Last Updated on February 7, 2021 by Steve Mayhew
John Wayne Male Character Actors – The Top 15 (10-6)
Following on from our look at the top 15 JW male character actors. To see the first part, 15 to 11 go HERE. But we’ll carry on with number 10 to 6.
Mister Fix makes it onto this list mainly because of the sheer number of times he appeared in JW films.
According to the list I consulted it comes to at least twenty-four. He first jumped on the Wayne Express in 1942 as a mine operator in Pittsburgh, finishing with a role as Old Man, which I guess he was by then, in Cahill U.S. Marshal.
In between you could usually catch Fix about halfway down the cast list playing anything from a disenchanted cattle herder in Red River to a cavalry major in Hondo.
I would suggest his greatest acting challenge was as Mr. Tso, the Chinese headman, in Blood Alley. Not exactly a role you’d see a white New Yorker playing in these more enlightened times, but then, as the saying goes, it was different times back then.
I can’t honestly say that he was a memorable presence onscreen but, just like Cabot, he always turned in a reliable performance when required.
I note that his main acting claim to fame was as the Marshall in the Chuck Connors TV Western, The Rifleman, and his filmography is littered with quite a number of Sheriff roles.
As I’ve already mentioned in my previous article on meeting his son-in-law, Harry ‘Dobe’ Carey Jr., Fix was cast as the Doctor in the Star Trek pilot episode, The Cage, a part that, according to his daughter, Dobe’s wife Marilyn, he unfortunately decided not to take on after the series was given the green light.
As Mr. Tso might have said, ‘a good opportunity is seldom presented, and is easily lost’. And here endeth the Chinese philosophy lesson.
According to Harry Carey Jr, in his superlative memoir, Company of Heroes, it was John Wayne who persuaded Ken Curtis to adopt the exaggerated accent he eventually used as Charlie McCorry in ‘The Searchers’.
After the actor baulked at John Ford’s insistence on the matter, JW apparently told Curtis to “play it like the Old man says, fer Christ’s sake an’ you’ll be noticed in the goddamned picture!”.
Curtis obviously concurred, maybe because at the time Ford was his father-in-law or, as I would prefer to believe, because he acknowledged the universal rule that you never say “no” to John Wayne.
Curtis went on to resurrect certain aspects of the voice for the character of Festus in Gunsmoke in which he acted for eleven years from 1964 to 1975. As a kid I remember watching Curtis in another TV series called Ripcord, not being much of a Gunsmoke fan myself.
TV aside, I would argue that his most memorable big screen performance is in The Searchers.
Possessed of a fine singing voice, having previously served as a member of the Sons of the Pioneers, he serenades Vera Miles away from the arms of Jeffrey Hunter.
Strangely enough Charlie McCorry sings better than he speaks but then suffers the indignity of having his marriage ceremony interrupted by JW and Hunter before he and Miles can get round to tying the knot.
One of many Ford stock company regulars to appear in The Alamo, Ken’s performance as Captain Dickinson was fairly good, although personally I could have done without the saccharine Tennessee Babe singing sequence.
He does give good death though, swivelling when shot then falling backwards over the ramparts with his legs trapped between the wooden posts. According to Curtis himself, he ended up spraining his groin in the process.
A small price to pay for the privilege to work with the great man himself. Not sure what Ken’s wife had to say about that though.
Dern’s villainous back-shooting role as Asa Watts in The Cowboys is forever seared in the memory of every JW fan out there, but just because he murdered our hero – onscreen I should add – in cold blood doesn’t mean we shouldn’t respect Dern for what he was, and still is, which is a great character actor.
Don’t just take my word for it. Check out his Best Actor Oscar nominated role as the crusty father in the 2014 film, Nebraska, and tell me I’m not wrong. And let’s not forget the Confederate general he played in The Hateful Eight either.
Bruce Dern has one of those faces that sticks with you once you’ve seen it, which is why I can recall when I was a kid seeing him and Warren Oates playing sidekicks to rodeo rider Jack Lord many years ago in the short-lived TV series Stoney Burke.
He also appeared in my all-time favourite sci-fi TV series from the 1960s, The Outer Limits, in an episode called The Zanti Misfits, in which his ability to play the bad guy comes to the fore.
You’ll all be familiar with the fact that Dern bit the dust a few years before he appeared in The Cowboys in another JW movie, The War Wagon, sent to his maker in a gunfight by Kirk Douglas no less.
He wasn’t in the earlier film long enough to make much of an impact but he’ll always be remembered for killing JW, to the point where Dern has claimed it actually hurt his acting career.
I must admit I wasn’t aware of that at the time because he was still turning in memorable performances, mainly as a psycho, in films such as Silent Running and, my personal favourite, Black Sunday.
