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 to Californeee 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!
Happy Trails, y’all!