Historic Pelham

Presenting the rich history of Pelham, NY in Westchester County: current historical research, descriptions of how to research Pelham history online and genealogy discussions of Pelham families.

Tuesday, March 28, 2017

More on Famed Western Film Actor Harry Carey, Who Grew Up in Pelham

Harry Carey, born Henry DeWitt Carey II, was one of the most successful western film actors ever.  He appeared in well over three hundred movies during the early years of Hollywood well into the Golden Age of Hollywood.

Carey was born on January 16, 1878 on 116th Street in New York City.  In 1884, he and his family moved to City Island before the area was annexed by New York City.  Carey grew up on City Island and rambled throughout the region of today's Pelham Bay Park during his youth.

Henry DeWitt Carey II was a son of Henry DeWitt Carey who served as a judge in the Special Sessions Court at White Plains for many years and founded a local dairy known as the Willow Brook Dairy in which he owned an interest for many decades until he sold that interest in the mid-1920s.  Judge Carey also served as president of the New Home Sewing Machine Company.  He also owned an interest in the little horse railroad that once ran from Bartow Station on the Branch Line to Belden's Point at the tip of City Island.  Thus, the Carey family was comparatively affluent.

I have written before about Western actor Harry Carey and his father, Henry DeWitt Carey.  See:

Wed., Jul. 01, 2015:  Western Actor Harry Carey of Pelham, Born Henry DeWitt Carey, Recalls His Boyhood Days in Pelham.

Mon., Jun. 02, 2014:  Henry DeWitt Carey Of City Island in the Town of Pelham.

Mon., May 28, 2007:  Brief Biography of Henry DeWitt Carey, 19th Century Pelham Justice of the Peace.

Today's Historic Pelham article provides more background information on Pelhamite Harry Carey.

Henry DeWitt Carey II was only six years old when his family moved to the Town of Pelham.  The family lived in a home on Terrace Point (sometimes called Carey's Point) on City Island.  

Newspaper reports say that Carey lived a "Huck Finn boyhood" in Pelham.  He hunted, fished, swam, and trapped game in the Pelham Bay region.  One of his most vivid boyhood memories involved driving a horse railroad car on one occasion on the City Island line.  After his death in 1947, a reporter recalled:

"Harry told me how he once drove a horse car in the Bronx.  His father owned and operated a street car line, horse-powered, with headquarters and barns at City Island.  Harry, as a boy, did chores around the barns, and learned to love the horses.  One day, before sunrise, the driver of an outbound car permitted young Harry to drive the team.  It was the great thrill of his life."

Indeed, Harry Carey's exposure to the horses that pulled the street cars may well have played a role in his later love for the west and western-style entertainments.  

After graduating from college, for his health, young Carey took some time and traveled out west.  He reportedly spent some time working as a foreman of a ranch in Montana.  While working on the ranch, he wrote several scripts for "light melodramas."  

Carey's father was not happy.  He wanted his son to return home, attend law school, and settle down.  Carey finally returned home and entered New York University Law School.  According to one account, however, he studied law "against his will."  He wanted to be an actor.

Harry Carey's father, Henry DeWitt Carey, was happy when his son graduated with a law degree from NYU Law School.  He was not happy, however, when his son decided not to practice law and, instead, decided to try his hand at acting.  Carey joined a stock company at the Yorkville Theater where he had a brief run acting in a single show.  He then joined the "Ferris Circuit" playing in so-called "tom shows" at fairs in the region.  (Tom shows were shows based, even loosely, on the novel "Uncle Tom's Cabin" by Harriet Beecher Stowe.)  

Finally, Harry Carey decided to try his hand at writing and starring in his own play.  At the age of 28, Carey fell seriously ill and used a lengthy convalescence at his family's home on City Island to write an epic western play titled "Montana."  He set about to have the play produced with him as the star.  

Carey's father was fed up.  He struck a deal with his son.  If the new play, Montana, was a flop, the son would "abandon the stage, and return to the practice of law."  

