John Wayne once told his longtime pal, Ward Bond, that he would never make it as anything but a “character actor.”
Sayeth the Duke: You’re too ugly to be a star.
Wayne was wrong. The capstone of Bond’s career — Wagon Train, the one-hour NBC dramatic western series, which commenced a five year tv run in 1957 — came late (Bond was 54 at the time, and he looked a lot older) after a career spanning nearly 275 movie and tv credits over 31 years.
Playing Major Seth Adams, a riff on his portrayal in John Ford’s ‘Wagon Master,’ this showcase for Bond’s avuncular but firm personality granted him what he had always wanted: magazine covers and a star’s salary,” writes author Scott Eyman in his excellent new biography, JOHN WAYNE The Life and the Legend (Simon & Schuster, 2014), which has lots to say about Ward.
Born in Nebraska in 1903, he met Wayne at the Univ. of Southern California, and linked up with director John Ford in the actor’s 1929 screen debut, Salute, about the Army-Navy football rivalry. It was the first of many military roles as a gruff, burly presence — a man’s man. Wayne and Bond costarred in about 20 films, often directed by Ford. The three were inseparable friends throughout their lives.
How’s this for a CV: key roles in 1941’s The Maltese Falcon; 1946’s It’s a Wonderful Life; 1956’s The Searchers; 1945’s They Were Expendable; 1948’s Fort Apache; and 1952’s The Quiet Man. That’s just scratching the surface.
Bond was a drinker, a brawler, a man with pronounced right wing political views. His younger Wagon Train costar, Robert Horton, recalled: Ward had many reputations but his main reputation was anti-black, anti-Spanish, and of course anti gay. And maybe anti-democratic. Ward had lots of qualities that weren’t admirable.
As you might expect, Horton and Bond did not get along especially well making Wagon Train, and had to film their scenes separately as the series wore on. As author Eyman points out, Horton said he didn’t appreciate Bond spreading rumors that he was homosexual.
Bond drank heavily during the Wagon Train series. He would start his day in the makeup chair with…coffee and whiskey. On the set in the morning there were Bloody Mary’s or screwdrivers…Lunch was carried by both red and white wine…(followed by) a six pack of beer in the afternoon. At 5 p.m., Bond would declare, ‘Goddam it, the sun’s going down, its time to have a real drink,’ which meant whiskey or Bourbon, according to Eyman.
Still in all, costar Horton regarded Bond as an excellent actor. He was very sensitive and very, very good. His choices were almost always dead-on. He was in short one of the hardest woprking character actor/stars Hollywood ever produced.
Bond was stricken with a heart attack in the bathroom of his Dallas hotel room, and died in November 1960. John Ford attended the funeral but was too upset to speak. Others on hand included: Wayne, Gregory Peck, Adolph Manjou, Jane Darwell, Harry Carey Jr. — and Robert Horton.