Ward Bond with John Wayne, his friend for 30 years, and Director John Ford.
Who can forget the great stars who appeared in the films of the 1930s and ’40s-Greta Garbo, James Cagney, Ann Sheridan, Bogart. But in the background, there were many faces that added so much to their films…faces of actors we love but often don’t know their names. Most of these character actors or “hidden stars” performed as supporting actors during all of their careers.
Such an actor was Ward Bond. For 30 years, he was a strong presence in more than 250 films. Always in the background, Bond built a solid career in films. But it wasn’t until he starred as Major Seth Adams in the hit TV show Wagon Train in 1957 when he stepped out of the background and finally became a star.
Legendary John Ford directed an episode on season four of Wagon Train called “The Colter Craven Story.” In fact, the TV series was based on a 1950 film titled Wagon Master, a personal favorite of Ford’s. In this episode, John Wayne also appeared as General William Tecumseh Sherman standing in the shadows-only his voice was heard.
Incredible Film Legacy
In his more than 250 films, Ward Bond left an incredible legacy: He appeared in 10 iconic films, seven films that are included in The American Film Institute’s 100 Years…100 Movies, and 12 films that received Academy Award Best Picture nominations…of these, three won: It Happened One Night in 1934, You Can’t Take It With You in 1938, and Gone with the Wind in 1939. Other films Bond appeared in were The Grapes of Wrath, Bringing Up Baby, Mr. Roberts, and The Quiet Man.
At 6’2″ and rugged, Bond always gave a strong performance in many memorable roles. Just his presence added a powerful dose of realism to every role he played. In It’s a Wonderful Life, he played Bert the policeman-providing a strong, realistic, and comforting presence. And he gave a solid performance as the hard-boiled police detective Tom Polhaus in The Maltese Falcon starring Humphrey Bogart.
Ward Bond, Humphrey Bogart, Mary Astor, Barton MacLane in ‘The Maltese Falcon’
In My Darling Clementine, Bond acted as a brother to Wyatt Earp (played by Henry Fonda). Bond didn’t have much dialogue and did not appear in every scene, yet he was able to project strong support. Simply stated, Bond often didn’t even have to act-his presence was powerful enough.
His 30-year Friendship with John Wayne
Bond’s film career began when he was attending the University of Southern California where he became friends with a man who slated to become one of the great stars of Hollywood-John Wayne. It was Wayne who introduced Bond to director John Ford: the three went on to build lasting personal and professional friendships.
Both Wayne and Bond were on the USC Trojans’ football team in 1928 when Ford needed football players for a film he was directing. Wayne got Bond to go with him. The following year, Ford promoted Bond from extra to supporting player in the film Salute, and added Wayne and Bond to his informal John Ford Repertory Group that included Harry Carey, Ben Johnson, Maureen O’Hara, Victor McLaglen, and others.
Bond kept appearing in film after film directed by Ford. In fact, Bond appeared in 22 films with Wayne, most of them directed by Ford. That included The Searchers, which in 2008, was named by the American Film Institute as the greatest American western and listed it as one of the 100 greatest American movies of all time. In this film, Bond gave a memorable performance as Rev. Capt. Samuel Johnson Clayton.
A Complex but Easy-Going Man
Bond was a gruff, opinionated man. It was said that people either liked him or hated him…no in between. But his friends considered him fun and a wonderful man. Wayne and Bond had an easy-going relationship. One time, Wayne accidentally shot Bond in the buttocks on a hunting trip with a shotgun he had borrowed from Bond. They always joked about the accident and Bond left that shotgun to Wayne in his will.
Another time Bond was late to Wayne’s wedding because he was hit by a car. But Bond still showed up as best man on crutches. He was also in a car accident while filming an episode of Wagon Train, but the tough actor still showed up to film his scenes…on crutches.
Born Wardell Edwin Bond in 1903, his close friendship with John Wayne lasted 30 years until 1960 when Bond died suddenly of a massive heart attack. His death devastated Wayne, who traveled to Dallas where Bond had died and escorted his body back to Los Angeles. Wayne gave the eulogy at Bond’s funeral.
Bond was inducted into the Western Performers Hall of Fame at the National Cowboy and Western Heritage Museum in Oklahoma City, and has a star on the Hollywood Walk of Fame. In his birthplace of Benkelman, Nebraska, there is the Ward Bond Memorial Park.
In the movies of the 1930s and 40s, there were many “hidden stars.” Ward Bond was one of the best.