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.