Saturday Sidekicks: Tall, Dark, and Gruesome Jack Pennick

Jack Pennick (l.) and John Wayne in a scene from Operation Pacific (1951).

An early part of the so-called John Ford Stock Company (including Ward Bond, Victor McLaglen, and Harry Carey, Sr.), Jack Pennick was a character actor whose bottom-of-the-barrel looks and seen-it-all tough guys made him instantly recognizable to generations of filmgoers. Pennick (1895-1964), the exact opposite of a pretty boy, was the real deal: known for his roles in Westerns, Pennick had once been a horse wrangler. Also known for his military roles (often a battle-hardened noncom), Pennick not only served in the Marines in World War I, he enlisted in the Navy at age 46, serving as a chief petty officer during World War II in Admiral John Ford’s cinematography unit.

His 6-foot-4-inch stature and his ugly mug brought him to the attention of Hollywood producers beginning in 1926, when director John Ford cast him, appropriately enough, as a ship’s crewman in the Navy drama The Blue Eagle. Pennick went on to perform in 150 movies (mostly uncredited), including 17 with John Wayne and in nearly every sound film made by John Ford.

Pennick’s first outing with Duke was in Ford’s 1928 WWI film Four Sons, in which Pennick got a screen credit but Wayne received no billing as a German soldier. The two had somewhat more memorable pairings in The Long Voyage Home, They Were Expendable, and Operation Pacific. Pennick’s career in film subsided in the early 1960s, almost simultaneously with Ford’s career as a director. His last year as an actor was 1962 in which he found work in two monumental Ford Westerns: How the West Was Won and The Man Who Shot Liberty Valance, both of which, in a plot line only Hollywood could have scripted, starred his long-time colleague, John Wayne.

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