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- Who is your favorite Bonanza character?: Joseph Francis Cartwright
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~ Ben Johnson
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Ben Johnson, Jr. was born on June 13th, 1918. Called “Son” by his father, Ben Johnson Sr., the Oklahoma native was a true cowboy. He was a ranch hand and a champion steer roper. He brought a herd of horses to California that had been purchased by Howard Hughes for use in the film The Outlaw (1943) starring Jane Russell. Johnson himself ended up having a small uncredited part as a deputy in the movie. He stuck around, and soon became a wrangler and stuntman, even landing smaller parts in various films such as She Wore a Yellow Ribbon (1949) and Rio Grande (1950)—in both films he coincidentally played characters with the same name: Tyree.
His big break as an actor didn't come until 1950 when John Ford cast him as the lead role in Wagon Master. Over the years he played alongside many Hollywood greats such as: John Wayne, Harry Carey, Jr., Sam Elliott, Tom Selleck, and even Star Trek's own Leonard Nimoy.
Ben Johnson guest starred in three Bonanza episodes:
Image by Gillie
season three's The Gamble (1962) as Deputy Sheriff Stan Mace
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season ten's The Deserter (1969) as Sergeant Samuel Bellis
Image by Bejules
and season twelve's Top Hand (1971) as Kelly James
On August 31st, 1941, he married Carol Elaine Jones, the daughter of Clarence Young “Fats” Jones whose stables provided many horses for Hollywood. They remained married until her death on March 27th, 1994.
Johnson appeared on several other TV shows such as: Gunsmoke, Have Gun Will Travel, Laramie, the Virginian, and Perry Mason. He also starred in: Shane (1953), War Drums (1957), The Wild Bunch (1969), Chisum (1970), The Train Robbers (1973), The Sacketts (1979), and Angels in the Outfield (1994).
And to top it off, he also appeared in the two spin off Bonanza TV films: Bonanza: the Return (1993) and Bonanza: Under Attack (1995) as Bronc Evans.
Image by Tracy
(Leonard Nimoy and Ben Johnson in Bonanza: Under Attack)
In the early seventies, director Peter Bogdanovich asked Johnson to play the role of Sam the Lion in his upcoming film The Last Picture Show (1971). Johnson took a look at the script and promptly turned it down. He was not interested in taking part in a film that portrayed bad language and nudity. Later, John Ford himself talked to Johnson, asking him to take the part. Johnson finally agreed, but with the stipulation that he got to write his own lines. He went on to win an Oscar for Best Supporting Actor for his role in the film. Johnson humorously stated that he won that award—and several others—all without having to say one “dirty” word.
Image by Calamity Liz
On June 2nd, 1994, he received his star on the Hollywood Walk of Fame.
Ben Johnson died of a heart attack on April 8th, 1996; he was 77 years old.
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