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Harry Carey Jr. & Cappy Carey

Interview by Leon Worden
Signal Multimedia Editor

Sunday, November 20, 2005
(Television interview conducted Nov. 3, 2005)

Harry Carey Jr.
Harry Carey Jr.
    "Newsmaker of the Week" is presented by the SCV Press Club and Comcast, and hosted by Signal Multimedia Editor Leon Worden. The program premieres every Wednesday at 9:30 p.m. on SCVTV Channel 20, repeating Sundays at 8:30 a.m.
    This week's newsmakers are Ella "Cappy" Carey and her brother, Western character actor Harry Carey Jr. Both live in Santa Barbara and were born in the early 1920s on their movie-star parents' ranch in San Francisquito Canyon (now the Tesoro Del Valle housing development in Saugus).

Worden: You've both come out from Santa Barbara to see your childhood home in Saugus dedicated as a Los Angeles County park (Tesoro Adobe Historic Park).

Harry: That's exactly right. Cappy and I were both born up there on the ranch. ... I was born in 1921; she was born in 1924 or '3.

Cappy: Three.

Harry: It is an adobe house now, built in (the early 1930s). The house we were born in was a frame house, you know, a wooden house, but it burned down (on Sept. 2, 1932). So anyway, it's going to kind of be a sentimental journey.

Worden: We're talking about San Francisquito Canyon —

Harry: Yes, exactly. Right at the mouth of it, actually.

Worden: So in 1928, when the St. Francis Dam broke, you would have been five (Harry Jr.) and seven (Cappy) years old.

Cappy: But we were in New York when the dam broke, correct?

Harry: Yeah, we were.

Cappy: Yes. My dad (Harry Carey Sr.) was getting ready to go to Africa, right?

Harry: Yeah, that was before he made "Trader Horn." While we were back there in New York, Irving Thalberg, who was the boy wonder of Hollywood in those days, a very powerful man politically and movie-wise — they wanted Wallace Beery to go to (Africa for) "Trader Horn." He said, "I won't go to Lancaster, let alone Africa." And I forget what other stars — Lon Chaney — and finally he decided he'd better call our pop. He called our dad and said that he'd like to have him play "Trader Horn" at a reduction in salary, because they'd had this run-in. Cappy and I went, too.

Cappy: He heard, they heard about the flood when we were in New York, and my mom did say that the papers out here thought that — printed that Harry Carey had been drowned in the flood. Which was not true.

Worden: In the early years before the flood, there was a trading post at the ranch, and you had some —

Cappy: Navajo Indians. Yes, I could speak Navajo before English.

Harry. She could talk Navajo before she could talk English.

Cappy: I've lost a lot of it, and it's really made me sad. I wish I had kept up on it.

Harry: You can't if you don't have them around.

Worden: How did that happen? Did you have a Navajo nanny?

Cappy Carey
Cappy Carey
Cappy: Yes, I did. Zani, her name was. She was just wonderful to me. She'd dress me all up in the Navajo outfits with the three-tiered skirts and the velveteen blouses. It as a wonderful time.

Worden: Why Navajo Indians at the trading post?

Harry: Well, my dad made movies, you know, silent movies back in the teens and the early '20s, and they were out there on the Navajo reservation and shot a lot of them. Early John Ford — you've head of John Ford? — he was more or less discovered by our father. The first movie he ever made was with our dad (1917). They were out there in Arizona and he got to know a lot of the Navajos there, and they worked on some of those movies, chasing him around, playing the bad guys, of course.

Cappy: And he fell in love with them.

Harry: So then he made arrangements to have them come up and work on the ranch. At that time we had 3,000 acres, and he put on a rodeo every Sunday. They had Roman riding with the Navajos, and the cowhide races — do you remember those?

Cappy: No, I was too little. I don't remember those.

Harry: You were too small. Anyway it was a great. I'd ride in the grand entry with my father and take my hat off.

Worden: What were the cowhide races?

Harry: There's one Navajo sitting on a horse, and dallied around the saddle horn is a rope, and it's tied to a cowhide. The other guy stands up on the cowhide like a surfing thing — or like one of those things that goes behind a motor boat.

Cappy: Right. And they go like skiing.

Harry: And they go roaring around this track and sliding. It's called a cowhide race. It was wild. They'd hit and run into one another and everything else.

Worden: Going back through the old pages of The Newhall Signal in 1920s, there was a baseball league. The Harry Carey Indians would play the Tom Mix Wildcats.

Harry: Yeah, yeah, yeah! In fact they beat the Tom Mixes something like 40-1.

Worden: Do you remember those baseball games?

