Gabby Hayes earned the big bucks being second fiddle

April 7, 1885

On this day Gabby Hayes, who chose playing second banana over playing second base, was born in the hamlet of Stannards, New York.

Actor George Francis Hayes (right) showed promise for professional baseball.  An early standout, he played with a semi-pro team while still in high school.   But he decided to run away with the traveling stock company at just 17.  Joining the circus for a time, he then discovered vaudeville where he met and married a New Jersey girl, Olive E. Ireland, in 1914.  

Olive followed her new husband onto the boards under the stage name Dorothy Earle.  Billed as Hayes and Earle, the pair were successful vaudevillians, managing to retire comfortably 14 years later.   But their retirement was short-lived.  The  crash in 1929 wiped out all their savings.  Earle was convinced a move to California would bring them luck in the burgeoning film industry.  

It worked.  Over the next 20 years, Hayes appeared in more than 190 movies, finally settling into a comfortable niche in Hollywood’s popular “oaters” of the 30s and 40s.  It seemed an unlikely fit since he couldn’t even ride a horse.  His father had been the proprietor of a small hotel and his mother was the sister of a captain of industry, president of General Electric, George F. Morrison. (Above) 

The first stint as a cowboy’s right hand man was as Windy Halliday, opposite William Boyd’s Hopalong Cassidy from 1935 to 1939.   But a wage dispute in 1939 caused Hayes to move from Paramount to Republic where the studio created the new moniker “Gabby Whitaker.”

During his career he played opposite cowboy icons Roy Rogers, Gene Autry and Wild Bill Elliott.  In addition he appeared with box office A-lister John Wayne in 15 movies and six times with Randolph Scott, with whom he shared the same birthday.  

Claiming in interviews to hate the Western genre, Hayes was in real life cosmopolitan, articulate and by all accounts a savvy businessman.   His name appeared on the list of Hollywood’s top earners for 12 consecutive years.

When Western movies fell into decline, Hayes turned to television.  He starred in NBC’s “Gabby Hayes Show” from 1950 to 1954 and hosted an ABC revival in 1956.

 A year after the death of his wife of 43 years in 1957, he retired from acting again but remained a featured character in several comic book series for more than 50 issues.

In retirement Hayes owned and managed a 10-unit apartment building in North Hollywood for the next 12 years.  He died in 1969 at the age of 83 and was interned at Forest Lawn next to Earle. 

Honored with two stars on the Hollywood Walk of Fame for his contributions in both film and television,  he was named to the Western Performers Hall of Fame at the National Cowboy and Western Heritage Museum in Oklahoma City in 2000.

Gabby’s popular cowboy’s-best-friend persona has persisted even into present day.  The 1999 animated “Toy Story 2” character Stinky Pete, modeled after Hayes, helps rescue Woody from an evil toy collector.   Actor Kelsey Grammer was responsible for recreating Gabby’s gritty voice.

The Little Hollywood Movie Set Museum, 297 W Center St., Kanab, Utah, in the midst of three national parks, was a natural for Western movie locations.  Since 1924 it has been the site for more than 100 movies, several featuring Gabby Hayes; “In Old Oklahoma” and “Tall In the Saddle.”  

The location’s film credits also include movie classics like “Stagecoach,” “Mackenna’s Gold” and  “The Outlaw Josey Wales.” Popular TV series including The Lone Ranger, Death Valley Days and Gunsmoke shared the scenery, as well.  Exhibits of actual Hollywood movie sets are pet friendly and free for visitors to browse  from 9 to 9 daily.  For more information go to or call (435) 644-5337.

© Text Only – 2019 – Headin’ West LLC  – All photos – public domain or fair use.

*Head On West strives for historic accuracy and uses a number of sources considered reliable.  When research differs on significant facts, the various points of view will be cited.