Most of us remember watching Gabby Hayes in the B-westerns spout off his famous lines: “yer durn tootin’, young whipper snapper; consarn it all, dadgummit, and them durn persnickity females!”
Yes, that was Gabby alright; the old ruffian/codger with whom a fellow cowboy might sit around the pot bellied stove and swap lies as they spit their tobacco juice into (sometimes) the spittoon; and do other crude “manly” things unfitting to polite society.
But picture this. It’s early one morning on the set of a Roy Roger’s production and the actors and crew are arriving. Up drives an impeccably dressed man in a tweed coat and tie,smoking a pipe, speaking perfect English (he was originally trained as a Shakespearean actor), and sporting a Lincoln convertible. He hops out of the car, goes into the dressing room, puts his grubby outfit on, ruffles his hair and takes his false teeth out. He is now ready to be Gabby Hayes. A stage presence diametrically opposite his real life.
Born on May 7, 1885 in NY in Hayes Hotel owned by his father, Gabby was the third of seven children. As a young man, he worked in a circus and played semi-pro baseball while a teenager. He ran away from home at 17 and joined a touring stock company. He married Olive Ireland in 1914 and they did well on the vaudeville circuit. He retired in his 40s but then lost much of his money in the 1929 stock crash, thus having to return to work. His wife convinced him to move to CA where he got into the movie business. Initially, he played in westerns and non-westerns. By the mid-30s he was exclusively doing westerns and gained fame in the Hopalong Cassidy series as Windy. A salary dispute caused him to leave Paramount Pictures in 1939 to go with Republic; his new name became Gabby. By the 40s, he repeatedly worked with the top ten western box office stars, including John Wayne, Roy Rogers and Randolph Scott
Gabby made more than 40 films between 1939-1946 with Roy Rogers and Dale Evans. Roy once said, “ He was like my father, my buddy and my brother all wrapped up in one. I can’t say enough about him.” He became very close to the Rogers family and Roy and Dale referred to him as Pappy and credited him with teaching them the craft of acting. Hayes was a real actor and was the least like his on-stage persona than any of the actors with whom Roy and Dale worked. He was a Shakespearean-trained actor from NY, drove a Lincoln convertible, was impeccably well-groomed, and considered by his peers as one of the best dressed in Hollywood.
Roy and Dale considered Gabby one of their closest friends in Hollywood. He visited the ranch often. In their bio Happy Trails, Roy and Dale commented on how much Gabby loved is wife, Olive. He adored her and he really did not care what his critics nor his director said about his acting, only what Olive thought. As Gabby’s career blossomed, he bought Olive a nice condo in Palm Desert and all kinds of furs and jewelry. Then Olive got cancer and died in 1957, after 43 years of marriage. Gabby lived until he was 83 but Roy and Dale said he was never the same after she died.
During his career, he appeared in 190 sound-era films, of which 146 were westerns and serials. He starred with Ken Maynard, Hoot Gibson, Bob Steele, Wild Bill Elliot, Gene Autry, John Wayne and of course, Hopalong Cassidy and Roy Rogers.
Gabby’s awards include two stars on the Hollywood Walk of Fame, one for television and one for radio. In 2000, he was posthumously inducted into the Western Performers Hall of Fame at the National Cowboy & Western Heritage Museum in Oklahoma City.
Gabby never rode horses much until he was in his 40s and became a decent rider during the filming of the westerns.
Yes, Gabby was probably the most recognized and most popular of all the B-western sidekicks. He really added a lot to the movies he starred in but what did he think of Western films? When asked he replied, I hate ’em. Really can’t stand ’em. They always are the same. You have so few plots..the stagecoach holdup, the rustlers, the mortgage gag, the mine setting and the retired gunslinger.
Well, he hid his dislike of westerns very well. I say “kudos” to George Gabby Hayes. Now he was a real ACTOR!