Harry: Yeah, I do, because I was kind of a mascot. That was in, my goodness, I was around 5 or 6 years old. But it a semi-pro team, and they had some ex-Major Leaguers on it. A guy called Mike File was a pitcher, and guy named Stubby Mack was a former Major League catcher. It was a pretty good, competitive league. Tom Mix — that's funny you brought that up, because the Tom Mix team was not in our team's league. (We) just slaughtered 'em. They weren't as good. The guys my dad had were all semi-pros and pros.

Worden: Did some of the Navajo Indians play, too?

Harry: They didn't play ball, no.

Worden: So "Harry Carey Indians" was just a name?

Harry: Yeah, that's right, it's just a name. Like the Cleveland Indians.

Worden: Did they play on the Saugus ranch?

Harry: No, they played on the other side of the railroad tracks in Saugus, near the railroad station. Right in the town of Saugus.

Cappy: They had a little ball diamond there. I didn't see any of that because I was too little.

Worden: You mentioned John Ford. In your book, "Company of Heroes: My Life as an Actor in the John Ford Stock Company," you mention that the night you were born in 1921, your dad had John Ford over to the ranch.

Harry: Yeah, and they were tipping the jug a little bit.

Worden: In the book you refer to John Ford as "my nemesis and my hero." Obviously Ford meant something to you as you got into acting yourself.

Harry: Well, I'd done about three or four movies, but he didn't count that. According to him, my first movie was with him, and it was called "3 Godfathers" (1948) and it was kind of a starring role.
    I'm not saying this to be phony modest or anything, but I've always been a character actor. I'm not what you'd call a star. Because I don't have that quality. But it was a starring role. From then on, I worked for Ford (in) nine different movies. The most popular one, I think, that's still on television all the time, is "She Wore a Yellow Ribbon" (1949). So that's how I got matched up with him. He was quite a character, and of course a genius at what he did.

Worden: Did he shoot some films at the ranch?

Harry: Yeah, he did, but I was too small to remember that. Yeah, they shot some of those — because Pop and John Ford made 26 Westerns together.

Worden: In one of the films you were in, "Rio Grande" (1950) with John Wayne, there's a scene of you Roman riding — standing on top of two horses. Is that something you learned to do at the ranch in Saugus?

Harry: No. The Navajos used to do it, but no. Ben Johnson and I learned that about a month before the movie started. We went out to Fat Jones' Stables, and it took me a little longer than it took Ben, but we learned how to do that Roman riding. Had to break a couple of teams first that ran good together.
    The thing is, when you start down the road to get on two horses, you're sitting on the left-hand horse and your other hand is on the right-hand — is on the withers of the other horse. When you start to get up, you can't hold them and get up at the same time. Which is good, because then they really take off. When they do that, when I was learning — I probably shouldn't tell this on myself, because it spoils the whole thing — but I'd get halfway up and then I'd see that earth going by at 40 mph and I'd sit back down. Finally there was a wrangler there named Hank Potts — he was an ornery old guy, and if he had a hangover he was really ornery — and he said, "Next time you sit down on that inside horse, I'm going to hit you with this rock." And that's when I quit sitting down.

Worden: There's a story that has been circulating for almost eight decades where the night before the St. Francis Dam broke, the Navajo Indians on the Harry Carey Ranch had some kind of premonition or vision that the dam was going to break, and they all left. Is that true?

Harry: Yeah. It was more than a night before. It was like a month before. They heard that our pop — that we were all going back to the East, because my father was on a personal appearance tour thing.
    They said, "If you leave, we want to leave." My father said, "Why?" And they said, "Because the dam is going to break." My dad said, our dad said, "Where did you hear that?" And they said the medicine man, when they rode by there — they went up there deer hunting, and when they rode by the front of the face of the dam, old Diné Tubigay they called him, he said that it was very bad and there was a big crack, and predicted it would break.

Cappy: And the water was leaking more.

Harry: The water was leaking out of it, of seeping out of it. I can't remember how many square feet or yards of water that was, but it drowned almost 600 people.

Worden: By the time the water reached the ocean at Ventura. The trading post that was there until the dam burst; it was probably built in the late teens?

Harry: No, I'd say probably the early '20s.

Worden: Was it a trading post?

Harry: No. Well they still have them in Arizona and New Mexico. (A real trading post) was a place where the Indians used to come and trade with the white settlers. And they'd give so many skins or hides there for groceries and stuff like that, for goods like flour. That was how that term started. My father adapted it because it sounded really Western — "Harry Carey Trading Post." It did very well, because people — the dudes from town would come out. In fact, in those days, you got out there faster than you do now.

Worden: So it wasn't a real trading post.

