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Ben Johnson

Discussion of the actors, directors and film-makers who 'made it all happen'

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JackFavell
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Ben Johnson

Postby JackFavell » January 30th, 2010, 11:22 am

Ben "Son" Johnson started his career at the age of eleven, becoming a ranch hand for his father on a huge ranch in Foraker, Oklahoma. It was tall grass country, good for grazing, and Ben knew right from the beginning that he wanted to be a great rider like his father, Ben Sr. who was a national rodeo champion. He eventually became a champion as well.

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Ben Johnson, Sr.

Ben, Jr. came to Hollywood in 1940, as wrangler for a load of horses being delivered to Howard Hughes. He stayed because, as he said,

"I'd been making a dollar a day as a cowboy, and my first check in Hollywood was for $300. After that, you couldn't have driven me back to Oklahoma with a club."


His first job there was as a wrangler for Howard Hawks on the set of The Outlaw. He worked for years as a wrangler and stunt rider, doubling Jimmy Stewart, John Wayne, Henry Fonda and many B westerners who needed a stunt double. He got his big break when he saved some men from a stagecoach accident on the set of John Ford's Fort Apache. Ford was impressed by his quick response and immediately signed him to a seven year contract, grooming him for a position in his stock company.

Ben loved horses, and was without a doubt the best rider ever to grace the screen. I first saw him only a couple years ago (this isn't exactly true, I had seen him for years without ever realizing who he was), but I was completely blown away by him the first time I saw She Wore a Yellow Ribbon. I thought, "Who is that incredible man who rides like the wind and leaps over a canyon as if it were a mud puddle?" For me, all the other actors just fell away.... I was smitten, bit hard by Ben Johnson bug. Even now when watching him, all the other actors just melt out of the picture. I think maybe his warm voice and way with a quiet word have something to do with my special feeling for him.

Not only could he ride, he was a natural actor.... one of the finest. There is no affect, no conscious effort on his part. He is the real deal. I am not sure how he is able to convey so much by a mere downward glance, but I am so thankful that he decided to give it a try. It is said that Marlon Brando would study him on the set of One Eyed Jacks to see if he could emulate Johnson's subtle ways.

Ben was married to the same woman for 53 years and never failed to mention her in his interviews. As far as I can tell, he remained a one woman man for life. He had character, and that is what keeps me coming back to this quiet horseman.

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Last edited by JackFavell on January 30th, 2010, 1:10 pm, edited 1 time in total.

klondike

Re: Ben Johnson

Postby klondike » January 30th, 2010, 12:01 pm

I could go on all day about what makes his portrayal of Travis Tyree the most living, breathing character in She Wore a Yellow Ribbon (and one day, just might!), but the one that always jumps to my mind first is his attendance to the mortally wounded "Trooper Smith" . . when the dying man calls out to him by his CSA rank of Captain Tyree, Johnson manfully suppresses a proud response to this man he knew as General Rome Clay, and looks first to his current commander, Captain Nathan Brittles, for permission to answer, out of simple respect to the man who presently held his oath . . how true, how hill-country, how frontier Scotch-American!
You can argue the facts at me til Doomsday . . I'll always swear that that little touch was 100% Ben Johnson, and Pappy Ford just followed a good bet . .

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Re: Ben Johnson

Postby JackFavell » January 30th, 2010, 12:54 pm

I could go on all day about what makes his portrayal of Travis Tyree the most living, breathing character in She Wore a Yellow Ribbon (and one day, just might!)


Please do! I plan to be here for the long haul....so if someone wants to go on at length that is OK by me! I am getting tired of my own rhapsodizing over Ben. :)

I completely agree with you that he is the most living character in SWAYR. He is the future of the company and Brittles' personal pick, I think. When he takes off on his horse, a thrill runs through me like nothing I have ever experienced in watching a movie before. It's incredible. And it's because it is real - it's really him, and all the rest just seems like play acting.

but the one that always jumps to my mind first is his attendance to the mortally wounded "Trooper Smith" . . when the dying man calls out to him by his CSA rank of Captain Tyree, Johnson manfully suppresses a proud response to this man he knew as General Rome Clay, and looks first to his current commander, Captain Nathan Brittles, for permission to answer, out of simple respect to the man who presently held his oath . . how true, how hill-country, how frontier Scotch-American!


