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definition - ben johnson (actor)

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Ben Johnson (actor)

Ben Johnson
Born June 13, 1918
Foraker, Oklahoma, U.S.
Died April 8, 1996 (1996-04-09) (aged 77)
Mesa, Arizona, U.S.
Cause of death heart attack
Nationality American
Occupation Actor
Years active 1939–96
Spouse Carol Elaine Jones (1941-94; her death)

Ben "Son" Johnson, Jr. (June 13, 1918 – April 8, 1996)[1] was an American motion picture actor who was mainly cast in Westerns. He was also a rodeo cowboy, stuntman, and rancher.


  Personal life

Johnson was born in Foraker, Oklahoma,[1] on the Osage Indian Reservation, of Irish and Cherokee ancestry,[2][3] the son of Ollie Susan (née Workmon) and Ben Johnson, Sr.[4] His father was a rancher in Osage County and also a rodeo champion. As a young man, Johnson was a ranch hand and travelled with his father on the rodeo circuit. He was a star in rodeo before becoming involved in the movies. He was the Professional Rodeo Cowboys Association's Team Roping World Champion in 1953.[5] After winning the title, he discovered that, after travel and expenses, he broke even for the year. Johnson was inducted into the Professional Rodeo Cowboys Association's ProRodeo Hall of Fame in 1973.

Johnson married Carol Elaine Jones in 1941, and they were married for 53 years until her death on March 27, 1994. The couple had no children. Carol Jones was the daughter of noted Hollywood horse wrangler Clarence "Fat" Jones.[6]


Johnson's film career began with the Howard Hughes film The Outlaw. Before filming began, Hughes bought some horses at the Oklahoma ranch that Johnson's father managed, and hired Johnson to get the horses to northern Arizona (for The Outlaw's location shooting), and then to take them on to Hollywood.

Johnson liked to say later that he got to Hollywood in a carload of horses.[7] With his experience wrangling for Hughes during The Outlaw's location shooting, once in Hollywood he did stunt work for the 1939 movie The Fighting Gringo, and throughout the 1940s he found work wrangling horses and doing stunt work involving horses.

His work as a stunt man caught the eye of director John Ford. Ford hired Johnson for stunt work in the 1948 film Fort Apache, and as the riding double for Henry Fonda.[3] During shooting, the horses pulling a wagon with three men in it stampeded. Johnson, who "happened to be settin' on a horse", stopped the runaway wagon, and saved the men. When Ford promised that he would be rewarded, Johnson hoped it would be with another doubling job, or maybe a small speaking role.[8] Instead he received a seven-year acting contract from Ford.[9] Ford called Johnson into his office, handed him an envelope with the contract in it. Johnson started reading it and when he got to the fifth line and it said "$5,000 a week," he stopped reading, grabbed a pen and signed it, and gave it back to Ford.[8]

His first credited role was in Ford's 3 Godfathers, and Ford then suggested him for a starring role in the 1949 film Mighty Joe Young; he played 'Gregg', opposite Terry Moore. Ford cast him in two of the three films that have come to be known as Ford's cavalry trilogy, all starring John Wayne: She Wore a Yellow Ribbon (1949), and Rio Grande (1950); both roles showcased Johnson's riding ability. In 1950, Ford also cast Johnson as the lead in Wagon Master (1950), a small film that was one of Ford's favorites.

Johnson played in supporting roles in Shane (1953) starring Alan Ladd, and One-Eyed Jacks (1961) starring Marlon Brando. In 1964 he worked with Ford again in Cheyenne Autumn. He also appeared in four Sam Peckinpah directed films: Major Dundee (1965; with Charlton Heston), The Wild Bunch (1969; with William Holden & Robert Ryan), and two back-to-back Steve McQueen movies, The Getaway and the rodeo film Junior Bonner (both 1972). In 1973 he co-starred as Melvin Purvis in John Milius's Dillinger with Warren Oates; he would also appear in Milius's 1984 film Red Dawn. In 1975, he played the character Mister in Bite the Bullet, starring Gene Hackman and James Coburn. He also appeared together with Charles Bronson in 1975's Breakheart Pass. In 1980, he was cast as Sheriff Isum Gorch in Soggy Bottom U. S. A.

