With cold, flu and general “crud” season upon us, it seems appropriate for this installment of “Western Lingo” to investigate a few “health related” phrases. You’ll be surprised to discover that they may not be nearly as “Western” in their origin as you once believed! Continue reading “A Healthy Dose of Western Lingo”
As I was sitting down to do some research for a future edition of a “Western Lingo” blog post, I noticed something strange. I had a list of colorful phrases and virtually every phrase on my list seemed to lead me straight to Gabby Hayes. Yes, you heard me correctly. . .GABBY HAYES! By the fourth or fifth time it happened, I had what I would describe as more of a brain breeze than a brainstorm. It went something like this: “Huh. Gabby Hayes said that too. Maybe I should write a post about Gabby Hayes.” That’s right. DOINK! No one has to hit me over the head with a cast iron skillet to make me spot a good Western story! (At least, no one has to hit me over the head for longer than twenty minutes. Thirty minutes, tops.)
Up until the very recent past, I had never given much thought to Gabby Hayes. I just knew he was a colorful character with a colorful vocabulary, whose presence livened up a whole slew of Western movies from the 30s and 40s. Thanks to that brain breeze and some reading, there’s much more information I would like to share with you. Yessiree, Bob!
Gabby, the Young Whippersnapper
George “Gabby” Hayes was born in 1885 in Stannards, New York. He might have lived in the east when he was a young whippersnapper, but he grew up to be the quintessential Western sidekick. Before he became known for saying things like, “Yessiree Bob’!” and “young whippersnapper,” George Hayes spent time in his youth working in a circus, playing semi-pro baseball and running away from home to join a vaudeville touring company. Bless his mama’s heart because it sounds like she had her work cut out for her in seeing that live wire to adulthood!
A Sidekick is Born
Maybe it was the love of a good woman that helped tame the man who would become known as Gabby, or maybe they were such a good match that she had no desire to tame his adventurous spirit. Hayes married Olive Ireland in 1914 and they became partners on the vaudeville stage, as well as in life. They must have been a pretty dynamic duo because they retired while Gabby was only in his 40s. That might have been the end of the story if not for the Stock Market Crash of 1929.
Hard times fell on Mr. and Mrs. Hayes and the start of The Great Depression, which left them feeling . . . well, depressed. Consarn it! It was Olive who suggested that her dear George hightail it toCaliforneee and make a name for himself in motion pictures. Prior to his first try at retirement, George Hayes had already been in one film and to him, it didn’t seem like a bad way to earn a living. Apparently, George Hayes didn’t think his wife was being a durn persnickety female and they loaded up the truck and they moved to Beverly—Hills that is… Swimmin’ pools. Movie stars. (Pause here while you insert Lester Flatt and Earl Scruggs music. . .)
Hayes arrived at the end of the silent movie era and his skills as a character actor allowed him to make the transition to “talkies”. Seamlessly. By the second half of the 1930s, Hayes became well known for playing Hopalong Cassidy’s sidekick, Windy Halliday. Hayes also acted alongside the likes of John Wayne, Randolph Scott and Rex Bell. When Hayes severed ties with the Hopalong Cassidy franchise, he was also forced to sever ties with the name “Windy”. In 1940, George Hayes became known as Gabby Hayes and the rest is cinematic history. Gabby Hayes was sidekick to Roy Rogers in a whoppin’ forty-one films!
Gabby Hayes Trivia? Yer Darn Tootin’!
Gabby Hayes didn’t learn to ride a horse until he was almost fifty-years-old!
He appeared in over 180 films.
Gabby Hayes has two stars on the Hollywood Walk of Fame—one for radio and one for television.
The Gabby Hayes Show aired on NBC from 1950-1954. A young Fred Rogers, of Mister Rogers’ Neighborhood landed his first television job as a backstage worker on The Gabby Hayes Show!
He was a comic book character in the Gabby Hayes Western comics, which were published from 1948 until 1957.
Don’t judge a performer by his scraggly beard and weather-beaten hat! George Hayes was known for being a well-read intellectual!
Gabby retired from show business in 1956. He must have been plum tuckered out!
Gabby was married to his beloved wife Olive for forty-three years, until her death in 1957.
Gabby Hayes passed away in 1969 and was interred at the Forrest Lawn Cemetery in Los Angeles.
In the 1974 cult classic film, Blazing Saddles, Claude Ennis Starrett Jr. played a character named Gabby Johnson who spoke in “authentic frontier gibberish.” The character was clearly a tribute to Gabby Hayes and the characters he played so well.
In 2000, Gabby Hayes was inducted into the Hall of Great Western Performers at the National Cowboy and Western Heritage Museum, in Oklahoma City, Oklahoma.
Gabby Hayes was never a big fan of Westerns, but those of us who love them are powerful glad that he made ‘em! Adios, good buddy. . .we miss ya! And here’s a little treat . . . watch some of Gabby’s greatest moments in the video below!