That scene just breaks me up into little pieces... it's the future, the past and the present, represented in those three men, and that instinctive look to Wayne is so touching. So is Wayne's gentle, fatherly line afterwards. The way Ben wraps the old man in his coat... well, it gets me. This is another aspect of Ben's character, and why I love him so much - his old-school respect. This boy was brought up right and we can see it all over him. He has pride in himself, yes, but he knows the chain of command. One could say that Ben Johnson was the embodiment of the values that Ford appreciated about the old west.

You can argue the facts at me til Doomsday . . I'll always swear that that little touch was 100% Ben Johnson, and Pappy Ford just followed a good bet . .


Pappy knew a good thing when he saw it.... there's a story about Ben's first day on the set, and he was to speak his first lines. Ford approached him, laid out the scene to him, and explained what he wanted. Ben replied (and 'm paraphrasing) something like, "Mr. Ford, isn't there some rough riding you want me to do? I'd sooner jump a cliff than speak these here lines."

I think that cemented his place in Ford's company.

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Re: Ben Johnson

Postby movieman1957 » January 30th, 2010, 2:25 pm

I was wondering when this would show up here. Thanks.
Chris

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Re: Ben Johnson

Postby stuart.uk » January 30th, 2010, 2:26 pm

Ben was brought in to play a father like figure to the new generation of Cartwright's in 2 Bonanza movies. One film that saw him break away a bit from his John Wayne films was The Last Picture show which seemed to establish him as a great actor in his own right.

I remember him saying he had a falling out with Ford around 1950, not making a film with him until Cheyenne Attumn in 64. I'm guessing the 1950 film was Wagonmaster, his one and only starring role with Ford. It was hard to credit that after such a great start as an actor, by 1953 he was playing a minor character in Shane, though to be fair he was excellent in the role. I liked him as army scout Bookbinder in the comedy western Something Big playing side-kick to Brian Keith in a film that starred Dean Martin

In one of his last great roles, in a British movie he played horse trainer Burly Cocks in the true Grand National story Champions with John Hurt. His scenes were film in America, as was Kirsty Alley, who was also in the film as the vet who, while making love to Hurt's Bob Champion discovered his cancerous lump, there by saving his life. Burly also helped Bob recover from his illness

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Re: Ben Johnson

Postby Lzcutter » January 30th, 2010, 4:35 pm

I think Ford's drinking problem may have had something to do with the riff between the two in the 1950s.

As for Ben Johnson on film, I have been a big fan since the first time I saw him in SWAYR over forty years ago. He didn't want the role in Last Picture Show because he said it had too much cursing in it and his mother wouldn't like it. Bogdanovich tried and tried to talk him into it but finally called Ford and asked for help.

Ford called Johnson and told him to get off his kester and do the film.

Johnson called Bogdanovich back and admonished him for calling the "old man" and then accepted the role. He, of course, won the Oscar for the role.

He isn't on screen very much in Bite the Bullet but he makes every moment count.

There is a documentary (that I haven't seen) floating around out there on him. If anyone knows how to get a copy, let me know!
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Re: Ben Johnson

Postby MissGoddess » January 30th, 2010, 5:33 pm

Way to go, Mrs Johnson. I'm so glad you got this up---it's YOUR thread and it should be. :D
"There's only one thing that can kill the movies, and that's education."
-- Will Rogers

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Re: Ben Johnson

Postby mrsl » January 31st, 2010, 1:49 am

.
My first recollection of Ben is when he did that riding the Roman way the first time. Like someone said earlier, I had seen him for years without realizing it was him. Once he started getting lines to say though, it would be hard to forget that soft way he had of speaking. My all time favorite role of his was as John Wayne's buddy in Chisum. I loved the banter between the two men, especially when Ben would say something under his breath, and John would ask "What'd you say, what'd you say? Then each of them at the same time would grumble about the other for a few seconds. You couldn't make out what they were saying, but if sure sounded funny anyway.