Harry: No, no. It was actually a general store. It had some canned goods and stuff, and then beautiful Navajo rugs and Navajo jewelry there.

Worden: That the Navajos made on the ranch?

Harry: Yeah. Made right at the ranch. And a silversmith was there, too. Remember Earl Striker?

Cappy: I do.

Worden: Was that like the Disneyland of its day for tourists? A fun place to go and get away from the city, like an amusement park?

Cappy: No, not in my estimation.

Harry: Well, no, it was like a dude ranch. They had horses for rent. And if you got the right permission and permits, you could hunt there. But usually that wasn't allowed because of the livestock that was all around. Bullets flying around isn't good with — we lost a pedigreed bull from a deer hunter who thought it was a deer. Now, how you could mistake a Hereford bull for a deer, I'll never know. But he did.

Worden: Was it a regular working ranch?

Harry: Yeah, it was, but — if my dad hadn't been a movie star, which at that time he was a really big movie star — I know it's hard to believe now, but he was — if (the ranch) didn't pay for itself, he made up the difference.
    To make a living on that ranch, I don't think you could do it. After the flood, there was just too much sand. There wasn't enough ground that was tillable.

Worden: But before the flood he had horses and sheep —

Harry: Oh, yeah, everything. Sheep, horses, Navajo Indians, everything.

Signal. So the flood came on March 12 and 13, 1928, and wiped out the trading post; what else was wiped out?

Harry: Well, Mr. and Mrs. Harter, which ran the trading post, they were two Caucasian people that worked there, and they were drowned — because it was 1:00 in the morning when it hit that. Who else was there?

Cappy: Well, I don't hardly remember the trading post, but it took out all the alfalfa fields.

Harry: Yeah, all that. Turned to sand.

Cappy: It just turned everything into sand.

Worden: That night you were in New York, but you came back and spent some more years at the ranch —

Harry: Oh, yeah. My father said — I'm talking too much.

Cappy: No, that's what you're here for.

Harry: Well, you're here for that, too. He said, "I won't go back to that graveyard." Finally my mom, our mom, drove up with our uncle —

Worden: Your mother was Olive, who was also in pictures —

Harry: Olive, yeah — and looked it over and she came back and she told our dad that it was like a sick child that needed caring for. And then he went up and looked at it and they said, "Let's move back."
    I think — I don't know if you remember, Cappy, but it was the happiest time of my father's life, reconstructing that old place, which had been abused by tourists and stuff there. A lot of people shooting holes in things —

Cappy: In the windows, and all busted and all.

Harry: When he was back there, fixing that place up again, I think it was the happiest time of his life. He was just in seventh heaven.

Cappy: We were all kind of camping out while he was nailing up the boards.

Harry: Yeah, Bill Reed —

Cappy: Bill Reed was helping us.

Harry: Bill Reed was there with his tractor, and it was great stuff.

Worden: Where do your nicknames come from? Your name is Ella —

Cappy: Born Ella; yes, my father's mother's name was Ella, and when I was a baby, my dad had a yacht, or a schooner I think he called it —

Harry: Yeah, a schooner.

Cappy: Down at Balboa. Evidently they took me as a baby out on the boat and had me in a wash basket, you know, like a laundry basket on the boat? And my mother said that he would go by me and say, "How's the little captain?"

Harry: That's exactly right.

Cappy: So then I got the name, Cappy for short.

Worden: Where does Dobe come from?

Harry: Dobe comes from my red hair and the red adobe clay on the ranch.

Worden: Some have said it was for the adobe the house was made of — but the house wasn't made of adobe when you were born.

Harry: No. The one we were born in was a wooden frame house.

Worden: So it actually comes from the soil.

Harry: Yeah. He said when I was born, I just had a lot of this bright red hair, and he said I looked like a glob of adobe mud, and they nicknamed me Dobe.

Worden: You went to Newhall School —

Harry: Yeah.

Worden: We're talking the 1920s, into the '30s —

Harry: Thirties. It was in the '30s.

Worden: So Newhall School was not where it is today.

Harry: No.

Worden: It would have been at Lyons and Newhall Avenue.

Harry: That's right!

Cappy: Is that where it was?

Worden: What do you remember about that?

Harry: Well, I remember one thing: She met her husband there. But she didn't know it at that time.

Cappy: I didn't know it was going to be, no.

Harry: He was my best buddy. He was a prize fighter.

Worden: What was his name?

Harry: His name was Al Taylor. He was a terrific fighter. She made him quit fighting, and I think it was a mistake. But anyway —

Cappy: That's water under the bridge.

