Hoot Gibson – runaway, movie star, rich guy, poor guy

August 6, 1892

On this day, real honest-to-goodness cowboy turned celluloid hero, Hoot Gibson, was born a million miles from Tinsel Town in Tecamah, Nebraska.

Pioneer Western actor Edmond Richard (Hoot) Gibson (right) was a rodeo star  before took up acting.  At age 20 he won the All-Around Cowboy title in the  famed Pendleton, Oregon competition and the steer roping World Championship at the Calgary Stampede that same year.

He learned to ride a horse at an early age after moving with his family to California.   Reportedly a teenage runaway, he found work as a ranch hand, in Oklahoma.  His first film role came at just 18 when director Francis Boggs tapped Gibson and future cowboy box office star Tom Mix (right) to appear in a silent short, “Pride of the Range.”

Gibson appeared in just a single movie in 1911 and another in 1912, continuing to return to the rodeo circuit.  Following military service during WWI, Gibson divided his time between acting and rodeos.  By the early 1920s, however, the demand for movie cowboys was so great he moved full-time to the Silver Screen.

He was a major star for the next 20 years as an actor, writer and director in more than 200 films, most of them Westerns.  He ranked second in box office only to his early buddy and friendly rival, Tom Mix.  In addition he was featured in a comic book series, reigning supreme until the rise of the “singing cowboys,” Gene Autry and Roy Rogers.

After giving up the high risk sport of  rodeo, Gibson took up dare-devil flying,  At the height of his fame, in 1933 he was forced to put his career on hold for a time to recover from injuries suffered in a plane crash while racing fellow cowboy actor Ken Maynard.

A number of Gibson’s films have been lost but he appeared in a number that critics considered “respectable,” including nearly a dozen for director John Ford. 

Gibson’s last appearance in a Ford movie was a small  role in the 1960 film, “The Horse Soldiers” starring John Wayne and William Holden.

Much married and oft divorced, Gibson’s first wife Rose Wenger, who used the name Helen Gibson professionally, was a rodeo performer turned actress.  Vaudvillian Helen Johnson Gibson was Mrs. Hoot number two, leading to no end of confusion.  She and Gibson divorced in 1929. 

Gibson’s leading lady in the 1931 film “Clearing the Range, Sally Eilers, thankfully not named Helen. was wife three.  Gibson was married for a final time in 1942 to rodeo performer Dorothy Dunston, which lasted until his death.

From left, Helen Gibson, Sally Eilers and Dorothy Dunston

By the 1950s, multiple marriages and a lavish lifestyle, had brought the former millionaire to financial ruin.  Gibson took various jobs as a casino greeter and carnival performer.  He died of cancer in 1962 in Woodland Hills, California, at age 70. 

Despite the inglorious decline in his later years, in 1979 he was honored  by the movie industry with a star on the Hollywood Walk of Fame.  He was  also inducted into the Hall of Great Western Performers at the National Cowboy & Western Heritage Museum in Oklahoma City, Oklahoma.

The National Cowboy and Western Heritage Museum, 1700 NE 63rd Street, Oklahoma City, honors Western icons in the Great Hall of Western Performers.  Selected for their significant contributions to the interpretation and preservation of Western Culture, the hall includes more than 100 stars from past years like Hoot Gibson to more recent personalities like Michael Landon.  

Open Monday through Saturday from 10 to 5 and Sunday, noon to 5.  The museum is closed Thanksgiving, Christmas Eve, Christmas Day, and New Year’s Day.  Admission is  $12.50 for adults, seniors (62+)  and students with ID, $9.75, children 6 to 12, $5.75 and under 5 free.  Parking is also free, as well as entry into the museum’s gift shop.  For more information go to nationalcowboymuseum.org, call (405) 478-2250 or write National Cowboy & Western Heritage Museum, 1700 Northeast 63rd Street, Oklahoma City, Oklahoma 73111.

© Text Only – 2018 – Headin’ West LLC  – All photos – public domain or fair use.