time the conservative movement retake holywood and start turning out pictures that we can be proud to take our children to! The memory of Ward Bond, John Wayne, and Admiral Ford live on in my home and in my heart. God Bless America!

        1. That’s really cool that you met Wayne and love those men as much as we do, you remind me of a side project I had in mind with some things I found re Duke, Bond & Ford’s patriotism, I should put it together finally. I agree with so many things having changed in Hollywood & society, one being that patriotism is not seen as much a virtue as it used to be and that is always to me an interesting and commendable quality of the classic entertainment machine. I am really thrilled to see this bio is still so popular, and that people find it and either discover Ward or leave comments about why they loved him. Thanks so much for stopping to do so, and to read, hope you come back 🙂

  6. After a great deal of research about Ward, Frank McGrath, Terry Wilson, Ford, etc. I have just found this site. Thanks for making it. On the anniversary of Ward’s death, 51 years ago, I posted this on Facebook along with a picture of Ward and one of the TRIO.

    51 years ago today, Duke (John) Wayne got a call from Terry Wilson, (Bill Hawks on Wagon Train).

    He said, “Hold on……Ward just dropped dead”. The two men cried together as many would in the days to come. Ward Bond had died of a massive heart attack at a football game in Dallas where he had gone to make an appearance for a friend.

    Pappy, (director John Ford), closed his movie set down and he, Ken Curtis, (Festus on Gunsmoke), and Harry Carey, Jr. flew to Dallas to bring Ward’s wife and his flag drapped coffin with honor guard home. Ken and Harry who were both excellent singers sang at the funeral and were pall bearers along with Duke, Terry Wilson and Frank McGrath, (Wagon Train’s Charlie Wooster). Duke choked out a short eulogy which I only just found yesterday. In obvious distress, he said, “Ward and I were the greatest of friends from school days right on through. He was a wonderful, generous, big hearted man.” Short, simple, but it said it all.

    Ward had 250 pictures to his credit, including Gone with the Wind in 1939 which Terri and Frank were not only stuntmen, but were in the dance scene also. They were seen in many of the movies directed by Pappy Ford. Before his death out of the 100 Great American movies, Ward was the actor in the most.

    Duke said that Ward, Pappy Ford, and himself were a triumvirate…..best friends and did most everything together when possible. Ward was Duke’s best man, and Duke was Ward’s with Henry Fonda giving away Maisie…Ward’s bride. When Pappy Ford was dying, he called for Duke to come down to the Springs. As Duke sat by his bedside, Pappy asked, “Duke, do you ever think of Ward?” “All the time”, said Duke. Pappy then said, “Let’s have a little drink to Ward.” That was 13 years after Ward’s death…..Pappy died the next day.

    Wagon Train was Ward’s greatest claim to fame. The four regulars, Ward, as Major Seth Adams, Bill, Charlie, and Flint built a special comraderie on set that was never to be duplicated again. Duke said, “Wagon Train may be able to replace him…..but I never will”. And neither will I. He was one H_ll of an actor and man. Hope you guys are as happy up there as you were down here and making movies for when, and if, I arrive!

  7. Keith, thanks for reading and for your nice comments and worthy addition to the info collected. Glad to have this “coda” so befitting to the article as a whole, an additional tribute to the close friendship the men shared and a further testament to Ward’s impact on his friends.

    1. Hi Kristina,

      Thanks. I aim to build a book about the character actors, stuntmen, etc, that made our heroes LOOK like heroes. The first four years of Wagon Train will be the base.
      If you know of anyone who can give me info on anything like that, behind the scenes, etc, please let me know. I believe the families of these people should finally gsee their relatives given true credit for their contributions. Dobe Carey and his wife Marilyn would be excellent sources, but, for the life of me, I cannot seem to get in contact with them. Thanks again for this, and for your comment on my addition.
      Keith Payne

  8. I’ve always considered Ward Bond’s participation in a motion picture to be a litmus test for quality entertainment. Thanks for telling his story so well.

  9. from John Ford biographer Joseph McBride:

    “Bond was a horror. He and Hedda [Hopper] ran the blacklist.
    They put dozens of actors and directors out of work. Well, if you
    do that to a cowboy — if you take his horse — you’d get hung.

    “Ford could excuse acting boners, like blowing a line, more than he could
    excuse action blunders, like an actor failing to do a running jump onto a horse.
    But on one scene [in THE SEARCHERS], Bond was blowing lines. I could
    see Ford get madder and madder. Ford turned and said to me in German,
    ‘Der kerl ist kein Schauspieler, er ist ein Hosen-**_**&*&’ — ‘He isn’t an
    actor, he’s a pants*&__*&*!’ . . .

