Saturday, January 3, 2009

Featured Pipe Smoker: George Hayes

George Francis "Gabby" Hayes (1885-1969)

I am always hesitant to post a picture of someone smoking a pipe taken from a movie and call him a pipe smoker. At one point, very early in my days of collecting these photos, I had decided to make a rule for myself never to post movie stills, because merely seeing an actor with a pipe in a movie didn't make him an actual pipe smoker. Later on, I decided to discard this rule.

Born in Wellsville, NY, to a large family (one of seven children), George Hayes worked in a circus and played semi-pro baseball as a young man. In his teen years he ran away from home. Several years later he met and married Olive Ireland and they became popular in vaudeville. He decided to retire while still in his forties, but lost all his money in the financial crash of 1929, and went back to work.

I might say, "and the history," but that wouldn't be much fun.

Hayes ended up playing the eternal sidekick to the eternal western hero, whether that hero be Hopalong Cassidy, Roy Rogers, Randolph Scott, or John Wayne. Although he started out playing mostly non-sidekick roles (sometimes playing the "co-hero" and sometimes even the villain), eventually he essentially played the same character no matter who he sidekicked for, and no matter what his character's name was: grizzled, bewiskered, weathered, with a battered hat that often had a hole in it and his speech slightly slurred in what was later parodized in Blazing Saddles as "authentic frontier gibberish."

He might have come to be known as "Windy," for the recurring character that he played in many Hopalong Cassidy movies, but when he left in a salary dispute he was prohibited from ever using that name again.

Thus was born Gabby. Hayes appeared in not quite 200 movies and television episodes during his career, leaving show business again in 1950 and devoting the rest of his life to his wife and his investments. Unlike many Hollywood stars, Hayes was married only once in his life, to Olive Ireland, from 1914 until her death in 1957.

The photos included here are screen captures from the 1933 film Riders of Destiny. The pipe he is smoking is clearly not merely a stunt pipe. It is actually loaded, smoking and being smoked. And he appears to be geniunely enjoying it.

For a light-hearted synopsis of this movie, you may wish to read about Riders of Destiny on my other blog.

Other links: imdb, wikipedia.

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