John Wayne really was one of the most legendary actors in the history of western films. He always seemed right at home playing a cowboy and was friends with many of his co-stars like frequent onscreen love interest Maureen O'Hara and one of director John Ford's main villains, Grant Withers. But one of the American icon's longest friendships was with Ward Bond, whom he met at the very beginning of his career in Hollywood.
Bond and Wayne were longtime friends for a reason. Both actors played football at the University of Southern California. They even both made their motion picture debut in John Ford's film Salute in 1929 following their time at USC. Over the years, the two would become western icons and appear together in over 20 films, many of which were directed by Ford including The Searchers, Rio Bravo, Fort Apache, Hondo, and They Were Expendable.
According to JohnWayne.com, the duo didn't initially hit it off. Wayne was frustrated with the Benkelman, Nebraska native on the set of Salute for showing up late and having generally unruly behavior. But John Ford saw something between the two of them and ended up having them room together. According to Wayne they ended up bonding, "over corn whiskey and a few nocturnal escapades, Ward and I became close personal friends, and that friendship lasted until the day Ward died, over thirty years later."
The two had a strong friendship that lasted decades, even surviving Wayne accidentally shooting Bond in the behind on a hunting trip. It was a story they joked about for the rest of Bond's life. The actor even left The Duke that very gun in his will, not letting his longtime buddy forget about the incident long after his death.
Bond tragically passed away from a heart attack in 1960 after just giving his career a second wind by starring as wagon master Major Seth Adams in the first four seasons of the beloved NBC TV series, Wagon Train. He's also well-known for playing Tom in Gone with the Wind, Bert the cop in Frank Capra's It's a Wonderful Life, as well as additional roles in films like The Maltese Falcon, Gentleman Jim, Grapes of Wrath, Drums Along the Mohawk, Joan of Arc, Mister Roberts, My Darling Clementine, On Dangerous Ground, Tall in the Saddle, The Wings of Eagles, You Can't Take It with You, Blowing Wild, Born to Be Wild, Bringing Up Baby, Canyon Passage, Devil Dogs of the Air, 3 Godfathers, Gypsy Colt, and more. He was in over 200 films which is an incredibly impressive accomplishment for his 30-year career.
After Bond passed away in Dallas, Texas, Wayne accompanied his body to his ceremony-at-sea, where his ashes were disposed in the ocean. He gave the eulogy for his longtime pal at the ceremony, saying, "we were the closest of friends, from school right on through. ... He was a wonderful, generous, big-hearted man."