    “Bond was good in those parts, you can’t take it away. Ward was
    a s— and he was a good actor.”

    — Henry (Chief Scar) Brandon in our interview for SEARCHING FOR JOHN FORD

      1. Kristina, it just goes to show that even the best of us can’t please everybody all the time. Probably for every person who loves Ward Bond, there’s someone who can’t stand him. Anyway, now that Bond is in that Great Movie Studio in the sky, he doesn’t give a hoot what we earthly folks think. Besides, like I always say in such circumstances, “What do I care what movie stars are like in real life? I don’t wanna marry the guy, I just want to see his movies!” 🙂

        1. right, and of course I am well aware (& was while writing) that whenever discussing someone so politically active during a polarizing time, there are inevitably outside biases and personal opinions brought to the table that have little to do with his acting.

          1. Kristina, I am glad I found this site, do you not wish we had people in Hollywood today with as much patriotism and love of our country as these men had? I mean they actually knew the constitution. Ask any young actor to quote that document today and you will get four score and seven years ago lol!

  10. Well Yall, I agree whole heartedly with you. I did a bit of research on the Oscar nominations for supporting actor, (Ward), and Actor,(Duke), and saw who was nominated and who won and then compared their performances with that of Ward and Duke for the same year. If was blatantly obvious that their politics ruined their Oscar chances. But, not their careers. Actors voted them out, but the public loved them. And Pappy Ford cussed Ward out all the time. Ward seems to be the only one that it never bothered!
    Like Duke said to Jimmy Stewart when Ford FINALLY embarassed the heck out of him,
    “Well ya finally made it Jimmy. And I’m glad ya did, I really am.” (Quote may be a bit off, but that was the gist). And we all know people either loved Ward or they hated him. I am one of the first!

    1. Keith sorry for the delayed reply but many thanks for dropping in and adding your thoughts. goes without saying I’m one of the first too! 🙂

  11. Whoa! What an impressive write-up on probably THE most underrated actor in Hollywood. I don’t know how I’ve not run across this article before, but than I am barely computer literate. It is sad that his performances have, in large part, been forgotten/overlooked/blackballed by today’s “politically correct” Hollywood. Their loss. (Trying not to take the highroad here…I have to admit to a gringe at the thought of Jane Fonda.)

    1. thanks so much, for coming by here, taking time to read and for leaving such great comments, very much appreciated! truth: almost every day someone’s search on something ward related brings them here, so I’m glad to see he’s such a popular guy, also glad to have written something fair and informative for people to find when they land here. goodness knows I ran across writing that was the total opposite when researching! thanks again!

  12. Thanks Kristina for reposting this. I just finished watching Operation Pacific with Ward and Duke. It is eerie to say the least to hear Ward, (Pop) call Duke by his real name as he was called in the movie. Any movie they are in is great because of the special comraderie they had both on and off the set….even when Ward played the “bad guy”. I wonder how many more great movies they would have made if Ward had not died so early at 57 and Duke lived on another 19 years. We at JWMB have just figured that the two were in 23 movies and 2 TV episodes together. After The War Wagon with Kirk Douglas, Duke discovered that it was more people pleasing if an older actor had a partner or two. And he usually did in his movies after that one. I imagine Ward would have been in at least half of them if his Wagon Train schedule would have allowed it. And, with his great popularity because of WT, his roles would have been CO-STAR rather that “WITH”. I feel quite certain that he would have FINALLY won the Oscar that he should have in quite a few of his supporting roles before. Thanks again for reposting. Your article is timeless and one of the very best I have read. Keith

    1. and Thanks to you again for coming by here to share your thoughts and kind words. I really appreciate it! yes I agree once you have the insight of their friendship, and of Ford’s as well, it’s a lot more fun to watch Duke & Ward together, and as you mention there were a lot they made together already (there’s a fun stat I neglected to work out and include in my article –thanks for bringing that here!) and fun to think how many more there might’ve been with Ward’s “newfound” Wagon Train fame. Oh, and he certainly deserved that Oscar. nice to have you back & Cheers!

      1. Thanks Kristina, always a pleasure. Just got some new info on Fred Kennedy and Terry Wilson. Also spotted Frank McGrath in another uncredited. BOY, this is really time consuming! If you spot any uncrediteds and know what stuntmen or actor, they are, let me know, will you…..anyone else out there also. Thanks, Keith Hawkswill@yadtel.net

  13. I stumbled on this site this morning as I thought of my father’s great friend Ward Bond. I was young when Ward died (I was 13) but remember him so well. My father was one of his pall bearers and grieved for quite awhile. My father was the “civilian” in the group of Fonda, Bond, Wayne along with Terry Wilson and Frank McGrath. We used to go to Catalina on our boats and as a young boy, Ward and Duke would come by and pick me up as my father slept the morning away after a long night with the “boys”. Incredible men they all were who had passion, friendship and laughter at a moments notice. Great men they all were and I sure miss my Dad.