On April 26, 1906, "Montana" opened before a large audience in New Rochelle Theatre.  Harry Carey made his debut that night as a leading man, playing the role of Jim Graham, foreman of the ranch that was at the center of the show.  The show was a wild success.  The audience was overwhelmed and applauded the entertainment, and Carey, thunderously when the show ended.  There were curtain calls.  

Carey's father, a lawyer and ex-judge at the time, reportedly relented after the show with tears in his eyes and said "So long as it is Harry's choice and the people are with him, I humbly surrender."  Harry Carey took his show on the road for four years and earned $18,000 performing it throughout the country.

Harry Carey had an extraordinarily successful film career playing cowboy heroes for more than thirty years.  He was never truly affected by Hollywood or his success.  Late in life he repeatedly was described as "unaffected," "genuine," "unpretentious," and the like.  He and his wife, Olive, homesteaded a ranch in Saugus, California (part of today's City of Santa Clarita).  Early in his career, as they homesteaded the land, they made ends meet by raising and selling turkeys on the property.  By 1931, the couple had acquired by homesteading and by purchase 1,100 acres of ranch land in Saugus and maintained "a real ranch with no frills about it and . . . staffed with Navajo Indians."

Harry Carey died in Brentwood, California on September 21, 1947 with members of his family and his friend, famed Hollywood western film director John Ford, at his bedside.  Some have suggested he died of a broken heart.  His final stage appearance in New York was in a show titled "Ah Wilderness."  Carey reportedly was "extremely nervous" about the show because it had been done often in New York City and was considered by many to be "outmoded."  The show flopped.  Thereafter Carey reportedly "worried himself into a nervous breakdown, and was ill from that time until his death."

Actor Harry Carey in 1919. Source: Wikipedia.
NOTE:  Click on Image to Enlarge.

1920 Movie Poster for "Human Stuff" Starring
Harry Carey. Source: Wikimedia Commons.
NOTE:  Click on Image to Enlarge.

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Below is the text of a number of items that relate to today's Historic Pelham article.  Each is followed by a citation and link to its source.


Father of Harry Carey, at First Opposed, Surrenders After Seeing Play.

Harry D. Carey, son of ex-County Judge Henry D. Carey of Westchester, capitalist and former President of the New Home Sewing Machine Company, made his debut last night as a leading man in 'Montana,' a play written by himself, before a large audience in the New Rochelle Theatre.

Carey, who is 28 years old, is an athlete and ranchman, and, although his father was strenuously opposed to his going on the stage, the elder Carey joined with the audience in its applause last night.  Laboring under a severe strain, Actor Carey, known in the play as Jim Graham, foreman of the ranch, responded to curtain calls.  As he left the stage Judge Carey's eyes filled with tears.  It is said that Judge Carey, who wished his boy to make a name for himself in the legal profession, said:

'So long as it is Harry's choice and the people are with him, I humbly surrender.'

Young Carey is a graduate of New York University.  After graduating he went west for his health and became foreman of a Montana ranch.  

While there he wrote several light melodramas, which are now being produced.  When he returned home his father desired that he study law, which he did against his will.  It was young Carey's wish to become an actor and portray on the stage the part he played in 'Montana,' which he wrote while West [sic].

It was learned that Judge Carey and his son had a talk before the play was produced, and it was mutually agreed that if it was not well received in the opening night that the young actor would abandon the stage, and return to the practice of law.  Judge Carey's home is at Terrace Point, City Island."

Source:  JUDGE'S SON TURNS ACTOR -- Father of Harry Carey, at First Opposed, Surrenders After Seeing Play, N.Y. Times, Apr. 27, 1906, p. 11, col. 1 (Note:  Paid subscription required to access via this link).  

"Hollywood News - by John Chapman

Hollywood, Cal., June 6 -- Harry Carey, who has been hot stuff in the films longer than anybody else I can think of, is the most homespun guy you'll meet anywhere -- and that goes for his wife, Ollie, too.

