George “Gabby” Hayes

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George “Gabby” Hayes

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George “Gabby” Hayes
Hayes in 1953
BornGeorge Francis Hayes
May 7, 1885
Stannards, New York, U.S.
DiedFebruary 9, 1969 (aged 83)
Burbank, California, U.S.
Years active1902–1956
Spouse(s)Olive E. Ireland​​(m. 1914; died 1957)​

George Francis “Gabby” Hayes (May 7, 1885 – February 9, 1969) was an American actor. He began as something of a leading man and a character player, but he was best known for his numerous appearances in B-Western film series as the bewhiskered, cantankerous, woman-hating, but ever-loyal and brave comic sidekick of the cowboy stars Hopalong Cassidy and Roy Rogers.


Early years[edit]

Hayes was born the third of seven children in his father’s hotel, the Hayes Hotel, in Stannards, New York, a hamlet just outside Wellsville, New York. (Hayes always gave Wellsville as his birthplace, but legally he was born in Stannards.)[1][2] He was the son of Elizabeth Morrison and Clark Hayes. His uncle, on his mother’s side of the family, was George F. Morrison, vice president of General Electric. Despite his later association with westerns, Hayes did not come from a cowboy background; he did not know how to ride a horse until he was in his forties and had to learn for film roles.

His father, Clark Hayes, operated the Hayes Hotel in Stannards and was also involved in oil production. George Hayes grew up in Stannards and attended Stannards School.[2] He played semi-professional baseball while in high school. He ran away from home in 1902, at 17, joined a stock company, apparently traveled for a time with a circus, and became a successful vaudevillian.

Hayes married Olive E. Ireland, the daughter of a New Jersey glass finisher, on March 4, 1914 .She joined him in vaudeville, performing under the name Dorothy Earle (not to be confused with film actress and writer Dorothy Earle). Hayes had become so successful that by 1928, at age 43, he was able to retire to a home on Long Island in Baldwin, New York. He lost all his savings the next year in the 1929 stock-market crash. Olive persuaded her husband to try his luck in films, and the couple moved to Los Angeles. They remained together until her death on July 5, 1957. The couple had no children.

His siblings included his brothers, William W. Hayes, Morrison Hayes, Clark B. Hayes, and his sisters, Nellie Elizabeth Hayes Ebeling and Harriet “Hattie” Elizabeth Hayes Allen. His brother, Morrison Hayes, a Corporal in the United States Army, was killed in action on July 19, 1918, during World War I in France and was awarded the Distinguished Service Cross for his actions during the war.[3] The American Legion post in Wellsville, NY, is named after Morrison Hayes[4]

Film career[edit]

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George Hayes, without his facial hair, as the villain Matt the Mute in Randy Rides Alone, 1934With John Wayne in Blue Steel (1934)

After his move to Los Angeles, according to later interviews, Hayes had a chance meeting with the producer Trem Carr (originally Tremlet C. Carr), who liked his look and gave him 30 roles over the next six years. In his early career, Hayes was cast in a variety of roles, including villains, and occasionally played two roles in a single film. He found a niche in the growing genre of Western films, many of which were series with recurring characters.

Hayes, in real life an intelligent, well-groomed and articulate man, was often cast as a grizzled codger who uttered phrases such as “consarn it”, “yer durn tootin'”, “dadgummit”, “durn persnickety female”, and “young whippersnapper”.

From 1935 to 1939, Hayes played the part of Windy Halliday, the humorous “codger” sidekick of Hopalong Cassidy (played by William Boyd). In 1939, Hayes left that role at Paramount Pictures, after a dispute over his salary, and moved to Republic Pictures. Since Paramount held the rights to the name Windy Halliday, they renamed him Gabby Whitaker, in virtually the same role. As Gabby, he appeared in more than 40 films between 1939 and 1946, usually with Roy Rogers (44 times), but also with Gene Autry (7) and Wild Bill Elliott (14), often working under the directorship of Joseph Kane (34).

Hayes was also repeatedly cast as a sidekick of the Western stars Randolph Scott (six times) and John Wayne (fifteen times, some as straight or villainous characters). Hayes played Wayne’s sidekick in Raoul Walsh‘s Dark Command (1940), which featured Roy Rogers in a supporting role. Hayes became a popular performer and consistently appeared among the 10 favorite actors in polls taken of moviegoers of the period. He appeared in either one or both the Motion Picture Herald and Boxoffice Magazine lists of Top Ten Money-Making Western Stars for twelve straight years and a thirteenth time in 1954, four years after his last film.