Harry: Al and I were always together on weekends and stuff. He was orphaned. The state paid a lady there in Newhall to support those kids, and then when he reached a certain age then he came up and stayed at our place until he finished high school.

Cappy: And then I'd follow my brother and him around.

Harry: Oh, she drove us crazy.

Cappy: Drove them crazy. Tagging after them.

Harry: She was always tagging after us. Flirting. Cappy was a big flirt when she was —

Cappy: No!

Harry: She was a very sweet, innocent girl, but she was a flirt. She'd flirt with my buddies.

Cappy: And I never got over it.

Harry: She's still at it.

Worden: You had some famous parents when you were kids at Newhall School. Were you Hollywood kids or Newhall kids?

Harry: No — a lot of times they didn't even know who our parents were.

Cappy: I didn't even think of that. I was so into the horses and the animals. I was just a cowgirl.

Harry: Cappy's an animal nut. She always has a dog, and she's always been able to communicate terrific with animals. She does really well with animals.

Worden: How was it that you (Harry Jr.) followed in mom and dads footsteps and you (Cappy) didn't?

Cappy: I got led astray. I was this sty that followed him around.

Worden: Too busy flirting with that guy.

Cappy: I went down the wrong road. Anyway, I did some acting in New York. I was in a stage play on Broadway with my father in "Ah Wilderness!" The Theatre Guild of America wanted to sign me to a personal contract and I backed out. I wanted to go back to the horses. So then I did a little bit of TV work in the '50s, but just walk-ons and stuff.

Worden: Thinking of New York actors, there's one New York actor who used to come to the ranch once in a while. In "Company of Heroes" you describe him as a "terrible hamola" in films. That was William S. Hart.

Cappy: Oh, man.

Harry: Yes, he was so dramatic.

Cappy: Tell him about the dinner party.

Harry: Oh yes. Thanks, Cap. He came up, he was full of this Wild West stuff, and he was a New York Shakespearean actor is what he was. So my father — during Prohibition there wasn't any liquor, so my dad said, "Bill, will you like a drink?" and he'd say, "Why, hell yes." So they brought out this jug of grappa, which is Italian moonshine, but it was very good grappa. But you had to go easy with it.

Worden: Made out in the canyon?

Harry: No, it was made in a canyon down near Newhall. It was against the law, but we knew the family that we bought it from, that my folks bought it from. And so he said, "I was weaned on this stuff," or words to that effect. He took a great big gulp and started to strangle and choke and turned all red and went, "My god!" My father said, "I warned you, Bill," and he finally calmed down. We went in to dinner and there was a bowl of chili peppers that the Corrall family, the Mexican family that lived on ranch —

Cappy: They grew them there.

Harry: If you bit into one of those, it took you a week to get over it. He reached in and my father said, "Bill, go easy on that. They're hard to handle unless you're used to them." (Hart said), "I was raised on —" and he bit off one of these things.
    She and I had to leave the table.

Cappy: We were rolling on the floor.

Harry: We were falling down, laughing so hard. He was quite a character.

Worden: Hart basically quit making films after 1925, except for the 1939 re-release of "Tumbleweeds," so where would you go to movies in the 1920s?

Harry: Down to San Fernando.

Cappy: San Fernando.

Harry: At the Rennie Theater in San Fernando.

Cappy: The old Rennie Theater. And that was a big outing for us.

Harry: Oh yeah, it was. Pop didn't like movies.

Cappy: No, he wouldn't go. Mom would take us.

Harry: He didn't like to take us to other movies. He said they got everything wrong and got you the wrong —

Cappy: Put wrong ideas in our head.

Harry: No, no, I mean historically-wise.

Worden: He didn't think Western films were authentic enough?

Harry: No. He said that they were all phony. We didn't believe him.

Worden: That's always been the big legend about Bill Hart, that he wanted to bring authenticity to Western film. Didn't you think Hart's films had that authenticity?

Harry: Well, we though that they were pretty corny. He was such a ham.

Cappy: We were just cracking up laughing.

Harry: But I don't know why I say that, because he was a very, very popular star. But I just never could figure out why.

Worden: You had some other regular visitors to the ranch: Will Rogers. Will James. Charles M. Russell.

Harry: Charlie Russell, Will James, and I'm not sure about Will Rogers coming there; I know my dad used to go to Will's quite a bit.

Cappy: We went down there; I don't remember him at the ranch.

Harry: But Will James and — Charlie Russell came; my father built a cabin, an adobe cabin, just below our house for him to stay in when he came up and visited.

Worden: Did Charlie Russell paint at the ranch?

Harry: Yes, he painted a mural. My aunt Mignon, who was with us, she said that he painted on a mural down there in that cabin and he had it stretched on the floor. It's in that mission behind Ventura now.

