Ben Johnson (actor)

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Ben Johnson
Ben Johnson The Wild Bunch publicity photo.JPG
Born June 13, 1918
Foraker, Oklahoma, U.S.
Died April 8, 1996 (1996-04-09) (aged 77)
Mesa, Arizona, U.S.
Cause of death
heart attack
Nationality American
Occupation Actor
Years active 1939–96
Spouse(s) Carol Elaine Jones (1941-94; her death)

Ben "Son" Johnson, Jr. (June 13, 1918 – April 8, 1996) was an American stuntman, world champion rodeo cowboy and actor. The son of a rancher, Johnson arrived in Hollywood to deliver a consignment of horses for a film, he did stunt double work for several years before breaking into acting through the good offices of John Ford. Tall and laconic, Johnson brought further authenticity to many roles in Westerns with his extraordinary horsemanship. An elegiac portrayal of a former cowboy theatre owner in the 50's coming of age drama, The Last Picture Show, won Johnson the 1971 Academy Award for Best Supporting Actor. He operated a horse breeding farm throughout his career. Although he said he had succeeded by sticking to what he knew, shrewd real estate investments made Johnson worth an estimated 100 million dollars by his latter years.[1][2]

Personal life[edit]

Johnson was born in Foraker, Oklahoma,[1] on the Osage Indian Reservation, of Irish and Cherokee ancestry,[3][4] the son of Ollie Susan (née Workmon) and Ben Johnson, Sr.[5] His father was a rancher and rodeo champion in Osage County. Throughout his life Johnson was drawn to the rodeos and horse breeding of his early years. In 1953 he took a break from well paid film work to compete in the Professional Rodeo Cowboys Association, becoming Team Roping World Champion although he only broke even financially that year. Johnson was inducted into the ProRodeo Hall of Fame in 1973.[6]

Johnson's 1941 marriage to Carol Elaine Jones lasted until her death on March 27, 1994, they had no children. Jones was the daughter of noted Hollywood horse wrangler Clarence "Fat" Jones.[7]

Career[edit]

Johnson's film career began with the Howard Hughes film The Outlaw. Before filming began, Hughes bought some horses at the Oklahoma ranch that Johnson's father managed, and hired Johnson to get the horses to northern Arizona (for The Outlaw's location shooting), and then to take them on to Hollywood.

Johnson liked to say later that he got to Hollywood in a carload of horses.[8] With his experience wrangling for Hughes during The Outlaw's location shooting, once in Hollywood he did stunt work for the 1939 movie The Fighting Gringo, and throughout the 1940s he found work wrangling horses and doing stunt work involving horses.

His work as a stunt man caught the eye of director John Ford. Ford hired Johnson for stunt work in the 1948 film Fort Apache, and as the riding double for Henry Fonda.[4] During shooting, the horses pulling a wagon with three men in it stampeded. Johnson, who "happened to be settin' on a horse", stopped the runaway wagon, and saved the men. When Ford promised that he would be rewarded, Johnson hoped it would be with another doubling job, or maybe a small speaking role.[9] Instead he received a seven-year acting contract from Ford.[10] Ford called Johnson into his office, handed him an envelope with the contract in it. Johnson started reading it and when he got to the fifth line and it said "$5,000 a week," he stopped reading, grabbed a pen and signed it, and gave it back to Ford.[9]

His first credited role was in Ford's 3 Godfathers, the film is notable for the riding skills demonstrated by both Johnson and star Pedro Armendáriz. Johnson later said the film was the most physically challenging of his career. Ford then suggested him for a starring role in the 1949 film Mighty Joe Young; he played 'Gregg', opposite Terry Moore. Ford cast him in two of the three films that have come to be known as Ford's cavalry trilogy, all starring John Wayne: She Wore a Yellow Ribbon (1949), and Rio Grande (1950); both roles showcased Johnson's riding ability. In 1950, Ford also cast Johnson as the lead in Wagon Master (1950), a small film that was one of Ford's favorites.

