Actor Ben Johnson

Celebrities, Celebrity Q&A, People
on December 12, 2004

What can you tell me about Ben Johnson, who played Sgt. Tyree with John Wayne in She Wore a Yellow Ribbon?
—Sally G., Colorado

Johnson had been acting for 10 years, often as a stuntman and double for Gary Cooper and James Stewart, when he appeared in that famous 1949 John Ford film. Born in Oklahoma in 1918, Johnson was working as a rodeo performer when Howard Hughes asked him to take a herd of horses to California. He liked California, so he stayed and began getting work as a stunt man and horse wrangler. The actor, who made more than 300 movies, many of them Westerns, lived by the cowboy code. As such, he first turned down his Oscar-winning role in 1971's Last Picture Show because the script contained too many curse words. With director Peter Bogdanovich's blessing, Johnson rewrote some of his lines, removing the offensive language. He died of an apparent heart attack in 1996 at age 77.