Worden: You (Harry Jr.) appeared in a number of "Gunsmoke" episodes; weren't some of them shot here at Melody Ranch in Placerita Canyon?

Harry: Yeah, they were. I also did a show for Disney called "Spin and Marty." It was a kid's show. We shot that at Placerita Canyon, at the Disney Ranch. But it wasn't — it was called the Golden Oak Ranch then.

Worden: They still call it that today.

Harry: Oh, they do?

Worden: It's still there, on the other side of the 14 freeway.

Harry: Yeah, yeah, sure! I ran horses up and down that place a lot.

Worden: What are your biggest memories of your time in the Santa Clarita Valley? What do you still think about these days?

Cappy: Oh, I haven't been back in so long. But I do think about the ranch. I think about the freedom I had, and I'm probably going to rain on you (cry) — I think about the freedom I had and just, get up in the morning and then get on a horse and just take off . My folks, and the big fires in the fireplace when it was pouring rain, and dad always had like 10 to 11 (or) 12 dogs. He was dog-crazy. They'd all be wet outside and he would open the front door and say, "C'mon in, boys!" And my mother would just flip out. All those great stories, you know, with all the dogs and the horses.

Harry: Good Christmases, too.

Cappy: Great Christmases. And they never let us see them do the tree. We had to see the tree in the morning when we got up. And oh, boy, it was just — to get up Christmas morning, of course I always wanted stuff for the horse, you know, saddles and bridles — get up in the morning and all these gorgeous presents under the cedar tree, with the popcorn and cranberries and ... it was great.

Harry: It was really something.

Cappy: Pretty nice memories.

Worden: You (Harry Jr.) lived in Colorado for a time and you came back to Santa Barbara. Do you ever get down this way anymore?

Harry: No, but I plan to. I'm an old guy now, but I have a few days left, I think. Or years.

Cappy: Oh, I would hope so.

Harry: We came out here from Colorado and moved back because of my sister, Cappy, here, and our grandkids and our daughters. Our son, Tom, is a priest back in New York, but our two daughters live here, and our grandkids, so —

Cappy: And your little great-grand boy.

Harry: Yeah, and we're great grandparents. Little Wesley's a great little guy. Oh, I have a grandson who is now a pilot. He just flew from Tucson a few weeks ago — of course not straight; he had to land on the way — to Afghanistan, all by his lonesome in what they call an A-10 Warthog. It's a bomber, a one-man bomber. So I'm proud of him. He's really something.

Worden: You continued to do films until not too terribly long ago —

Harry: The last one was with Tom Selleck about 10 years ago, I think. ("Last Stand at Saber River," 1997.)

Worden: And you were in "Tombstone" (1993), and didn't you have a part in "The Exorcist III" (1990)?

Harry: Oh, golly! Yeah, I was in that. I don't brag about that.

Worden: Who do you like these days? Who is doing Westerns well? Anybody?

Harry: Nobody.

Cappy: There you go —

Harry: That's not their fault. There's no directors doing them. You know what I mean? I think that if Steven Spielberg decided to make one it would be a great one, because he is the kind of the man that would more or less take his technique from the masters like John Ford and Howard Hawks and Bill Wellman and those guys.
    Westerns were marvelous, because they had a lot of country to work with and they — see, nowadays if a television guy who comes from television directing, they go to a place like Monument Valley or some gorgeous place in Colorado or something, and they shoot close-ups. And you can do that in Hollywood. They come in and you have all this country and they're doing big heads of the leading lady. So those old timers — I sound dated, but those old timers knew how to shoot Westerns. Because they used the country.

Worden: Now that your childhood home is becoming a county park, what do you want people to take away from that?

Harry: I want people to take away a little bit of what the motion picture business was like when we were growing up, and what the ranch was like when we were little kids. It was really wild and western up there.

Cappy: And the warmth and the love and the animals on the ranch.

Harry: That's exactly right.

Cappy: And the Navajos. And I have to stop now because I'm going to start raining. I told you I'm a drama queen.

Harry: She's a very sentimental lady, Cappy is, and that's why we all love her.

Worden: "Company of Heroes" is out in softcover and hardcover; are we going to see another book from you soon?

Harry: Yeah, I don't know about how soon — (my wife) Marilyn could probably tell you more than me — but I'm working on it.

    See this interview in its entirety today at 8:30 a.m., and watch for another "Newsmaker of the Week" on Wednesday at 9:30 p.m. on SCVTV Channel 20, available to Comcast and Time Warner Cable subscribers throughout the Santa Clarita Valley.

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