Johnson played in supporting roles in Shane (1953) starring Alan Ladd, and One-Eyed Jacks (1961) starring Marlon Brando. In 1964 he worked with Ford again in Cheyenne Autumn. He also appeared in four Sam Peckinpah directed films: Major Dundee (1965; with Charlton Heston), The Wild Bunch (1969; with William Holden & Robert Ryan), and two back-to-back Steve McQueen movies, The Getaway and the rodeo film Junior Bonner (both 1972). In 1973 he co-starred as Melvin Purvis in John Milius's Dillinger with Warren Oates; he would also appear in Milius's 1984 film Red Dawn. In 1975, he played the character Mister in Bite the Bullet, starring Gene Hackman and James Coburn. He also appeared together with Charles Bronson in 1975's Breakheart Pass. In 1980, he was cast as Sheriff Isum Gorch in Soggy Bottom U. S. A.

Johnson played the part of "Bartlett" in the 1962-1963 season of Have Gun Will Travel which featured a short scene of his riding skills. In the 1966-1967 television season, Johnson appeared as the character "Sleeve" in all twenty-six episodes of the ABC family Western The Monroes with costars Michael Anderson, Jr., and Barbara Hershey.[11]

He teamed up John Wayne again, and director Andrew McLaglen, in two films; appearing with Rock Hudson in The Undefeated (1969), and in a fairly prominent role in Chisum (1970).

The apex of Johnson's career was reached in 1971, with Johnson winning an Academy Award for his performance as 'Sam The Lion' in The Last Picture Show, directed by Peter Bogdanovich co-starring Timothy Bottoms, Jeff Bridges, and Cybill Shepherd.

On the set of The Train Robbers, in June 1972, he told Nancy Anderson of Copley News Service that winning the Oscar for The Last Picture Show wasn't going to change him and he wouldn't raise his salary request to studios because of it. He continued, "I grew up on a ranch and I know livestock, so I like working in Westerns. All my life I've been afraid of failure. To avoid it, I've stuck with doing things I know how to do, and it's made me a good living.[12] He also co-starred with Gary Busey in "Bloodsport" (1973), as the "win-at-all-costs" father to his football-playing son.

He portrayed the character Cap Roundtree in the 1979 miniseries The Sacketts.

He also co-starred in 1994 version of Angels in the Outfield.

He also continued ranching during the entire time, operating a horse-breeding ranch in Sylmar, California.[4] In addition, he sponsored the Ben Johnson Pro Celebrity Team Roping and Penning competition, held in Oklahoma City, the proceeds of which are donated to both the Children's Medical Research Inc., and to the Children's Hospital of Oklahoma.

Death and legacy[edit]

Johnson continued to work almost steadily until his death from a heart attack at the age of 77. On April 8, 1996, the veteran actor collapsed while visiting his 96 year-old mother Ollie, at Leisure World in Mesa, Arizona, the suburban Phoenix retirement community where they both lived.[13]

Johnson's mother Ollie Susan Workmon Johnson-Rider (surname from 2nd husband Fredie Fay Rider -d.1970), died a few years after her famed actor son, on October 16, 2000. Ollie Rider was 101.

For his contribution to the motion picture industry, Johnson has a star on the Hollywood Walk of Fame at 7083 Hollywood Blvd. In 1982, he was inducted into the Western Performers Hall of Fame at the National Cowboy & Western Heritage Museum in Oklahoma City. In 1996 Tom Thurman made a documentary film about Johnson's life, titled Ben Johnson: Third Cowboy on the Right, written by Thurman and Tom Marksbury.[3]

The Ben Johnson Memorial Steer Roping and the International Roundup Cavalcade, the world's largest amateur rodeo are held annually in Pawhuska, Oklahoma.[14]

Filmography[edit]

Film[edit]