By holding a grudge and not working Ben for years, I think Ford made a big mistake. He could have had two John Waynes, but he bit his nose off to spite his face. I love the fact that Ben didn't like the part in The Last Picture Show because of the cussin' in it. I guess that would say it all about his personal character, beyond the 53 year marriage, and never being seen in any kind of Hollywood hassle.

As I've said before, my tastes run really crazy. My two favorites are one of the most gentlemanly guys in H'wood, and one of it's baddest. I only wish Ben had had more starring roles.
.
Anne


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* * * * * * * * What is past is prologue. * * * * * * * *

]***********************************************************************

klondike

Re: Ben Johnson

Postby klondike » January 31st, 2010, 11:14 am

JackFavell wrote:Ben was married to the same woman for 53 years and never failed to mention her in his interviews. As far as I can tell, he remained a one woman man for life.


I once heard my father declare: "Any man who grants himself the luxury of thinking for an extra minute or two before speaking, can keep himself happily married for an entire lifetime."
Gotta say, it sure worked for him; he was married to his "finest woman in the world" for over 45 years, and only death could take her from his side.
Mrs. K & I are twelve years short of that mark, but I'm gotta try to do even better.

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Re: Ben Johnson

Postby JackFavell » January 31st, 2010, 12:03 pm

WOW! I am so glad I posted here! You guys have made my day, showing your appreciation of Ben. I am all verklempt.... :cry: I think he'd be so happy and moved to know he has fans like you.

Hey, movieman! I hesitated to post here at the SSO, because I have been so obsessed with Ben over at the other site that I didn't want to bore people..... so thanks for making me feel welcome here.

Stuart - Something Big is one I have not seen, but I will be on the lookout for it and also for Champions. Thank you for the info! I am always looking for new Ben movies.

I just discovered a really wonderful episode of Bonanza day before yesterday - here is the link to the first installment:

Bonanza - Top Hand
http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=sm1CaTQM ... F7&index=0

I hope you all enjoy it as much as I did.


lzcutter - I have looked high and low for that documentary - it's called Ben Johnson, Third Cowboy on the Right, and I don't think it's available anywhere on dvd. I am guessing that TCM might be able to get the rights to it, or some other station, but as for us fans, we will have to wait until someone shows it on TV. I keep hoping though. Bite the Bullet is a wonderful movie and I encourage everyone to see it. It's very old school western, and Ben is great in it.

missgoddess - Thank you so much! You have given me so much support and friendship at both websites. You're sweet!

mrsl - I love Ben's character Pepper in Chisum... his grumbling back and forth with Wayne is priceless. I think that Wayne's niece should have dumped Billy the Kid and Pat Garrett, and run off with Pepper. :D

The roman riding is all real. Harry Carey, Jr. talks about how hard it was - they only had two weeks to learn how to do it. They were bruised and battered, but it's the most exciting scene! I highly recommend getting Carey's book The Company of Heroes it's a great read, and has so much information. You can even get Dobe to sign it for you.

Here is the link to his website. It's a great book.

http://harrycareyjr.com/indexa.htm
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Re: Ben Johnson

Postby JackFavell » January 31st, 2010, 2:23 pm

As for the rift between Ben and John Ford, Harry Carey, Jr. seems to know the most about it. According to Dobe, there were two incidents that could have caused the breach. One was on the set of Rio Grande, and since it is the longer of the two stories, I'll relate it first. Carey did NOT think that this was the reason for the two not working together.

Ford had a habit of sizing up his younger stars, picking on them to see how they would react, to see if they were tough enough to take it. He might make a fool of them in front of the entire cast and crew. The ones who toughed it out or laughed about it earned a place in his permanent stock company. I believe that this was how Ford had been brought up, being tortured by his brother Francis as a young assistant when Francis was the big shot director. I believe he thought this was all in good fun, never realizing that he was ruining his own friendships. I KNOW he thought of his actors and crew as family. Maybe he just couldn't help it, needing to test his loved ones' loyalty. Or maybe he didn't like yes men, and this was his way of weeding them out. As lz said, his drinking may have dulled his ability to know when to quit.