Harry is New York-born and his real name is Henry De Witt Carey, 2d.  Many a New Yorker has come out to the films and gone Hollywood.  Harry is one of the few who have come out here and gone genuinely and unpretentiously western.  The Carey ranch at Saugus is a real ranch with no frills about it and is staffed with Navajo Indians.  Harry and Ollie literally live out of mail-order catalogues and can quote Montgomery Ward and Sears Roebuck prices on anything from plows to chintz.  Harry even has coal oil lamps in his bedroom because electric light is too harsh for reading.
Many a film star has acquired a 'ranch' after he's got his money.  It is usually very fancy and it rarely makes any money.  The Careys got their place the hard way -- by homesteading it, and Harry and the original Man Who Came to Dinner Joe Harris cleared it.  And before they filed the homestead claim the Careys had a seventeen-acre place in Newhall, just below where Bill Hart is now, and they pieced out Harry's Universal Pictures income by raising and selling turkeys.  They didn't have money enough for real turkey equipment and the birds would roost on the house.  They were restless sleepers, those turkeys, and frequently would keep Harry and Ollie awake.
A week hence will be the 33d anniversary of Harry's movie debut, so Paramount is whooping up a big barbecue party at the ranch -- and, more than incidentally, whooping up interest in Carey's latest picture, The Shepherd of the Hills.  Which is all right, too, because The Shepherd is a big technicolor production and reportedly one of Harry's best jobs to date.  You have to be sort of vague and say 'one of' because Harry has been in more than 300 movies and even he can't remember half of them.
Carey is 63; straight, lean, strong enough to outwork Indians on his place, quick of mind.  His father was a special sessions judge in New York.  Harry grew up on Carey Point of Pelham Bay.  He lived a Huck Finn boyhood, hunting, fishing, swimming and trapping.  First stage show he saw was Frank Mayo in Davy Crockett.  'There was some shootin' and I got scared and hollered.  The old man took me out in the lobby and walloped my tail,' he recalls.
He went to military academy, then through the N.Y.U. Law School.  But he never hung out his shingle.  (A classmate, James J. Walker, was among those who did.)  Harry joined a stock company at the Yorkville Theater, played a villain in tights in When Knightwood Was in Flower.  Then played the ferris wheel circuit in a tom show.  [NOTE:  A "tom show" is a general term for any play or musical based even loosely on the 1852 novel "Uncle Tom's Cabin" by Harriet Beecher Stowe.]  Then he fell ill and spent his convalescence writing a play, Montana, which had its tryout at a city island [i.e., City Island] church.  In the fall of 1906 he got a Klaw and Erlanger booking for it, toured in it four years and made $18,000.  He lost it all on another epic he wrote, The Heart of Alaska.  During summer layoffs he and Joe Harris, a stage villain, lived in a shack on Chimney Sweeps, a little island off Pelham Bay Park.  Harry, a veteran of the stage from the time when actors wore cross-over beards, never played Broadway until a couple of years ago, when he appeared in Albert Bein's railroad fantasy, Heavenly Express.
When Heart of Alaska flopped, Harry took a job making four westerns for the National Film Distributing Company.  And June 14, 1908, faced the camera in Bill Sharkey's Last Game.  Since then he has never been out of pictures for long, and his nearest competitors for the long-run record are Lionel Barrymore, Donald Crisp and Bill Farnum.  Right after he made Trader Horn it looked as though he'd be out of pictures for good -- for he had been in Africa so long that agents and bosses had forgotten him.  But Will Rogers, in a Satevepost piece, happened to opine that Carey was the best of all the western stars, and that compliment put him back in the game.
Carey gave John Ford his start as a director, when Ford was eighteen.  One rainy day Harry and Jack were at the Newhall Turkey Farm doping out their first five-reeler, Hell Bent, when John Harris came to call.  'Who's that?' asked Ford.  'A heavy I used to know in Stair and Havlin shows,' said Carey.  'Let's use him,' said Ford.  So Joe got a job and Harry and Ollie asked him to stay with them during the shooting.  That was in 1915 or '16.  Joe is still the Careys' guest.
The Carey fortunes have had their ups and downs.  As homesteaders, they added 420 acres to their original 160, then bought more, now have about 1,100.  They built a clapboard house, added to it from time to time instead of building one that would be more heat-resistant.  They were sentimental about the place because their children, Dobie and Cappy, were born there.  Dobie, twenty and a promising baritone, is so nicknamed because of his baked red complexion and hair.  He's really Henry De Witt Carey, 3d."  

