STUNTS, STARS & LEGENDS June 2011
by John Hagner (Artist of the Stars)
Ben Johnson drawn by John Hagner
Born in Foraker, Oklahoma on the Osage Indian Reservation of Cherokee and Irish ancestry to Ben, Sr. and Ollie Susan Johnson. Ben's father was a rancher and a rodeo champion. He traveled with his father on the rodeo circuit and became a star in rodeo prior to getting involved with films.
Ben was a professional Rodeo Cowboy Team Roping World Champion in 1953. He was inducted into the professional Rodeo Cowboys Association's Pro Rodeo Hall of Fame in 1973.
Johnson was married to Carol Elaine Jones in 1941 and it lasted 53 years until her death in 1994. They had no children. Carol was the daughter of noted Hollywood horse wrangler "Fats" Jones.
Ben began in pictures when Howard Hughes filmed "The Outlaw" and bought some horses at the Oklahoma ranch that Johnson's father managed and hired Ben to take the horses to northern Arizona for the Outlaw's shooting and then took them to Hollywood.
Director John Ford in 1948 hired Ben for stunt work in "Fort Apache", as a riding double for Henry Fonda. While filming the horses pulling a wagon with three men in it stampeded, Johnson, who "happened to be setting his horse" stopped the runaway wagon and saved the men.
His first credited roll was in Ford's "3 Godfathers". Ford suggested him for a starring role in the 1949 movie "Mighty Joe Young", opposite Terry Moore. He was also in the John Wayne classic western "She Wore A Yellow Ribbon" (1949), and "Rio Grande" (1950) which was filmed in Moab. It was Ben and Harry Carey, Jr. who did the `Roman riding' sequence during the race around the track out near the Colorado river. Roman riding is when a rider stands atop two horses (one foot on each) and the horses run at full gallop. Both roles showcased Johnson's riding skills. Ben was also cast as the lead in "Wagon Master" (1950) alongside Harry Carey, Jr. and Ward Bond of "Wagon Train" fame on television. Wagon Master was also filmed in Moab. Many of the local Moabites appeared in both films as extras or wranglers.
Johnson played a supporting role in "Shane" (1953) starring Alan Ladd. He did his own stunt fighting with Ladd's stunt double Russ Saunders. In 1964 Ben appeared in another Ford classic, "Cheyenne Autumn", many scenes were filmed in and around Moab.
Ben Johnson was foot printed in cement at the Hollywood Stuntmen's Hall of Fame when it was located in Palmdale, California in 1975, along with many of the stunt legends and stars like Burt Reynolds, Lee Majors, Dale Robertson and Yvonne de Carlo ... stunt legends being Yakima Canutt, Richard Talmadge, David Sharpe, Hal Needham, Ronnie Rondell, and many others.
Ben won an Academy Award for his performance in the Peter Bagdonavich movie ,"The Last Picture Show" in 1971.
The Hollywood Stuntmen's Hall of Fame was located in Moab, Utah from 1989 until 1996 in the old Mormon Church on 1st Street, just off Main Street. There, many stars and stunt people came to be honored and to visit the thousands of pieces of memorabilia.
The Hall of Fame is presently without a home and is interested in anyone who would like more information on how they can help in this endeavor to reopen its doors to the visiting public. Contact John Hagner (Founder) at cell phone: 435 260-2160 or email him at firstname.lastname@example.org or email@example.com.
The Hall of Fame's website is www.stuntmen.org. Mailing address is Hollywood Stuntmen's Hall of Fame, 81 W. Kane Creek Blvd. - #12, Moab, Utah 84532.