In the latter film he plays a traumatise Vietnam vet who takes part in a terrorist attack on a football stadium using a giant blimp to deliver death from the skies.
In one scene he fools an unsuspecting security guard to stand in front of a fake camera that houses a deadly gun specifically designed to kill the stadium spectators.
After dispatching the guard, the unhinged Dern is bathed in the light emanating from the holes in the wall through which the bullets have travelled, almost blissed out by the fact that the weapon has worked to his satisfaction.
Give that man an Oscar – and make it real soon.
To my generation, Ward Bond will always be remembered as Major Seth Adams in Wagon Train, before his sad demise in 1960 at the age of 57. It was only later as I was growing up that I began to realise just how many films Bond had appeared in, both JW and non-JW.
Up until recently I reckoned his first movie with Duke was John Ford’s Salute, released back in 1929 in which, if memory serves me right, both Wayne and Bond played a couple of Naval College bullies.
According to the filmography I checked out for this article, it was apparently Words and Music, though Wayne was listed in the cast as Marion Morrison, and Bond was uncredited.
Which ever film it was, they criss-crossed each other throughout their respective careers, appearing in approximately 20 films together.
If I had to pick my top three Ward Bond performances in a JW film, in ascending order I’d go for the blustering Father Lonegan in The Quiet Man, the blustering Reverend Clayton in The Searchers, and the blustering director John Dodge (nee Ford) in The Wings of Eagles.
In between his roles with Wayne, Bond also notched up quite a few other movies with Ford, including Wagon Master, which as all of you probably know served as the inspiration for Wagon Train.
In fact, footage from that film ended up in the two-part Wagon Train show, The Colter Craven Story. His non-Ford / JW films include classics such as ‘It’s A Wonderful Life’ and ‘Johnny Guitar’.
My favourite Ward Bond tale comes from Harry Carey Jr., who tells the story of how Carey had to redo his famous ‘I saw Lucy’ final scene with JW in The Searchers after Bond unplugged the generator feed to the camera so that he could power up his electric shaver.
It’s a wonder Ford didn’t hang him out to dry.
I also read somewhere, probably in Company of Heroes, that Mr. Bond had a penchant for occasionally wandering around naked whilst the ladies were present.
Not that such a scurrilous rumour should detract from what is obviously a very impressive film career, but in this day and age he’d have been ‘Weinsteined’ out of the business before you could say “MeToo”.
By the way, whilst writing about Ward Bond I came across what looks like quite an interesting book by Scott Allen Nolen on the relationship between Bond, Wayne and Ford that you might want to check out.
On reflection, The Searchers contains quite a collection of distinctive eccentric oddball characters such as Charlie McCorry (Ken Curtis), and Lars Jorgen (John Qualen), but the most memorable of all, of course, is Hank Worden’s turn as the slow-witted Mose Harper.
Although Mose obviously has both paddles out of the water, he’s actually the catalyst for the climactic showdown with Scar, revealing to Ethan and the other searchers the location of the Comanche village – ‘Three Fingers, Marty. Three Fingers’.
The thing that distinguishes Worden’s performance as Mose is that he doesn’t play him for laughs or as the occasional comic relief.
He comes across as maybe smarter than he appears to be, particularly when he indicates, without dialogue, what it means when Ethan shoots out the eyes of a dead Comanche warrior.
Worden’s distinctive sing-song delivery was used to even greater effect as the Parson in The Alamo, informing Frankie Avalon that he “thanks God for a time to live and a place to die.
That’s all any man gets. No more, no less.
The intonation is so Mose Harper you almost expect someone to whip out a rocking chair for him.
It’s a great pity that the eventual release prints of the film were bereft of Parson’s death scene. Worden manages to make you really care about his demise, in spite of Grant’s trite dialogue.
I’ve just watched it again, and Hank’s performance is quite touching.
I count 20 appearances by Worden in JW films, but there is a suggestion that Wayne managed to get Hank an uncredited appearance in a Three Mesquiteers film in 1939 called The Night Riders.
I watched the film quite recently but I have to admit I don’t remember seeing him, but that doesn’t mean Hank isn’t there somewhere.
Hank became a bit of a cult figure in his later years, appearing as a hotel waiter in the David Lynch surreal TV series Twin Peaks. There’s even a documentary tribute to him, called ‘Thank Ya, Thank Ya Kindly’.
If you can’t get enough of Hank, check him out on YouTube singing along to a song dedicated to him called ‘Thank Ya Kindly’.
In the meantime, we’ll be posting the final part of this article very soon and, if you’re still with us, we thank thee kindly, O Lord.
The 3rd part (5 to 1) of my top 15 John Wayne male character actors…