Western RoundUp: Western Stars in The Military
With Memorial Day being celebrated this month and thoughts turning to those who have served our nation in the armed forces, I’d like to pay tribute to several Western stars and directors who were veterans. In doing so, I’ll share photos of their final resting places, which I’ve taken at several Southern California cemeteries over the past few years.
We start with a visit to the beautiful Los Angeles National Cemetery, where actor John Russell was laid to rest after his passing in 1991. During World War II Russell served in the Marines on Guadalcanal. Russell’s acting career included numerous Westerns, including favorites such as Yellow Sky (1948) and The Gal Who Took the West (1949), and he’s best known for playing Marshal Dan Troop in TV’s Lawman from 1958 to 1962.
Actor/director Richard Carlson is also buried at Los Angeles National Cemetery. Carlson spent four years as a Navy pilot during WWII. Carlson appeared in Westerns such as Seminole (1953) and The Last Command (1955), while his TV work included starring in the series Mackenzie’s Raiders (1958-1959). As a director, Carlson made one of my favorite Rory Calhoun Westerns, Four Guns to the Border (1954).
Over his long career, Jack Holt starred in many Westerns, including Trail of Robin Hood (1950) which I wrote about last Christmas. Holt was also the father of Western stars Tim and Jennifer Holt. During WWII Jack Holt joined the army at the age of 54, serving as a horse buyer for the United States Cavalry, and he is also buried at Los Angeles National Cemetery.
James Stewart had a distinguished military career which began as a pilot during WWII. In the ensuing years, he rose to the rank of Brigadier General in the Air Force Reserve, finally retiring in 1968. Stewart appeared in many Westerns; those he made with director Anthony Mann are considered some of the finest of his career. Last month I wrote about their first Western together, Winchester ’73 (1950). Stewart is buried at Forest Lawn Glendale.
Lee Van Cleef achieved fame as a villain in countless Westerns, including Ride Lonesome (1957) and The Man Who Shot Liberty Valance (1962); indeed, his gravestone at Forest Lawn Hollywood Hills says “Best of the Bad.” During WWII Van Cleef spent four years serving in the U.S. Navy, achieving the rank Sonarman First Class.
Glenn Ford was a Marine Corps sergeant from 1942 to 1944; he then served in the Naval Reserves through the Vietnam War, ultimately retiring as Captain. Ford appeared in Westerns from the earliest days of his career, in films such as Texas (1941) and The Desperadoes (1943), with many more well-known Westerns to his credit including 3:10 to Yuma (1957) and Cowboy (1958). He’s interred at Woodlawn Cemetery in Santa Monica.
Actor/artist George Montgomery served in the Army Air Force from 1943 to 1946. Montgomery, who was raised on a ranch, began his film career as a rider and stuntman in several Westerns, then played leads in pre-war films such as Riders of the Purple Sage (1941) and starred in numerous additional Westerns after his military service. He also starred in the Western TV series Cimarron City (1958-1959). Montgomery’s ashes are divided between Forest Lawn Cathedral City (seen here), near his longtime home in the Palm Springs area, and a family plot in Montana.
Jeff Chandler spent four years in service during WWII, including in the Aleutian Defense Command, rising to the rank of Captain. Early in his film career he was nominated for the Oscar as Best Supporting Actor playing Cochise in Broken Arrow (1950), going on to star in many additional Westerns. After his passing in 1961, he was interred at Hillside Memorial Park in Culver City, California.
Robert Taylor served as a lieutenant in the U.S. Navy from 1943 to 1945, where he was a flight instructor and made numerous training films. Some of Taylor’s finest films were Westerns, including Devil’s Doorway (1950), Westward the Woman (1951), and The Last Hunt (1956). His final resting place is at Forest Lawn Glendale.
Oscar-winning director John Ford was in the U.S. Navy Reserve and filmed memorable documentaries; he was wounded while photographing the Battle of Midway as it unfolded. He later retired as an admiral, which is noted on his gravestone at Holy Cross Cemetery in Culver City. Many of Ford’s greatest Westerns followed his service in WWII, including She Wore a Yellow Ribbon (1949), The Searchers (1956), and The Man Who Shot Liberty Valance (1962).
The above are just a handful of Western stars and directors who served our country, and I’m sure readers join me in feeling a deep appreciation for their service to our nation.
– Laura Grieve for Classic Movie Hub
Laura can be found at her blog, Laura’s Miscellaneous Musings, where she’s been writing about movies since 2005, and on Twitter at @LaurasMiscMovie. A lifelong film fan, Laura loves the classics including Disney, Film Noir, Musicals, and Westerns. She regularly covers Southern California classic film festivals. Laura will scribe on all things western at the ‘Western RoundUp’ for CMH.