Ben Johnson Biography
Born in Oklahoma, Ben Johnson was a ranch hand and rodeo performer when, in 1940, Howard Hughes hired him to take a load of horses to California. He decided to stick around (the pay was good), and for some years was a stunt man, horse wrangler, and double for such stars as John Wayne, Gary Cooper and James Stewart. His break came when John Ford noticed him and gave him a part in an upcoming film, and eventually a star part in Wagon Master (1950). He left Hollywood in 1953 to return to rodeo, where he won a world roping championship, but at the end of the year he had barely cleared expenses. The movies paid better, and were less risky, so he returned to the west coast and a career that saw him in over 300 movies.
Carol Elaine Jones (31 August 1941 - 27 March 1994) ( her death)
Plain-spoken, Southern characters
His great athletic ability with horses
Tall, chesty frame
Died of a heart attack while visiting his mother in the retirement community where, not only she, but he himself lived.
A prize belt buckle that he won for calf roping was stolen from his car when he visited Houston in 1976; on a repeat visit a decade later, he was an on-air guest on radio station KIKK when a caller returned the buckle to him.
Johnson and his father, Ben Johnson, Sr., were champion steer ropers. The senior Johnson was also a cattleman and rancher who was inducted into the Hall of Great Westerners of the National Cowboy and Western Heritage Museum in 1961. The younger Johnson was inducted into the Hall of Great Western Performers of the National Cowboy and Western Heritage Museum in 1982.
His father, Ben Johnson, Sr., was inducted into the Rodeo Hall of Fame of the Rodeo Historical Society (a support group of the National Cowboy and Western Heritage Museum) in 1961. The Ben Johnson Memorial Award, in honor of his father, is awarded annually to prominent representatives of the western character and spirit (since 1998).
Johnson, his father, and nephew have Belt-Buckle awards for team roping.
Had Cherokee and Irish blood.
Had initially turned down the role of Sam the Lion in The Last Picture Show (1971) when it was first offered to him by Peter Bogdanovich because he thought the script was "dirty", and he did not approve of swearing and nudity in motion pictures. Bogdanovich appealed to John Ford, who got Johnson to change his mind as a favor to him. With the permission of Bogdanovich, Johnson rewrote his role with the offensive words removed. Johnson went on to win a Best Supporting Actor Oscar for playing the role.
Johnson got his first big break as a member of John Ford's stock company in the late 1940s. However, during the making of Rio Grande (1949), Johnson and Ford had a brief verbal argument. All seemed well afterward, and nothing further was said of it, so Ben assumed it was completely blown over. However, Ford didn't use Johnson again in another picture for 14 years, when Ben played a small role in Cheyenne Autumn (1964). Johnson's lifelong friend Harry Carey Jr. said he believed the reason was that when Ford was casting The Sun Shines Bright (1953), Johnson's agent heard that Ford wanted him for the role, called Ford--without Johnson's knowledge--and demanded a hefty salary. Outraged at having been squeezed like that, Ford held it against Johnson, and used that and the argument they had during "Rio Grande" as an excuse not to use him again. They did manage to maintain a friendly relationship nonetheless.
Had appeared in three movies where his first name was Travis: She Wore a Yellow Ribbon (1949), Sergeant Travis Tyree; Wagon Master (1950), Travis Blue; Rio Grande (1950), Trooper Travis Tyree.
Also doubled for Randolph Scott.
His wife, Carol, was the daughter of Clarence Young "Fats" Jones, owner of Fats Jones Stables, who supplied horses to many movies and television series.
Since both he and his father were named "Ben", the younger Johnson was known as "Son" at home. The road marker to the actor's ranch near Shidler, Oklahoma declares it as Ben "Son" Johnson's ranch.
He was awarded a Star on the Hollywood Walk of Fame at 7082 Hollywood Boulevard in Hollywood, California on June 2, 1994.
Had appeared with John Wayne in eight films: Tall in the Saddle (1944), 3 Godfathers (1948), Fort Apache (1948), She Wore a Yellow Ribbon (1949), Rio Grande (1950), The Undefeated (1969), Chisum (1970) and The Train Robbers (1973).
Had appeared with Harry Carey Jr. in eight films: 3 Godfathers (1948), She Wore a Yellow Ribbon (1949), Rio Grande (1950), Wagon Master (1950), Cheyenne Autumn (1964), The Undefeated (1969), Wild Times (1980), The Shadow Riders (1982) and Cherry 2000 (1987).
Ben's great grandfather Calvin C. Johnson (1840-1915) served in the Confederate States Army with the 14th Arkansas Infantry.
Ben was also in The Rare Breed with Harry Carey Jr.
Personal Quotes from Ben Johnson
Everybody in town's a better actor than I am, but none of them can play Ben Johnson.
You know, I'd say that aside from Mr. Ford's [John Ford] help in my career, I'd lay any success I've had to not expecting too much. I never expected to become a star and was always content to stay two or three rungs down the ladder and last awhile. When I do get a little ahead, I see what I can do to help others.
[on leaving Oklahoma for Hollywood, where he became a horse wrangler for Howard Hawks on The Outlaw (1943)] 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.
[speaking about how his life was affected by winning the Oscar for The Last Picture Show (1971)] After I won that old Oscar, everybody thought I knew something. I didn't know any more than I did before I won it, but they thought I did.
When I left Oklahoma, I wasn't even sure which direction Hollywood was, but I could ride a horse pretty good. I had no formal education to speak of. I was a cowboy from the time I hit the ground. I knew if a cow weighed 1,000 pounds and bought $10 a hundred, I knew how much that was. But I was fortunate because people accepted my character. I ran my life a certain way. I didn't hobnob with the elites because I didn't do drugs and I didn't drink a lot of whiskey . . . oh, I might take a drink now and then, but you know what I mean.
I can't handle phony people, and there are a lot of them in Hollywood. I've built my life around the principles of honesty, realism and respect, and if the people in Hollywood are so pumped up on themselves they can't deal with that, I say the hell with 'em. I think I've won the respect of some people over there and I think I managed to stay real.
[asked about Sam Peckinpah] Sam was a fatalist. He was a pretty talented guy, but he didn't care much about life, and some of what he did, he didn't care much about the outcome as long as the movie had blood and guts and thunder. He was pretty dingy. I saved his life about a dozen times, I guess. He'd start drinking whiskey and taking pills and he'd go crazy. He'd go into a bar, walk through the place and find the biggest guy there, and pick a fight with him. He was crazy.