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Harry Carey, Jr. 1921 - 2012: My Memories of Dobe

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Posted: Friday, March 8, 2013 4:47 pm


    Many years ago when I first met Harry Carey Jr., or "Dobe" as he was called, I never thought the time would come when I would be visiting him as often as five times a week.  As he and his wife, Marilyn, aged they seemed to welcome my visits more and more. Sometimes in the mornings I would drive Marilyn on her daily errands, and we would always be home by noon because that’s when Dobe’s healthcare worker would leave. In the photographs taken of Dobe and me, I could see myself ageing over the years but he seemed to change little, aside from the fact that in his last years he couldn’t stand as straight as he used to due to his painful back problems.

    I will always cherish my memories of Dobe and especially my memories of his singing. He loved to sing. You could be somewhere in his house, and all of a sudden you would hear him singing off in another room.  Later, he would come out of his room and sit at the kitchen table with Marilyn and me, and he would start singing all over again.

    He loved telling stories about the different movies that he worked in, about the different people he had acted with, and they were all wonderful stories. He could tell you stories of his childhood on the Carey Ranch, about his father, his mother and the Indians who looked after both him and his sister Ella, or "Cappy" as she is called.  It was a wonderful the way his stories could take you back in time to that special place where the Old West still lived.

    Both of Dobe's parents worked in the movies starting way back in the silent days when Harry Sr. began his long association with John Ford. Although a native New Yorker, Harry Sr. loved the West and ranch life. The Carey ranch was, in fact, the inspiration for Dobe's name. His father took one look at his new baby's red hair, and noticing its similarity to the nearby red clay used to make adobe bricks, he nicknamed his son "Dobe" (pronounced doh-bee).

    I’m also never going to forget the many times we scoured my cook books for recipes. Dobe loved strawberries, so anytime I found a strawberry recipe I would have to write it down, and put it in a little book. We would go over these recipes together and if one looked good to him, he would have me make it.

    In The Searchers there is a scene where his character, Brad, is told by Ethan (John Wayne) of the death of his sweetheart, Lucy (Pippa Scott), and he goes berserk and runs off to attack her killers, never to be seen again. This tragic scene always got to me, but I could still have a bit of fun with it by calling out, “Oh, Dobe, don’t go, don’t go”. He always thought that was just the funniest thing!

    It was so much fun watching movies with him.  His 1948 movie, 3 Godfathers, is my very favorite. Also tops with me is Disney's Spin and Marty TV series, set on a modern ranch for boys. It is interesting to note that a lot of Dobe's fans used to write him letters with questions about Spin and Marty. Once he even told me that most of his fan mail asked about Spin and Marty, which just goes to show the power of baby boomer nostalgia.

    It’s so hard to talk about Dobe's last days, but I need to say something here. On the 15th of December, my son, Todd, and Dobe's sister, Ella or "Cappy" as we call her, went with me for a little party. We brought Christmas gifts for both Marilyn and Dobe. I baked Christmas cupcakes and cookies, Cappy brought candies, and we had a wonderful visit.  But I knew when we left I probably wouldn't see him again. He looked so happy when I told him that I had been getting many calls from his friends who had been asking about him.  I gave him special greetings from Gregg Palmer, Boyd Magers, Luster Bayless, Ed Faulkner, Kelo Henderson, and others.  Dobe was so thrilled to think that so many people would send Christmas greetings to him and Marilyn.

    Dobe used to love to have my son, Todd, come over to the Carey home in Santa Barbara and have him barbeque a Tri-Tip for everyone—it always had to be Tri-Tip. (Dobe would never eat chicken. You would have to sneak chicken into his menu, and we did that a lot.) We would sit at the big table in his kitchen and he would tell stories the whole time we were eating, stories about the people he worked with like John Wayne and others in the films he made with John Ford. ("A Company of Heroes" is the title of Dobe's autobiography, a fitting reference to Ford's "stock company" or the people the director regularly hired to work in his films.) Dobe also talked about his other films, or simply about friends and people he had known over the years. His story telling sessions became a magical part of my life.

    Another thing that will stand out is the time Dobe showed me and my son all of the cowboy hats he had worn in his movies. He had Marilyn and I put them on her bed, and he picked them up, one-by-one, and told stories about the movie connected with each hat. He spoke of the other actors and directors who worked on these movies, and he also recalled technical points of the films, which proved to me that his mind remained sharp, even as his strength weakened.

    I asked him once, “How did you learn your lines? How did you go about getting it to look so natural, so right?” He told me that he used to take the script, get in the car and drive around until he memorized his lines.  I found that to be really strange, but that’s what he told me.

    Going to what used to be the Carey Ranch near Saugus, California, where he was born was another wonderful thing we did together. On two separate occasions we went to the ranch and when we got back home he started telling all these stories about their life there with the Indians who helped raise him and his sister, Cappy, about their horses and about riding up into the mountains. These stories were magical. It seemed as if Dobe never forgot anything—what a wonderful mind he had.

    He was always so kind to my son and to me. After a while it seemed that he and Marilyn had become part of my own family. Even though he died last December, he will always be in my heart.

    Dobe, now you are back with your Company of Heroes.

    Editor's Note: For the story of life on the Carey ranch, see CI #411, "The Harry Carey Ranch" by Harry Carey, Jr. and Jennie Knudsen with Bob King.