    1. wow, thanks so much for stopping by and sharing such a personal memory, in a place where Ward’s fans can find it. They all live on so long as we remember them this way.. Very much appreciated 🙂

    2. RE;Spanky could you please email me at l_desimone1@yahoo.com I need to talk with you about your personal connection with the Duke and Ward Bond, he was my Grandmothers 1st cousin, I was 4 years old as young as Aissa Wayne, when Ward died, need to speak to you no one left alive to talk to. Please try to email me, thanks.

  14. Funny, I have been in contact with a lady whose STEP-FATHER was Fred Kennedy, and her story is just about like yours. You must have known each other. Please contact me at hawkswill@yadtel.net as I am writing a book on the uncredited stuntmen and character actors through the eyes of Ward, Terry, and Frank. I thought I had accounted for all of Ward’s pallbearers. May I ask your father’s name so I can put it in with the rest of my research? Hope you saw my article here on Wagon Master 1950., Keith

  15. I’ve long been a fan of Ward Bond since the Wagon Train days…though my crush was on Flint! Decades later I bred my APPY mare in hopes I’d get a colt like Flint’s. She threw a beautiful bay with a spotted blanket (instead of spotted hip like Flint’s) colt…but when he shed his baby hair he was buckskin! Still blanketed and gorgeous though–he’s 18 years old now.
    But back to Wagon Train…gosh, what was I? Four years old? Watching some old episodes now I see the “far right” influence in the story lines (Julie Gage Story and Tent City episodes) by today’s standards the storylines were just insulting! It saddens me Bond was supportive of McCarthy’s blacklisting but, such were the times and Bond was a product of his era. I still enjoy many of the Wagon Train episodes even if my admiration for him does not extend to his politics. Thanks to your site now, while watching the show, I’ll have background on the right wing agenda that shaped the story lines. Want a look into episodic TV of that generation also influenced by a WWII mindset but devoid of obvious conservative bias check out the stories on COMBAT. Thought provoking stories with a longevity that reach across generations. I don’t know the politics of the stars on that show but the writing was excellent.

    1. thanks for reading and taking the time to comment, I appreciated it! glad you enjoyed and glad you could get some added insight into the show and the times and the man.

  16. Thank you for the very interesting biography. My father’s younger brother was married to the sister of Ward Bond; we always knew her as Aunt Bea. I have added her to the Findagrave website; there is a photo there of her with her only sibling Ward Bond. Go to http://www.findagrave.com and enter memorial #48254796. From her memorial page you can click on Aunt Bea’s mother Mabel Bond; I have added a photo of Mabel Bond on her page. Mabel Bond lived with my Aunt and Uncle for the latter years of her life.

    1. well this has become the Ward Bond appreciation society! Thanks very much. this is the best part since I wrote this –I love that people with such personal memories, connections and stories feel comfortable coming here and leaving such nice comments. Glad you enjoyed reading this article. 🙂 all the best

  17. I cannot find the grave through what you posted. Can you give me the name you registered Aunt Bea under? Also, I am writing a book on Ward telling the story of the Uncredited stuntmen and character actors…..wonder if I may communicate with you? You can reach me at Hawkswill@yadtel.net or 336 244 4342. Thanks George, and
    THANKS KRISTINA! This could be a major help.

  18. I may have missed a step in my instructions. At the findagrave opening page, click on “search 92 million grave records” – from there enter memorial # 48254796 – that should get you to the memorial page of Bernice Bond Moser. I have also added the father of Ward and Bernice to Findagrave but do not have a photo of him or his gravemarker. I would be very happy to offer any help I can to your project. You can see my email address at Findagrave. Enjoy your day,George

  19. Hi Kristina,
    I just found out about your site from Keith Payne (Hawkswill), and true to her word, this is a great site you have! I very much enjoyed this article on Ward Bond. He was a very under rated and misunderstood star. I hate to simply say he was an actor, because he was such a good actor, far better than many before or since. He was a star, and a big star. Folks could easily relate to him in all of his various roles over the years. He made them so believable. At any rate, I’m prattling on! Thanks for a great article and a great site!

    1. Thank you so much for stopping by and reading and I’m glad you enjoyed. I agree with everything you said of Ward, that’s why he lasts and still has so many fans and was so interesting to write about.

