Howard Hughes is credited with bringing Ben Johnson out to Hollywood from Oklahoma in the late 1930s and introducing him to director John Ford. An excellent horseman, Ben found work as a stunt man during the 1940s where he caught the eye of director John Ford. When the legendary director was filming “Fort Apache” in 1948 he hired Ben as a stunt man and double for Henry Fonda. During the filming horses pulling a wagon with three actors on board stampeded. Ben rode after the team and saved the actors from serious injury or worse and Ford promised him more work.
I was writing a story on Ben for Arizona Highways Magazine in the 1990s and he told me what happened next. “He invited me into his office one day and told me to sit down then he handed me a piece of paper. What caught my eye was ‘seven-year contract and $5,000 a week.’ I stopped reading, grabbed a pen and signed it. I didn’t even ask what I had to do.”
Over the next 40 years Ben would star or appear in dozens of films and television shows. He was the only movie star to win a World Championship in rodeo and an Academy Award for acting. He received a star on the Hollywood Walk of Fame in 1994.