George 'Gabby' Hayes

George Francis 'Gabby' Hayes (May 7, 1885February 9, 1969) was an American actor. He was best known for his numerous appearances in western movies as the colorful sidekick to the leading man. (Not to be confused with British character actor George Hayes [1888-1967], who made a few movies in the U.S.)

Early years

Hayes was born the third of seven children in Wellsville, New York, and did not come from a cowboy background. In fact, he did not know how to ride a horse until he was in his forties and had to learn for movie roles. His father, Clark Hayes, operated a hotel and was also involved in oil production. George Hayes played semi-professional baseball while in high school, then ran away from home in 1902, at 17. He joined a stock company, apparently traveled for a time with a circus, and became a successful vaudevillian. He had become so successful that by 1928 he was able, at 43, 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 and returned to acting.

Hayes married Olive E. Ireland, 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/writer Dorothy Earle). She convinced him in 1929 to try his luck in motion pictures, and the couple moved to Los Angeles. They remained together until her death July 5, 1957. The couple had no children.

Film career

On his move to Los Angeles, according to later interviews, Hayes had a chance meeting with producer Trem Carr, who liked his look and gave him thirty 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. Ironically, Hayes would admit he had never been a big fan of westerns.

Hayes, in real life an intelligent, well groomed, and articulate man, was cast as a grizzled codger who uttered phrases like "consarn it", "yer durn tootin", "durn persnickety female", and "young whippersnapper".

Hayes played the part of Windy Halliday, the sidekick to Hopalong Cassidy (William Boyd), from 1935 to 1939. In 1939, Hayes left Paramount Pictures in a dispute over his salary and moved to Republic Pictures. Paramount held the rights to the name Windy Halliday, so a new nickname was created for Hayes' character; Gabby. As Gabby Whitaker, Hayes appeared in more than 40 pictures between 1939 and 1946, usually with Roy Rogers but also with Gene Autry or Bill Elliot, often working under the directorship of Joseph Kane.

Hayes was also repeatedly cast as a sidekick to western icons Randolph Scott (6 times) and John Wayne (approx. 20 times). In fact, Wayne and Hayes made numerous films together in the very early 1930s with Hayes playing "straight" pre-sidekick roles, and sometimes even the villain. Hayes became a popular performer and consistently appeared among the ten favorite actors in polls taken of movie-goers of the period. He appeared in either 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 movie.

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, and a new version in 1956. He introduced the show, often while whittling on a piece of wood and would sometimes throw in some tall stories. Half way through the show he would say something else and at the end too but he did not appear as an active character in the stories themselves. When the series ended he retired from show business. He lent his name to a comic book series and to a children's summer camp in New York.


Following his wife's death in 1957, he lived in and managed a ten-unit apartment building he owned in North Hollywood, California. In early 1969, he entered St. John Hospital in Burbank, California for treatment of cardiovascular disease. He died there on February 9, 1969, at the age of 83. George 'Gabby' Hayes was interred in the Forest Lawn - Hollywood Hills Cemetery in Los Angeles.


For his contribution to radio, Gabby Hayes has a star on the Hollywood Walk of Fame at 6427 Hollywood Blvd. and a second star at 1724 Vine Street for his contribution to the television industry. In 2000, he was posthumously inducted into the Western Performers Hall of Fame at the National Cowboy & Western Heritage Museum in Oklahoma City, Oklahoma.


Homage was paid to Hayes in a different way in the 1974 satirical western Blazing Saddles. A look-a-like actor named Claude Ennis Starrett, Jr. played a Gabby Hayes-like character. In keeping with one running joke in the movie, the character was called Gabby Johnson. After he delivered a rousing, though largely unintelligible speech to the townspeople ("You get back here you pious candy-ass sidewinder. Ain't no way that nobody is gonna' to leave this town. Hell, I was born here, an' I was raished here, an' dad gum it, I am gonna die here an' no sidewindin bushwackin, hornswaglin, cracker croaker is gonna rouin me biscuit cutter."), David Huddleston's character proclaimed, "Now, who can argue with that?!" and described it as "authentic frontier gibberish."

Gabby was also immortalized once again in the Simpsons episode where Milhouse becomes "Fallout Boy," the producer of the film comments that Milhouse is "..going to be big, Gabby Hayes big!"

Additionally, every year in April at the beginning of fishing season in Pennsylvania, the Gabby Hayes Memorial Fishing Tournament is held. The first tournament was held in 1969, the year of Hayes's death.

Comic appearances

  • Gabby Hayes Adventure Comics 1 (1953. Toby Press)
  • Gabby Hayes Western 1-59 (1948-1957. Fawcett Publications)
  • Gabby Hayes Western 50-111 (1951-1955. L. Miller B&W reprints of Fawcett Comics)

External links

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