Harry ‘Dobe’ Carey, Jr. was born into an auspicious family at one of the most colourful moments in the American silent era. His parents, Olive and Harry Carey, were veteran screen actors who helped a 22-year-old set assistant named John (then known as ‘Jack’) Ford to ascend Hollywood ranks. A potent marquee presence for Universal, the elder Carey saw promise in Ford, recruiting him to direct films for his newly formed production unit in 1917.
The partnership proved mutually beneficial, and more than two decades later, after the aging Carey’s star had fallen, Ford would return the favour. Carey, Jr. was an enlisted Navy man serving in the Pacific Theatre at the tail-end of WWII. He also happened to be newly wed and missed his wife “like hell”, as he would recount in his wonderfully rich autobiography, Company of Heroes. Ford, a then-Captain in the Navy, pulled rank to get Carey, Jr. back Stateside to work for his Photographic Division.
In his first job of many for the legendary auteur, Carey, Jr. processed classified films which documented the Holocaust. “We were some of the first people to see it on film,” he wrote. Following his father’s footsteps after his service, Carey, Jr. acted in films for Raoul Walsh and Howard Hawks in 1947 before Ford offered him a starring role in 3 Godfathers (1948). Playing a desperado who perishes in the scorched heat of the desert, he regarded the part as the toughest of his career, and his relationship with Ford on set was contentious.
Despite this, the two went on to work on nine additional films, without a doubt the most formative of Carey, Jr.’s career as a bit player in over 100 films. Though he lacked the imposing presence of many of his screen associates, he was discreetly soulful, ruggedly charming and a consummate Hollywood professional – qualities his father embodied and stars like John Wayne spent their entire careers attempting to emulate.
Also in the March 2013 issue of Sight & Sound
Bob Mastrangelo’s survey of the film greats and lesser-knowns who left us during 2012, with new obituaries of Herbert Lom, Sylvia Kristel, Yamada Isuzu, Seyfi Teoman and child actors of the silent era.