  20. I am just blown away by all the comments on the Ward Bond post! I have been a fan of Ward’s since I was little and watched Wagon Train. As I troll the Internet I am finding so many people that are Ward Bond fans, either old timers like me or newbies who have fallen in love with Wagon Train reruns or the great movies he was a part of. There is even a book coming out in the Sping, “Three Bad Men” a collective biography of Ward, Ford and John Wayne.
    For those of you who would like a look at the baby Bond there is a great article about him and his life in his hometown paper, here is the link: http://www.mccookgazette.com/story/1723710.html

    Thanks again Kristina for the great write – up

    1. Thanks again! you think you’re blown away? I too am amazed at all the people who’ve dropped by here and found each other! So glad I could be a small part of this Ward phenomenon and present something worth reading. Thanks for the cool link, and here’s one for you, very same author of that book you mention commenting on this nice Wagon Master post https://hqofk.wordpress.com/2012/11/05/wagon-master/ Best

  21. Told you you should interview Scott on his Three Bad Men book. He and I FINALLY talked on the phone………..SIX hours,last night, LOL! Lots more on the net when you look up Ward,,and you were one of the ones who helped to get it started. You would LOVE talking to Scott about Ward……he just worships him as do I!

  22. I love Ward Bond the actor and love anybody with conservative values. It is a real shame how hollywood has changed for the worse in the last 40 or so years.

    I am glad I get to escape back to the past with old films and experience a much different country then we have now.

    1. Thanks so much for dropping by, I really appreciate it, glad you enjoyed and it reminded you of that time. stay tuned for some news related to Ward once I get back to regularly scheduled posts here!

  23. I am glad you mentioned Bond in the film, Gentleman Jim. Here we see Ward Bond play the great boxing champion John L. Sullivan. The most touching scene in the films occurs when Sullivan congratulates Flynn’s character Jim Corbett after losing a fight to him. He then passes on the title to him.

    Both men show the ultimate class in how they handle this situation. The scene always brought a tear to my eye. It is something every kid should watch at least once. Then maybe we wouldn’t have the kind of garbage that goes on in sporting events today with all the “me, me” attitudes! Showing humbleness and class in winning or losing is something we all should know how to handle.

    Here is the youtube of that great scene by the two great actors:

    1. Was just discussing with another regular reader of this blog, about Flynn being the perfect “Movie star” which might be a great discussion for another post& time, but here with Ward Bond, they made for great opponents. When writing this post I was really interested to learn about Ward getting the rights, and wanting to make the Sullivan bio pic, would really have been a great project.

  24. Errol Flynn is a great actor. His screen persona is unmatched. I think Gentleman Jim is such a great film, probably my favorite film of his overall. Over the years my appreciation of Flynn has grown. I finally made it to the 40 film mark with him last year when I bought and saw all the films in one of his DVD sets:

    TCM Spotlight: Errol Flynn Adventures (Desperate Journey / Edge of Darkness 1943 / Northern Pursuit / Uncertain Glory / Objective Burma) (2010)

    I highly recommend these five films especially the movie Uncertain Glory. The ending is really emotional.

    1. I do love Errol Flynn. Basically my answer to this comment is, “what you said!” Objective Burma is one I’ve seen a lot and never get bored of..

  25. The movie Objective Burma was banned in England after the war because it showed that the Americans won that conflict with the Japanese when most of the fighting and dying was done by England and her Commonwealth. The British 14th Army under Bill Slim was the main culprit in defeating the Japanese….Maurice H Bank

  26. I was also glad to read that a Jewish organization gave Ward Bond an award. It showed that any talk about he or Wayne being anti-semitic was garbage, and it also showed that not all of us “Jews” are commies. No doubt he would have been a great supporter of Israel, had he lived. I am sure a lot better than the Libs in Hollywood like Ed Asner, Tony Kushner, and Sandra Bullock.

    1. Yes important detail, of course, no group, whether racial, ethnic, occupational or political thinkers, are all alike; a fact too often forgot these days especially, when media narratives would love us all to fit conveniently into boxes. Thanks

  27. Have always loved Ward Bond. Not a good actor. A great actor. A natural in everything he did on screen…and, it seems, it life. Thanks for the article; it was excellent.

  28. Just read this marvelous story on Ward Bond, and want to complement you on a beautifully-written and even-handed appreciation of this great character actor. I have also much enjoyed your series of videos on film books, and have, in fact, just ordered Duty, Honor, Applause as result of the recommendation given.

    Best To You and Speakeasy,

    John at Greenbriar.

    1. Many thanks for the visit and the kind words, such a nice compliment coming from you, a writer whose work I read regularly and enjoy so much. Glad to hear you like the videos and hope you find that book interesting (hope you can live with it having no index 🙂 ). Thanks again and best to you.


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