Back to Rio Grande. Everyone was gathered at a very long table for the evening meal after the day's shoot. Ford had his "folks" around him, and there was a hierarchy - those closest personally to Ford, like Wayne, Maureen O'Hara and his favorite crew members, were seated next to him. On down the line cast and crew were arrayed, with the newest members at the bottom of the table. Ben and Dobe Carey were seated at the far end from Ford, at least twenty seats away from the director. They were having a discussion about the day's work, and Ben made a comment about the stunt riders. This was appropriate, since he had done stunt work for years. Ben mentioned that though the stunt riders had done a lot of riding, they hadn't done a lot of falling. Ford overheard him, and in his usual manner, bellowed loud enough for all to hear, "What was that you said, Mr. Johnson?" Ben was embarrassed, but was forced to repeat his comment in front of everyone. Ford made a big scene, remarking that perhaps Ben might like to direct the goddam picture. He leveled his cold stare at Ben and harassed him a bit more. Ben looked down at his plate, listening to the tirade for a few minutes, then threw his napkin down, rose and walked slowly down the length of the room to Ford. He leaned over and quietly told Ford what he could do with his #$^!@#$%^ movie, and left the room.

Dobe Carey said that Ford was stricken at what had happened and called for someone to "go and bring back Ben for Christ sake, so I can say I was kidding". Dobe went back to their room and Ben was terribly upset, saying, "I suppose I'm out of the picture now." but he refused to go back to Ford that night. The next day, all was forgiven, and no mention was made of the dust up by Ford or Johnson. They continued to work together for the next few weeks in a cordial manner. Ben said later he felt very sorry for Ford, because more than anything, Ford wanted to be one of the boys, but his personality denied him that. When Ford would walk up to the stunt men and crew (the people he admired most), they all would clam up and stop talking. He always appreciated what "Mr. Ford" had done for him.

Ford and Johnson remained friends after this incident, seeing one another socially, but never working together until Cheyenne Autumn.

The other incident is one that Dobe says he thinks is the real reason for the break - and it didn't have much to do with Ben at all. Dobe did not find out about it till years later, and I suspect that this is the real reason for the break. It makes a lot more sense. Ben's agent went to Ford after Rio Grande, and asked him for a huge amount of money on Ben's behalf for the next movie. It was akin to asking for John Wayne's salary. Ford thought that Ben had put the agent up to it, and so he refused to use Ben for years. Ben never knew about this incident, and even after Dobe found out he never had the heart to tell Ben about it.

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Re: Ben Johnson

Postby MissGoddess » January 31st, 2010, 3:04 pm

Wow, Ben's Girl, you have already started this thread off with more interesting information and clips than I ever expected so soon! I am so excited for you! I will be checking back regular, that's for sure.

And I'm glad I am no longer the only obsessed person at the SSO. :D It takes a little of the edge off (I hope) my constant Ford-ramblings. :oops:
"There's only one thing that can kill the movies, and that's education."
-- Will Rogers

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Re: Ben Johnson

Postby JackFavell » January 31st, 2010, 3:48 pm

I LOVE your Fordish ramblings.... I wish I knew (or could retain) half of the info you do about Ford and Will Rogers! You're my idol.

NEVER stop rambling. :D

I finally got up enough courage to write to Dobe Carey through his website... his mailbox seems to be full and my email was refused. :(

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Re: Ben Johnson

Postby MissGoddess » January 31st, 2010, 4:14 pm

Thank you, my friend. Keep trying the email. His wife, Marilyn, answers a lot of them for him (I think she reads them to him and types out his replies). Otherwise, I suggest you write him the old fashioned way. I think he'd be delighted to hear from you and about your fondness for his dear friend, Ben.
"There's only one thing that can kill the movies, and that's education."
-- Will Rogers

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Re: Ben Johnson

Postby JackFavell » January 31st, 2010, 4:25 pm

Thanks. You know, I never thought I'd say this, being pretty stupid computer-wise, but it never occurred to me to write him through the mail....


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