26 May 2008

The kid from Benkelman


Question: What do all the following films have in common?
Grapes of Wrath
The Maltese Falcon
It's a Wonderful Life
The Searchers
My Darling Clementine
Mister Roberts
The Mortal Storm
City For Conquest
Bringing Up Baby
Young Mr. Lincoln
Topper
It Happened One Night
Broadway Bill
Wild Boys of the Road
Fort Apache
Heroes For Sale
Lady For a Day
Gentlemen Jim
Sergeant York
You Can't Take it With You
Arrowsmith
Answer: Ward Bond appeared in every one of them. Quite an impressive list and I only included films I really like. He was also in Gone with the wind, They Were Expendable, Rio Bravo, The Sullivans and many many more.
One thing that's particularly noteworthy about this is that Bond only lived to be 57. Imagine what else he could have showed up in had be lived another ten years or so? Of course he might have focused more on TV in his later years. He'd already become a regular on Wagon Train at the time of his death.
Bond was the star of a grand total of zero of the movies in which he appeared. And in many of those named above he had very small parts (often as a cop). Also, a lot of these are John Ford films and being part of a famous director's "acting family" will get you in a lot of good movies. But Bond was also in movies directed by Hawks, Wellman, Wyler, Capra and Huston to name a few.
Bond was indispensable to many of these films. In It's a Wonderful Life his role of Bert the cop is key as his bravura performance as Reverend Captain Samuel Johnson Clayton in The Searchers. As someone once said, “there are no small parts only small actors.” Bond had a quality that made his relatively small performances big. He was also the embodiment of the supporting player as his outsized performances in small roles often served to nicely balance more nuanced leading men. Bond made the leading man more accessible to audiences (in a way that Alan Hale, Walter Brennan and Thomas Mithcell also did) by providing the raw emotion to a scene whether through anger or humor, that the star could play off of. There is no center without extremes.
By the way, Bond was born in Benkelman, Nebraska. I'm guessing he's that fair town’s most famous native son.

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