Year Title Role Notes
1939 The Fighting Gringo Mexican Barfly Uncredited
1943 The Outlaw Deputy Uncredited
1943 Bordertown Gun Fighters Messenger Uncredited
1944 The Pinto Bandit Race Contestant Uncredited
1944 Tall in the Saddle Townsman Uncredited
1944 Nevada Saloon Patron Uncredited
1945 Corpus Christi Bandits 2nd Stage Driver Uncredited
1945 The Naughty Nineties Coach Driver Uncredited
1946 Badman's Territory Deputy Marshal Uncredited
1948 The Gallant Legion Texas Ranger Uncredited
1948 3 Godfathers Posse Man #1
1949 Mighty Joe Young Gregg
1949 She Wore a Yellow Ribbon Sgt. Tyree
1950 Wagon Master Travis Blue
1950 Rio Grande Trooper Travis Tyree
1951 Fort Defiance Ben Shelby
1952 Wild Stallion Dan Light
1953 Shane Chris Calloway
1955 Oklahoma! Wrangler Uncredited
1956 Rebel in Town Frank Mason
1957 War Drums Luke Fargo
1957 Slim Carter Montana Burriss
1958 Fort Bowie Capt. Thomas Thompson
1960 Ten Who Dared George Bradley
1961 One-Eyed Jacks Bob Emory
1961 Tomboy and the Champ Uncle Jim
1964 Cheyenne Autumn Trooper Plumtree Uncredited
1965 Major Dundee Sergeant Chillum
1966 The Rare Breed Jeff Harter
1968 Will Penny Alex
1968 Hang 'Em High Marshal Dave Bliss
1969 The Wild Bunch Tector Gorch
1969 The Undefeated Short Grub
1970 Chisum James Pepper
1971 The Last Picture Show Sam The Lion Academy Award for Best Supporting Actor
BAFTA Award for Best Actor in a Supporting Role
Golden Globe Award for Best Supporting Actor – Motion Picture
National Board of Review Award for Best Supporting Actor
New York Film Critics Circle Award for Best Supporting Actor
1971 Something Big Jesse Bookbinder
1972 Corky Boland
1972 Junior Bonner Buck Roan
1972 The Getaway Jack Beynon
1973 The Train Robbers Jesse
1973 The Red Pony Jess Taylor Television movie
1973 Dillinger Melvin Purvis
1973 Kid Blue Sheriff 'Mean John' Simpson
1973 Runaway! Holly Gibson
1973 Blood Sport Dwayne Birdsong Television movie
1974 The Sugarland Express Captain Tanner
1974 Locusts Amos Fletcher Television movie
1975 Bite the Bullet Mister Bronze Wrangler for Theatrical Motion Picture (shared with cast & crew)
1975 Breakheart Pass Pearce
1975 Hustle Marty Hollinger
1976 The Savage Bees Sheriff Donald McKew Television movie
1976 The Town That Dreaded Sundown Captain J.D. Morales
1977 The Greatest Hollis
1977 Grayeagle John Colter
1978 The Swarm Felix
1979 The Sacketts Cap Rountree Television movie
1980 The Hunter Sheriff Strong
1980 Ruckus Sam Bellows
1980 Terror Train Carne
1981 Soggy Bottom U.S.A. Sheriff Isum Gorch
1982 Tex Cole Collins
1982 The Shadow Riders Uncle Traven Television movie
1983 Champions Burly Cocks
1984 Red Dawn Mr. Jack Mason
1985 Wild Horses Bill Ward
1986 Trespasses August Klein
1986 Let's Get Harry Harry Burck Sr.
1987 Cherry 2000 Six-Fingered Jake
1988 Stranger on my Land Vern Whitman Television movie
1988 Dark Before Dawn The Sheriff
1989 The Last Ride Unnamed cowboy Short film
1989 Back to Back Eli Hix
1991 The Chase Laurienti Television movie
1991 My Heroes Have Always Been Cowboys Jesse Dalton
1992 Radio Flyer Geronimo Bill
1993 Bonanza: The Return Bronc Evans Television movie
1994 Outlaws: The Legend of O.B. Taggart Unknown
1994 Angels in the Outfield Hank Murphy
1995 Bonanza: Under Attack Bronc Evans Television movie
1996 Ruby Jean and Joe Big Man
1996 The Evening Star Doctor Arthur Cotton Released posthumously

Television[edit]