The Western film genre declined in the late 1940s, and Hayes made his last film appearance in The Cariboo Trail (1950). He moved to television and hosted The Gabby Hayes Show, a Western series, from 1950 to 1954 on NBC and, in a new version in 1956, on ABC. The show was sponsored by Quaker Oats, whose products were prominently advertised during the show. Gabby would promote the puffed wheat product by saying to stand back from the screen and firing a cannon loaded with cereal at the screen as a tie in to their ad slogan ‘shot from guns’. He introduced the show, often while whittling on a piece of wood, and would sometimes throw in a tall tale. Halfway through the show, he would say something else, and at the end of the show, also, but he did not appear as an active character in the stories. When the series ended, Hayes retired from show business. During this time, he made guest appearances on television, including several on Howdy Doody for his friend “Buffalo” Bob Smith. He lent his name to a comic book series, “Gabby Hayes Western” comics, published by Fawcett Publications from November 1948 until January 1957, and to a children’s summer camp in New York.


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Hayes’s grave at Forest Lawn Hollywood Hills

Following his wife’s death on July 5, 1957, Hayes lived in and managed a 10-unit apartment building he owned in North Hollywood, California. Early in 1969 he entered Saint Joseph Hospital in Burbank, California, for treatment of cardiovascular disease. He died there on February 9, 1969, at the age of 83. He is interred in the Forest Lawn–Hollywood Hills Cemetery in Los Angeles.


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Two stars on the Hollywood Walk of Fame commemorate Hayes’s work in the entertainment industry: one for his contribution to radio, at 6427 Hollywood Boulevard, and one for his contribution to television, at 1724 Vine Street. In 2000, he was posthumously inducted into the Western Performers Hall of Fame at the National Cowboy and Western Heritage Museum in Oklahoma City, Oklahoma.

Popular culture[edit]

John Wayne and Gabby HayesThe Gabby Hayes Show (1951)

Homage was paid to Hayes in a different way in the 1974 satirical Western Blazing Saddles. The actor and director Jack Starrett, credited as Claude Ennis Starrett, Jr., played a Hayes-like character. In keeping with a running joke in the movie, the character is called Gabby Johnson. After Johnson delivers a rousing, though partially unintelligible speech to the townspeople, David Huddleston‘s character stands up to say, “Now, who can argue with that?!”, and proclaims it “authentic frontier gibberish“.[5]

In the animated film Toy Story 2, the character Stinky Pete the Prospector, voiced by Kelsey Grammer, is modeled after Hayes.[6] In the film’s fictional universe, he is a toy version of a character on the marionette television western Woody’s Roundup, where he is a colorful comic relief character. In contrast, the toy is intelligent and well-spoken, a reference to Hayes’s contrasting real-life and film personas.

In a Mighty Carson Art Players sketch on The Tonight ShowJohnny Carson impersonated Gabby Hayes in a sketch with Roy Rogers. This sketch has appeared on Carson’s syndicated series Carson’s Comedy Classics, which features highlights from his years as The Tonight Show host.

Hayes was mentioned in The Simpsons episode “Radioactive Man“, in which Milhouse becomes Radioactive Man’s sidekick, Fallout Boy; the director of the film comments that Milhouse is “going to be big, Gabby Hayes big!”[7]

Every year in early July, from 1983 through 1989, “Gabby Hayes Days” were celebrated in Wellsville, New York. The event featured a street sale, square dancing, and Hayes look-alike contests for adults and children. This celebration was eventually merged into the mid-July Wellsville Balloon Rally and gradually disappeared. A street is also named after him in Wellsville, Gabby Hayes Lane.[2]

Since April 1969, a band of fishermen has traveled to Kettle CreekPotter County, Pennsylvania, for the “Gabby Hayes Memorial Trout Fishing Tournament”. These men, known as Gabby Guys, gather annually to celebrate the opening day of the trout fishing season and the memory of Hayes. In April 2019, they celebrated their fiftieth anniversary, which also marked 50 years since Hayes’ passing.[8]

Partial filmography[edit]

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