Source:  Hollywood News - by John Chapman, Buffalo Courier-Express [Buffalo, NY], Jun. 7, 1941, p. 10, cols. 1-2.  

"Harry Carey, Who Portrayed More Than 300 Movie Roles, Dies at 69

HOLLYWOOD, Sept. 21 -- (AP) -- Harry Carey, 69, veteran motion picture actor and cowboy hero of the silent screen, died today at his home in suburban Brentwood.

The cause of death was given as a blood clot in the heart, following a weakened lung and heart condition from a recent illness.

The veteran of more than 300 movie roles succumbed as members of his family and Director John Ford, a long-time friend, gathered at his bedside.  

Surviving are his widow, Olive Golden, silent screen actress, and two children, Harry Carey, Jr., and Mrs. Ella Carey Taylor. 

Born Henry D. Carey on January 16, 1878, in New York City, the actor gained popularity as a hard-riding cowboy star in the early days of the motion picture industry -- although never west of the Hudson River until Hollywood beckoned in 1910.  

He was a graduate of New York University, where he was a classmate of the late ex-Mayor Jimmy Walker, of New York city.  His father was the late Justice Henry De Witt Carey, of New York.

Outstanding roles in recent films included parts in "Mr. Smith Goes to Washington,' 'They Knew What They Wanted,' 'The Shepherd Of The Hills,' and 'Sea of Grass.'"

Source:  Harry Carey, Who Portrayed More Than 300 Movie Roles, Dies at 69, The Cumblerland News [Cumberland, MD], Sep. 22, 1947, p. 1, cols. 1-2 (Note:  Paid subscription required to access via this link).  


New York. -- Passing of Harry Carey, Hollywood movie star, affected New Yorkers as deeply as it touched the people of California and the addicts of the western movies in which Harry appeared as hero.

This cowboy hero, who was an honored guest in our home when he could steal time for relaxation, was a native New Yorker, and spent his youth on City Island, a long time ago.  He was nearly 70 at the time of his death.
Harry told me how he once drove a horse car in the Bronx.  His father owned and operated a street car line, horse-powered, with headquarters and barns at City Island.  Harry, as a boy, did chores around the barns, and learned to love horses.  One day, before sunrise, the driver of an outbound car permitted young Harry to drive the team.  It was the great thrill of his life.
At a Christmas party in our home, Harry and his brilliant wife were the center of much attention.  Both were unaffected, intelligent, and devoid of the appearance of boredom which so many Hollywood celebrated stars wear when being saluted by their fans.

Over the coffee at a midtown hotel, Harry and I often discussed farming, horses, and cattle.  Harry was a real farmer posing for the newsreels.  He worked hard at the job, between pictures, and managed to make money in a practical farming venture.
We talked with Harry before and during his last stage appearance in New York, in 'Ah Wilderness!'  It was evident that the actor was extremely nervous about the play, which had been done often in New York and was a bit outmoded.  

Despite the fact that Carey turned in a perfect acting job, the production was not a great success.  Harry worried himself into a nervous breakdown, and was ill from that time until his death. . . ."

Source:  Driscoll, Charles B., New York Day by Day, Joplin Globe [Joplin, MO], Oct. 4, 1947, p. 6, cols. 2-3.

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