Benjamin Franklin McGrath (February 2, 1903 – May 13, 1967) was an American television and film actor and stunt performer who played the comical, optimistic cook with the white beard, Charlie B. Wooster, on the western series Wagon Train for five seasons on NBC and then three seasons on ABC. McGrath appeared in all 272 episodes in the eight seasons of the series, which had ended its run only two years before his death. McGrath's Wooster character hence provided the meals and companionship for both fictional trail masters, Ward Bond as Seth Adams and John McIntire as Christopher "Chris" Hale.
McGrath was born in Mound City in Holt County in far northwestern Missouri.
His first role, uncredited, was in the 1932 film, The Rainbow Trail, a study of Mormon polygamy based on a 1915 Zane Grey novel of the same name. In 1948 and 1949, McGrath was the US Army Bugler in two of the greatest westerns ever made, Fort Apache and She Wore a Yellow Ribbon.In the movie "Fort Apache", McGrath appeared in fifty one (51) scenes with both main characters John Wayne and Henry Fonda. In the movie She Wore a Yellow Ribbon, McGrath appeared in one hundred and twelve scenes (112). Only John Wayne himself surpassed McGrath in scenes in this movie. McGrath worked closely with John Wayne and was in many screen shots in both of these films, which were directed by John Ford. Even at the age of fifty-three, the durable stunt performer McGrath completed three separate horse fall and drag scenes for the 1956 John Wayne picture The Searchers not long after McGrath had barely recovered from having broken his back.
A year before Wagon Train began, McGrath appeared briefly as ranch foreman John Pike in the 1956 memorable episode "Quicksand" of the first hour-long television Western series, ABC's Cheyenne, starring Clint Walker. In 1957, McGrath had an uncredited role as a stagecoach driver in the Henry Fonda film, The Tin Star. In 1958, he portrayed the character Jake Rivers in the episode "The Most Dangerous Man Alive" on NBC's Tales of Wells Fargo, starring Dale Robertson.
After Wagon Train, McGrath appeared in 1965 and 1966 as Uncle Lucius in nine episodes of ABC's situation comedy Tammy, with Debbie Watson in the title role and Denver Pyle as the grandfather. Thereafter, McGrath was a guest star on two network westerns, as stagecoach driver Neddie Henshaw on the 1966 episode "Linda" of NBC's The Virginian and as Buster in the 1967 episode "Plunder at Hawk's Grove", of ABC's The Big Valley. Shortly before his death, McGrath played a bartender in the picture The War Wagon, the character Ned Martin in Gunfight in Abilene, and Ballard Weeks in Glenn Ford's,The Last Challenge. All three films were released in 1967.
His last role was as Mr. Remington in the Don Knotts comedy-western, The Shakiest Gun in the West, released in 1968, the year after McGrath's passing. His former Wagon Train costar Terry Wilson also appears with McGrath in The War Wagon and The Shakiest Gun in the West.
McGrath died at the age of sixty-four of a heart attack in Beverly Hills, California. He is interred at Forest Lawn Memorial Park in Glendale, California. His widow, the former Libby Quay Buschlen (1902-1978), a native of Ontario, Canada, was the daughter of George and Caroline Andrews Buschlen. Libby McGrath outlived her second husband by eleven years. She had a son, Quay Casey Dillon (1924-2006), from her marriage to George Vernon Cassey (1896-1949), a native of Kansas who served in World War I and is interred at the Los Angeles National Cemetery. Libby McGrath is interred by neither husband but at Valhalla Memorial Park Cemetery in North Hollywood, California.
McGrath was the second cast member of Wagon Train to die. Ward Bond died early in November 1960. Other Wagon Train co-stars who have since died are Terry Wilson, John McIntire, Robert Horton, and Denny Scott Miller. Still living are former Wagon Train co-stars Robert Fuller and Michael Burns.
In the fall of 1968, CBS resurrected McGrath's Charlie Wooster character for the western series, Lancer, starring Andrew Duggan as a ranch owner. The Wooster-style role was taken by Paul Brinegar, formerly the Wishbone character on Rawhide, who then played a cantankerous cook named Jelly Hoskins.