Johnson played the part of "Bartlett" in the 1962-1963 season of Have Gun Will Travel which featured a short scene of his riding skills. In the 1966-1967 television season, Johnson appeared as the character "Sleeve" in all twenty-six episodes of the ABC family Western The Monroes with costars Michael Anderson, Jr., and Barbara Hershey.[10]

He teamed up John Wayne again, and director Andrew McLaglen, in two films; appearing with Rock Hudson in The Undefeated (1969), and in a fairly prominent role in Chisum (1970).

The apex of Johnson's career was reached in 1971, with Johnson winning an Academy Award for his performance as 'Sam The Lion' in The Last Picture Show, directed by Peter Bogdanovich co-starring Timothy Bottoms, Jeff Bridges, and Cybill Shepherd.

On the set of The Train Robbers, in June 1972, he told Nancy Anderson of Copley News Service that winning the Oscar for The Last Picture Show wasn't going to change him and he wouldn't raise his salary request to studios because of it. He continued, "I grew up on a ranch and I know livestock, so I like working in Westerns. All my life I've been afraid of failure. To avoid it, I've stuck with doing things I know how to do, and it's made me a good living.[11] He also co-starred with Gary Busey in "Bloodsport" (1973), as the "win-at-all-costs" father to his football-playing son.

He portrayed the character Cap Roundtree in the 1979 miniseries The Sacketts.

He also continued ranching during the entire time, operating a horse-breeding ranch in Sylmar, California.[3] In addition, he sponsored the Ben Johnson Pro Celebrity Team Roping and Penning competition, held in Oklahoma City, the proceeds of which are donated to both the Children's Medical Research Inc., and to the Children's Hospital of Oklahoma.

He also co-starred in 1994 version of Angels in the Outfield.

  Death and legacy

Johnson continued to work almost steadily until his death from a heart attack at the age of 77. On April 8, 1996, the veteran actor collapsed while visiting his 96 year-old mother Ollie, at Leisure World in Mesa, Arizona, the suburban Phoenix retirement community where they both lived. "He asked a lady to fix him some breakfast and he went into the bathroom and that's where he collapsed," said Buster Brown, an assistant to Johnson.

For his contribution to the motion picture industry, Johnson has a star on the Hollywood Walk of Fame at 7083 Hollywood Blvd. In 1982, he was inducted into the Western Performers Hall of Fame at the National Cowboy & Western Heritage Museum in Oklahoma City. In 1996 Tom Thurman made a documentary film about Johnson's life, titled Ben Johnson: Third Cowboy on the Right, written by Thurman and Tom Marksbury.[2]


  1. ^ a b Ben Johnson Jr., obituary, Osage County, Oklahoma USGenWeb Project hosted by Rootsweb.com
  2. ^ a b Thurman, Tom. - Ben Johnson: Third Cowboy on the Right. - IMDb
  3. ^ a b c Erickson, Hal. - Ben Johnson: Biography. - Allmovie
  4. ^ Ollie Susan Workmon Rider obituary, Osage County, Oklahoma USGenWeb Project hosted by Rootsweb.com
  5. ^ http://www.prorodeo.com/champions.aspx?xu=50
  6. ^ http://www.missed-a-shot.com/history.html
  7. ^ "Ben Johnson". JWayne.com. http://www.jwayne.com/articles/benjohnson.shtml. 
  8. ^ a b Brown, David G. (September/October 1995). "Last of a Breed". American Cowboy (Active Interest Media) 2 (3): 43. ISSN 1079-3690. 
  9. ^ McBride, Joseph (2003). Searching for John Ford: A Life. Macmillan. p. 496. ISBN 978-0-312-31011-0. 
  10. ^ Filmography by TV series for Ben Johnson. - IMDb
  11. ^ Anderson, Nancy (June 4, 1972). "John Wayne A Father Figure On Movie Set in Durango, Mexico". The Joplin Globe (Copley New Service). 

  External links



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