b. George Francis Hayes, 7 May 1885, Wellsville, New York, USA, d. 9 February 1969, Burbank, California, USA. After working in circus and vaudeville, Hayes tried his hand in silent films from 1923. Before the end of the decade he had chosen to retire but financial problems arising from the Wall Street crash drove him back into films. He found a niche in 30s B-movie Westerns, first in the role of Windy Halliday in a string of pictures with William Boyd, who played Hopalong Cassidy, and then, most memorably, in films with Gene Autry and Roy Rogers, usually in the role of Gabby Whitaker. He developed his own following, appending his character’s name to his own billing, and his comic routines were as much a part of the films as was the singing of Autry and Rogers (or the fisticuffs indulged in by William Elliott, Randolph Scott and John Wayne, with whom he also appeared). Although some of the expressions Hayes’ character used were almost certainly in the language beforehand, he undoubtedly popularized them and, for a while at least, they entered the language; ‘consarn it!’ and ‘yer darn tootin’’ come most readily to mind.
Despite the ease with which Hayes fitted into his role as a grizzled, toothless, knee-slapping old-timer, he was by all accounts a well-spoken and smartly-dressed individual off-screen. At the end of the 50s, Hayes moved out of films and into television with his own programme, The Gabby Hayes Show. When this came off the air in 1954, he retired, this time for good. Hayes has two sidewalk stars in Hollywood, one for his film work, the other for his contribution to television. Despite the fact that he had been obliged to learn to ride a horse when first offered a western role, he is also an inductee of the Western Performers Hall of Fame at Oklahoma City’s National Cowboy & Western Heritage Museum.