April 9, 1903 – Nov. 5, 1960
Ward Bond made his screen debut in Salute (1929) then went on appearing in over 200 supporting roles. He rarely played the lead until starring in the extremely popular western TV show “Wagon Train as Major Seth Adams” from 1957 until his death in 1960.
I absolutely loved Ward Bond and his many, many films. Being a huge 30s and 40s buff, I could swing a stick and hit at least a dozen films at once that he was in. His impressive 6’2″ height and his gentle persona made him an indelible image on the screen.
Born Wardell Edwin “Ward” Bond, born April 9, 1903, whose rugged appearance and laid back persona put him high in demand with John Ford and other films directors such as Frank Capra.
He was born in Benkelman, Nebraska just a few miles from both Kansas and Colorado. He, and his family, Father — John W., Mother — Mable L and Sister Bernice lived there until 1919 when they moved to Denver, Co. He graduated from East High School in Denver and then attended the University of Southern California where he played football. At 6’2″ and 195 pounds, he was a starting lineman on USC’s first national championship team in 1928.
His lifelong friend and colleague, John Wayne played tackle for USC in 1926 before an injury ended his career . Ward Bond, John Wayne and the entire Southern Cal team were hired to appear in Salute a 1929 football film starring George O’Brien and directed by John Ford.
During the filming of Salute, both Wayne and Ward became friends with John Ford thereby being in many of Ford’s future films.
John Wayne and Ward Bond, Tall in the Saddle (1944)
Reverend Capt. Clayton, The Searchers (1956)
He was in 11 films that were nominated for the Academy Award for Best Picture, which may be more than any other actor.
In 1957 he was cast as Major Seth Adams, Wagon Master in the extremely popular TV Show “Wagon Train“. His bigger than life stature, booming voice and kindly persona made his character one of the most popular with viewing audiences. He remained on Wagon Train until his untimely death in 1960.
In 1942 he was cast as John L Sullivan in Gentleman Jim with Errol Flynn as Gentleman Jim Corbett. John L Sullivan was the first Heavyweight champion of gloved boxing (Feb 7, 1881 0 1892) and was generally considered the last heavyweight champion of bare-knuckle boxing.
He lost his title to ” Gentleman Jim” Corbett on Sept 7, 1892 in New Orleans. The fight began at 9 p.m. with over 10,000 viewers at unbelievable ticket prices of $5 to $15 a ticket. (That’s approximately $117 to $353) In the 21st round, Corbett landed a smashing left that put Sullivan down for good and declared the new champion.
Gentleman Jim is one of my very favorite Ward Bond movies because of his performance. He played Sullivan with such passion and depth, I can’t imagine anyone else in the role. Upon losing his title , Bond’s performance brought tears to my eyes and does every time I see this film.
On Feb. 5th 1960 Ward Bond died from a massive heart attack at noon in Dallas, TX. There was a rumor that country singer Johnny Horton was killed in a car accident (on the same day) while driving to see Ward Bond to discuss a fourth season of Wagon Train. Although Horton was killed in a car crash on the same day at 1:30 in the afternoon, he was headed to Austin — Not Dallas.
Ward Bond was only 57 when he passed away and John Wayne gave the eulogy at his funeral. In Bond’s will, he bequeathed to Wayne the shotgun with which Wayne had accidentally shot Bond!
Ward Bond has a star on the Hollywood Walk of Fame for his contributions to the Television & Motion Picture industry.
Not only was he one of the most sought after and finest supporting actors of his time, he was one of my very favorite actors. I categorically love the scene with Ward Bond and Frank Faylen serenading George and Mary Bailey on their wedding night under the window of the “old Granville place” with “I Love You Truly”in “Its A Wonderful Life”. I do believe that the tenor in the harmony was Ward Bond and Feylen was singing baratone.
One Final Note:
Many actors along with most men in the U.S., during World War II, enlisted in the armed services. Being epileptic, Ward Bond was rejected by the draft.