Carey, left, bringing up baby with Pedro Armendáriz, and John Wayne, in 3 Godfathers, John Ford, 1948.
From Carey's 1994 memoir Company Of Heroes: My Life As An Actor In The John Ford Stock Company:
I was down in Durango, Mexico, around 1971. We were shooting Cahill, US Marshall for Andrew McLaglen. I hadn't seen Duke for about a year, not since Big Jake.
I had been visiting Uncle Jack quite a lot because I knew he was ailing, although he never complained or mentioned it. They had sold their plush house in Bel Air and moved to a more simple one in Palm Desert, on Old Prospectors Trail. I was sitting in the cafe at the Mexico Courts in Durango when in came Duke with all his entourage. I went over to him and asked if I could talk to him privately. This seemed to make him sore. He pointed to a table far away and said, very harshly, "Does this suit your fancy?"
What the hell was he sore about? I thought we'd gotten all that bullshit behind us. I stated that the table would be fine and it would only take a minute.
"Okay, shoot!" he said, looking like he was going to shoot me.
I told him that I had been visiting Uncle Jack quite often lately because I thought his days were numbered, that he was quite ill, and I thought it was cancer.
"Bullshit!" Duke yelled, when I had finished. "Bullshit! All he has to do is get out of that goddamn bed, and move around, and stop feeling sorry for himself because no one will hire him"
I don't think Duke really meant that. His words were untrue and too masty. Probably he'd heard some bad news about the production when I had accosted him.
I said, "No, Duke, you don't understand. I know he's always liked to sit all day in bed and read, but I'm certain that, this time, he's really ill."
This made the big man stop and think, and he said something about "checking into it" or some other nonsense to get rid of me. It pissed me off.
Anyway, to his everlasting credit, John Wayne must have made one of his infrequent phone calls to Palm Desert, because he was on a plane the next day. He was gone only long enough to have a visit with his old 'coach," and then he returned to Durango to get on with the movie.
I think Duke really believed in the line Nathan Brittles says a lot on Yellow Ribbon. "Never apologize, soldier. It's a sign of weakness."
He did come over to me after he got back. He'd been on the saloon set, and he wasn't in a very good mood, but he saw me, came over, and said, "Wasn't it great when you didn't have to think?"
"Yeah," I replied. "You sure didn't have to worry when Uncle Jack was running things. If he shot you, you knew it was your best."
He looked off, sadly, and after a few seconds, he exclaimed, "You were right, Dobe, he's down there in that goddamned Palm Desert, dying, Dobe! And we need him! We need him real bad!"
He said that just like he said a line in 3 Godfathers. It had all the futility that Ford made him feel in that scene back in Death Valley. Duke was very much the same man he usually portrayed on the screen.
Carey is survived by his wife of 64 years, and by three of his children. One of those children, Thomas Carey, was the subject of a poem written in the mid Eighties by the great James Schuyler. The poem, "Tom," ends with these lines:
Running from a cab to
the deli, the energy
(grace) of youth.
Thomas Paul Carey of
Sherman Oaks, California,
who writes and sings
his own rock songs, the
son and grandson of two
great movie actors, the
two Harry Careys. Love
is only and always beautiful.