A cowboy without a horse is, well. . . simply a bow-legged pedestrian carrying a saddle. Thank goodness that Roy Rogers had Trigger! But don’t think for one minute that Trigger was just a large hooved movie prop or just some Western extra. Trigger was a star, in his own right!
In 1938, Roy Rogers was on the brink of major stardom. To help drive his popularity, Republic Pictures, to whom he was under contract at the time, put out a casting call to local stables for an extraordinary horse. DOINK! Of course, everybody loves a beautiful horse! When Rogers found the palomino that would eventually be called Trigger, he knew the search was over.
Trigger – – a stallion by a Thoroughbred sire out of a palomino grade mare – – was born in 1934 and was originally named Golden Cloud, after his first trainer, Roy Cloud. Golden Cloud was already an experienced movie star, as he had served as Olivia de Havilland’s mount in The Adventures of Robin Hood and Priscilla Lane’s horse in Cowboy from Brooklyn. Rogers landed upon the name “Trigger” when his on-screen sidekick, Smiley Burnett, commented that the horse was “quick on the trigger”.
In 1938 Roy Rogers purchased Trigger from the Hudkins Brothers Stables. I’m thinking that Trigger may have been Roger’s first big time, movie star splurge, because he paid a whopping $2,500.00 ($41,000.00 in today’s dollars)—on time payments. (Let’s see. $75 a week will go into $2,500. . . carry the one . . . a bunch of times!) That was some investment!
Roy Rogers clearly understood that Trigger was not just any ol’ horse. Trigger was a gifted student and Rogers hired a gifted horse trainer, Jimmy Griffin to fine-tune the horse’s performances. Again, the investment paid off. Trigger was not some one-trick pony; he knew over 100 different trick cues. Some of his best-loved tricks were: Addition and subtraction, as well as counting to twenty. Trigger could sign his name on a sheet of paper by making an X with a pencil. He could drink milk from a bottle. Not only could he rear when asked, but he could also walk 150 feet on his hind legs. All cues for the tricks were from subtle hand motions from Rogers.
But wait, there’s more! Trigger was also trained in dressage, and he had a few fancy moves that could even impress one of the Lipizzaner Stallions. Just check out Trigger’s fancy dancin’ footwork (known in dressage circles as a piaffe) here in the video below, of his performance with Roy at the Hollywood Canteen in 1940. Rogers said of Trigger, “He could turn on a dime and give you some change.”
When Jimmy Griffin left to go to work in the defense industry during WWII, Roy Rogers hired Glenn Randall to train and care for his horses. That was a good call, because Randall didn’t just train the horses, he also trained Roy and helped him to become one of the greatest horsemen in Hollywood. As a side note (because I just love side notes!), Glenn Randall’s sons followed in their dad’s Hollywood footsteps. Corky Randall became a Hollywood wrangler and horse trainer, while Glenn Randall Jr. has had an illustrious career as a stuntman and stunt coordinator.
All told, Roy Rogers and Trigger appeared together in more than 80 films, 101 television episodes and more public appearances than you could shake a stick at. During World War II they toured the country, raising millions in the sale of bonds to aid the war effort. Rogers was proud to point out that throughout that heavy workload, Trigger never once stumbled.
Urban legends abound about the idea of multiple “Triggers”. While look-alikes were sometimes used in film sequences, the real Trigger was always on the job. Roy Rogers also purchased a quarter horse they named “Little Trigger” (no relation to Trigger) to help ease the pressure of Trigger’s public appearance schedule. And in the 40’s, Rogers purchased a Palomino Tennessee Walking Horse, named Trigger Jr., which he trained himself to do all of the famous “Trigger Tricks.” Hey, the guy couldn’t be everywhere! Crowds always loved Roy Rogers and Trigger. Trigger even had his own fan club and comic book series!
Trigger passed away in 1965, at the age of 31. Upon his death, Trigger’s hide was stretched over a plaster likeness of himself. Roy Rogers was quoted as saying, “When I die, just skin me and put me up on old Trigger and I’ll be happy.” (I, for one, am happy to report that Rogers did not get his wish!) For years, the taxidermied Trigger could be found at the Roy Rogers and Dale Evans Museum in Victorville, California, which later relocated to Branson, Missouri.
When the Roy Rogers and Dale Evans Museum closed, in 2009, Trigger went to Christie’s Auction House in New York. In 2010, Trigger was auctioned for $266,500 to RFD-TV, a cable channel in Nebraska. That’s not a bad price when you considered that Roy Rogers only paid $2,500 for him. Rumor has it that the president of RFD-TV intends to start a television memorabilia museum. I sincerely hope so. But until then . . . Happy trails to you, Trigger, until we meet again!
I don’t know about you, but there’s something about yodeling that never fails to make me smile. Maybe it’s because I like listening to people intentionally making their voices crack. (Hey, I can make my voice crack without even trying; I call it, “singing”.) Continue reading “Total Yodel!”