13 fascinating facts about Ward Bond and 'Wagon Train'
Saddle up and ride with one of Hollywood's toughest actors.
Ward Bond was as tough as they come. No wonder the Nebraska native would become best buddies with John Wayne. The two were true cowboys.
After a unfathomably successful film career, Bond settled into television on the popular Western series Wagon Train. He was no stranger to wagons, horses and dust. Sadly, the star died midway through the fourth season of the show.
1. Bond played with John Wayne on the USC football team.
That young stud is Marion Morrison, soon to be known to the world as John Wayne. Before snapping his clavicle while body-surfing, Wayne played on the USC Trojans' offensive line alongside Ward Bond in 1926. Bond went on to play on the storied school's first national championship team, the 1928 squad.
2. Bond appears in more films on the American Film Institute's 100 Greatest American Movies than any other actor.
Bond has perhaps the most enviable filmography of any actor, past or present. Just look at his credits. He acted in seven of the 100 Greatest American Films according to the AFI — It Happened One Night (1934), Bringing Up Baby (1938), Gone with the Wind (1939), The Grapes of Wrath (1940), The Maltese Falcon (1941), It's a Wonderful Life (1946) and The Searchers (1956).
3. Bond appeared on 'Wagon Train' in crutches after injuring his leg.
At the end of "The Clara Beauchamp Story," Bond stands in a row of military men on a pair of crutches. It was no prop. The actor had suffered an injury in a car accident. The poor (but certainly tough) guy was also hit by a car on his way to John Wayne's wedding, but he performed his best man duties on crutches.
4. John Wayne accidentally shot Ward Bond on a hunting trip.
Even a gun wound could not break up the best friends. Ward left the shotgun to Wayne in his will.
5. Bond died of a heart attack on the fourth season of 'Wagon Train.'
Bond shockingly passed on November 5, 1960. John McIntire was brought in to replace the actor, acting as a new wagon master. No explanation was given for Major Adams' disappearance.
6. The conservative Bond approved scripts for 'Wagon Train.'
In the book Three Bad Men: John Ford, John Wayne, Ward Bond, Wagon Train associate producer Frederick Shore recalls, "We had to submit every script in advance to get approved by both NBC and the censors… including Ward Bond, who was very right-wing, and I'm sure part of the approval process." Bond toned down the violence and steered the show in a family-friendly direction.
Image: AP Photo/David F. Smith
7. John Ford directed one episode of 'Wagon Train.'
Ward Bond worked with legendary director John Ford in a staggering 26 feature films. The Wagon Train series itself was based on their 1950 project Wagon Master. A decade later, Ford would helm the season four episode "The Colter Craven Story," one of his few television credits. Ford reportedly used footage from the earlier movie as stock shots in the episode.
Image: AP Photo
8. Bond appeared in an episode of 'General Electric Theater' alongside a future President and First Lady.
In "A Turkey for the President" a young boy on a California turkey farm is chosen to deliver a prize bird to the President for Thanksgiving. Nancy Reagan, née Davis, plays his mother, while her soon-to-be husband, Ronald, hosts as always. Bond, oddly, plays a character named Grey Eagle.
9. Ronald Reagan made one of his last acting appearances on 'Wagon Train.'
The Gipper was winding down his acting career by the time he appeared in 1963's "The Fort Pierce Story," episode two of season seven. Two years later, he announced his campaign for governor of California.
10. Leonard Nimoy portrayed Mexicans, a Native American and a Spanish man on 'Wagon Train.'
Before becoming Spock, the versatile actor could be seen as Bernabe Zamora, Cherokee Ned, Joaquin Delgado and Emeterio Vasquez in four episodes between 1959 and 1962.
11. Gene Roddenberry pitched 'Star Trek' as "Wagon Train to the stars."
Speaking of Star Trek, it should be mentioned that creator Gene Roddenberry sold and explained his landmark sci-fi series as "Wagon Train to the stars," helping studio execs wrap their heads around the wandering, episodic concept.
12. There's a reason the Western series is mentioned in the classic film 'Stand By Me.'
Another member of the Star Trek universe, Wil Wheaton gave an unforgettable performance as Gordie in Stand by Me. At one point, he asks his friends, "Wagon Train's a really cool show, but did you notice they never get anywhere? They just keep wagon training." Wheaton supposedly asked Rob Reiner if the show could be worked into the script, as his grandfather was property master on Wagon Train.
13. 'Wagon Train' had three theme songs.
The instrumental first season theme "Wagon Train" was written by Henri René and Bob Russell. The following season, a fresh tune was introduced, "(Roll Along) Wagon Train," written by Sammy Fain and Jack Brooks and sung by Johnny O'Neill. Halfway through the season, the vocals were scrapped. The following year, yet another theme, "Wagons Ho!," would be introduced. That one stuck around until the end. We are fans of the vocal version. How about you?