Wednesday, March 10, 2010

Worth 1,000 Words: GABBY HAYES leads the sidekick parade



By Steve Crum

GEORGE “GABBY” HAYES (May 7, 1885-Feb. 9, 1969) is arguably THE best of the cowboy movie sidekicks. Not taking anything away from Smiley Burnette, "Fuzzy" St. John, Max Terhune, Pat Brady, Andy Devine, and the dozen or so more sidekicks, it is Gabby Hayes who cowboy movie fans usually remember most fondly when the good old days of shoot ‘em up B-western films are discussed.

Gabby played sidekick, ie: backup, comedy support who could use his pistol and fists when necessary, with the best of the best western stars. He was first Hopalong Cassidy’s sidekick Windy Halliday from 1935-39. Then a salary dispute with Paramount triggered (good verb, huh?) a move to Republic Pictures, which became Hayes’ home studio for years. His screen name was changed to Gabby Whitaker as he rode alongside Roy Rogers, Gene Autry and Wild Bill Elliott in over 40 oaters through 1946. He supported Randolph Scott in six movies, and John Wayne in 20. Most of the time he was the sidekick, but he frequently played a character role outside his norm. Gabby’s last role was with Randolph Scott in 1950’s The Cariboo Trail. (He played "Grizzly" Winters in that one.)

Then Gabby moseyed into Saturday morning television with NBC’s The Gabby Hayes Show (1950-54). In 1956, his show moved to ABC for a brief time. At that time, there were popular Gabby Hayes comic books as well as a Gabby Hayes Children’s Summer Camp in New York.

It was an impressive career journey for one of seven Hayes kids born in Wellsville, New York. Gabby did not seem to age that much over the years he was a cowboy icon, probably due to the fact his greying, grizzled beard and removal of his false teeth kept him looking older than his real age. To this day, he is still considered (and often satirized) the premier and most beloved cowboy movie sidekick of them all. Check out Mel Brooks’ Blazing Saddles as well as the singing group Riders in the Sky. Their “Sidemeat” character is pretty much Gabby.

Every year in April, at the start of trout season, a group of old friends and admirers gather in Pennsylvania to participate in the Gabby Hayes Memorial Fishing Expedition. Gabby would surely get a "kick" out of it.
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FROM A SMALL PHOTO taken from way back and above the crowd, Gabby Hayes rides in a convertible while in a parade. I acquired this unpublished snapshot years ago without any explanation as to the location and date. It appears to be in the late 1930's or early ‘40s. If anyone knows anything about the location (using a magnifying glass might help ID the town), please leave a comment below. [from Steve Crum's showbiz memorabilia collection]
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Here is some of the best of Gabby: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=7koigiUq7GE

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