Year Title Role Notes
1956 Cavalcade of America Cal Bennett Once a Hero (Season 5, Episode 12)
1958 The Adventures of Ozzie and Harriet Tex Barton Top Gun (Season 6, Episode 26)
1958 Navy Log Border Patrol Officer Florida Weekend (Season 3, Episode 28)
1958 The Restless Gun Sheriff Tim Malachy No Way to Kill (Season 2, Episode 9)
1958 Alfred Hitchcock Presents Jeff, The Sheriff And the Desert Shall Blossom (Season 4, Episode 11)
1958 Wagon Train Wagon Driver episode: Bije Wilcox Story
1959 Border Patrol Hank Colman Everglades Story (Season 1, Episode 1)
1960—1961 Laramie Various Seasons 1—2; 3 episodes
1961—1962 Route 66 Various Seasons 1—2; 2 episodes
1960—1962 Have Gun – Will Travel Various Seasons 4—6; 3 episodes
1962 Stoney Burke Rex Donally Point of Honor (Season 1, Episode 4)
1962 Bonanza Deputy Sheriff Stan Mac episode: The Gamble
1964 Perry Mason Kelly - Mine Foreman The Case of the Reckless Hound (Season 8, Episode 10)
1965 Bob Hope Presents the Chrysler Theatre Burt Wade March from Camp Tyler (Season 3, Episode 3)
1966 Branded Bill Latigo McCord's Way (Season 2, Episode 20)
1966 ABC Stage 67 Sheriff Barbee Noon Wine (Season 1, Episode 9)
1966—1967 The Monroes Sleeve Recurring role; 14 episodes
1963—1968 The Virginian Various Seasons 1—7; 4 episodes
1969 Walt Disney's Wonderful World of Color Himself Ride a Northbound Horse: Part 1 and 2 (Season 15, Episodes 21 & 22)
1969 Bonanza Sgt. Samuel Bellis episode: The Deserter
1971 Bonanza Kelly James episode: Top Hand
1963—1971 Gunsmoke Various Seasons 8—17; 3 episodes
1980 Wild Times Doc Bogardus Television miniseries; 2 episodes
1986 Dream West Jim Bridger Television miniseries

References[edit]

  1. ^ a b Brazee, Joann. "Ben Johnson Jr., obituary". Osage County News Service. Archived from the original on 2008-06-18. 
  2. ^ Jensen, Richard D. (2010). The Nicest Fella - the Life of Ben Johnson: The World Champion Rodeo Cowboy who Became an Oscar-winning Movie Star. iUniverse. ISBN 9781440196782. 
  3. ^ a b Thurman, Tom. - Ben Johnson: Third Cowboy on the Right. - IMDb
  4. ^ a b c Erickson, Hal. "Ben Johnson". Allmovie. 
  5. ^ Ollie Susan Workmon Rider obituary, Osage County, Oklahoma USGenWeb Project hosted by Rootsweb.com
  6. ^ http://www.prorodeo.com/champions.aspx?xu=50
  7. ^ "Hollywood Horses". Missed a Shot Productions. March 11, 2008. Archived from the original on 2008-06-03.  Hollywood Horses is a documentary about the horses that were used, and who sometimes starred, in films. This webpage briefly recounts the history behind the documentary. Ben Johnson was closely connected both professionally and personally with the horses of Hollywood.
  8. ^ "Ben Johnson". JWayne.com. 
  9. ^ a b Brown, David G. (September–October 1995). "Last of a Breed". American Cowboy (Active Interest Media) 2 (3): 43. ISSN 1079-3690. 
  10. ^ McBride, Joseph (2003). Searching for John Ford: A Life. Macmillan. p. 496. ISBN 978-0-312-31011-0. 
  11. ^ Filmography by TV series for Ben Johnson. - IMDb
  12. ^ Anderson, Nancy (June 4, 1972). "John Wayne A Father Figure On Movie Set in Durango, Mexico". The Joplin Globe (Copley New Service). 
  13. ^ "Actor ben johnson dies at 77", The Press of Atlantic City (Atlantic City, NJ), 9 April 1996, retrieved 31 August 2012 
  14. ^ May, Jon D. Encyclopedia of Oklahoma History and Culture. "Pawhuska". Retrieved Februar 16, 2013.[1]

Further reading[edit]

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