Ward Bond was discovered thanks to his ''ugly face''
Good looks aren't everything in Hollywood. Especially for a tough character actor.
The University of Southern California won its first college football national championship in 1928. The Trojan earned another nickname as they bruised opponents on the gridiron (like their 78–7 drubbing of Arizona that season). The press dubbed USC the "Thundering Herd." Much of that success was thanks to big uglies in the trenches like Ward Bond.
We use "uglies" endearingly. Also, that's not our description, but rather the assessment of a Hollywood legend.
Three decades later, in 1957, when Bond was a grizzled veteran actor saddling up for the premiere of his new series Wagon Train, he looked back to the start of his career. He was discovered on the USC practice field.
John Ford was seeking talent for a pigskin flick called Salute. The movie centered around the Army-Navy rivalry. Ford, now considered one of the greatest directors in film history, decided to cast some of the "Thundering Herd" as Midshipmen.
"Get me that one with the ugly face," Ford said, gesturing to Bond.
And that is how Ward Bond became an actor. He played "Midshipman Harold." One of his USC football buddies was enlisted for the production, as well. His name was Marion "Duke" Morrison, but today everybody just knows him as John Wayne.
Wayne worked as a "prop boy" and uncredited extra in Salute. Bond and Wayne became close friends and 10 years later, worked together with John Ford on Stagecoach. Wayne would become an American icon. Bond settled into a career as a tough or baddies in countless Westerns.
He credited his horse-riding skills. In his eye, other actors were phonies. He knew how to ride.
"I mean really ride. Some of these guys look like I would like if I were flyin' a B-36," he told columnist Hal Humphrey. "I saw one on TV who mounted like an old woman. Then he leans forward, pulls back the reins and starts flappin' his arms. The poor horse didn't know that to do." Bond had been riding horses since he was a kid.
"I guess you could say I'm my own technical advisor on Wagon Train," Bond bragged. "I read a lot of Western stuff myself."
By that point, in 1957, Bond reckoned that he had "been the villainous heavy of the hero's side-kick in about 150 Western movies."
Not too shabby for "the one with the ugly face."