This is an article I posted on Facebook on the anniversary of Ward Bond’s death. I post something about him every year. The one in 2012 was called Wagonmaster 1950 and was originally posted on Speakeasy, an excellent blog by Katrina http://hqofk.wordpress.com/ She has one of the best articles on Ward Bond ever written. Both articles are still on her blog and continue to receive comments.
51 years ago today, Duke (John) Wayne got a call from Terry Wilson, (Bill Hawks on Wagon Train).
He said, “Hold on……Ward just dropped dead”. The two men cried together as many would in the days to come. Ward Bond had died of a massive heart attack at a football game in Dallas where he had gone to make an appearance for a friend.
Pappy, (director John Ford), closed his movie set down and he, Ken Curtis, (Festus on Gunsmoke), and Harry Carey, Jr. flew to Dallas to bring Ward’s wife and him home. Ken and Harry who were both excellent singers sang at the funeral and were pall bearers along with Duke, Terry Wilson and Frank McGrath, (Wagon Train’s Charlie Wooster). Duke choked out a short eulogy which I only just found part of yesterday. In obvious distress, he said, “Ward and I were the greatest of friends from school days right on through. He was a wonderful, generous, big hearted man.” Short, simple, but it said it all. Terry Wilson was heard to say that Ward, “had a heart as big as this room”. Ward has been an Air Raid Warden since his epilepsy kept him out of the service, so he received a military funeral with flag draped coffin and full honors.
Ward had 250 pictures to his credit, including Gone with the Wind in 1939 and The Searchers which Terry and Frank were not only stuntmen, but Rangers, in the wedding party and the fight, and were in the dance scene also. They were seen in many of the movies directed by Pappy Ford. Before his death out of the 100 Great American movies, Ward was the actor in the most.
Duke said that Ward, Pappy Ford, and himself were a triumvirate…..best friends and did most everything together when possible. Ward was Duke’s best man, and Duke was Ward’s with Henry Fonda giving away Maisie…Ward’s bride. When Pappy Ford was dying, he called for Duke to come down to the Springs. As Duke sat by his bedside, Pappy asked, “Duke, do you ever think of Ward?” “All the time”, said Duke. Pappy then said, “Let’s have a little drink to Ward.” That was 13 years after Ward’s death…..Pappy died the next day.
Wagon Train was Ward’s greatest claim to fame. The four regulars, Ward, as Major Seth Adams, Bill, Charlie, and Flint built a special comradery on set that was never to be duplicated. Duke said, “Wagon Train may be able to replace him…..but I never will”. And neither will I. He was one H_ll of an actor and man. Hope you guys are as happy up there as you were down here and making movies for when, and if, I arrive!