“Three Bad Men” is not a book about celebrity, although three of the greatest celebrities ever to come out of Hollywood are the subject of it. And it is not a tell-all book exposing all the juicy dirt on three famous people. “Three Bad Men” deals in facts and does not gloss over their faults or unpleasant aspects of their lives. This is a book is about the relationship between three men. Three friends whose relationship with each other was far from perfect, far from storybook, but it was what it was. They were human just like the rest of us, and they were imperfect, just like the rest of us, and in spite of everything they managed to create some of the best of the best that Hollywood has ever produced.
Both John Ford and John Wayne have had numerous biographies written about them. This is the first time, however, that a biography of Ward Bond has ever appeared in print, and Scott Allen Nollen steps up to the plate and does a wonderful job of presenting the first ever biographical history of one of the greatest character actors in Hollywood history. And that, in itself, is no small feat, as there are a plethora of Ward Bond fans out there. Including myself. In fact, I live smack dab in the middle of Ward Bond country – Benkelman, Nebraska – the birthplace of Ward Bond. So we tend to have a certain bias toward our local boy who did good.
But what is most impressive about Nollen’s biographical work concerning Ward Bond, is that it is genuine, and it presents the “real” Ward Bond, just as it presents the “real” John Ford and John Wayne.
Ford and Wayne biographers tend to fall into one of three categories: Those who have a patent dislike of them and tend to spin their biographies to highlight their negative biases (such as Gary Wills and Richard Jensen), those who are fans and who tend to gloss over the “warty” aspects of these men (such as Michael Munn and Jean Ramer), and then there are those who focus on the whole and complete unvarnished truth – both good and bad (such as Joseph McBride, Olson and Roberts, and others). Scott Allen Nollen falls squarely into this third category, and he does a remarkably fine job of presenting these “Three Bad Men” in all their unvarnished glory. And that is what I like best about this book.
Nollen not only talks about their lives apart from each other, but also about their lives together, something no biographer has ever really examined before. And without that type of biographical examination, one cannot hope to understand these three men as completely as Nollen obviously does.
He gives some refreshing insights to the early parts of their careers and of those who influenced them as well. I particularly liked what Nollen had to say about the wonderful character actor Lincoln Perry (Stepin Fetchit), and the way he dealt with Ford’s anti-racism and pro-minority feelings.
I like to think that I am fairly knowledgeable when it comes to John Wayne, having been a dyed-in-the-wool Wayne Fan for the past several decades, but I must admit that while reading Nollen’s book, I found myself saying “I didn’t know that” more times than I care to admit! Nollen includes so many first hand accounts and on the scene comments from those who not only knew these men, but who were also there during some of the more important periods of their lives, that he gives his readers the sense of being there themselves.
He includes detailed notes as well as a complete index, and so gives his book the necessary elements to easily become a researchers dream. Nollen also includes three filmographies that I have never seen before. The first is a filmography of John Ford’s projects (film, television, etc) that feature either Wayne or Bond, or both. The next two have never been featured anywhere before – the “Films of Ward Bond,” and the “Television Performances of Ward Bond.” I cannot thank Scott Nollen enough for putting these together. It is high time someone did, and Nollen did a great job on them, as he did with the rest of his book.
“Three Bad Men” is a must have book for any fan of Ford, Wayne or Bond; and it is essential reading for anyone who hopes to really understand these three men. I have heard it said that the book is somewhat pricey, but I have seen lesser biographies go for a lot more. I personally think it is well worth the price. If you haven’t read it yet, you need to. If you haven’t picked up your own copy yet, do it as soon as you can. I have already read mine from cover to cover, and I cannot wait to read it again!
Three Bad Men: John Ford, John Wayne, Ward Bond by Scott Allen Nollen, foreword by Michael A Hoey, 398 pages Published 2013 by McFarland & Company, Inc – ISBN 978-0-7864-5854-7