The young man who played semi-pro football called himself Jeremiah Schwartz. But it wasn’t his real name. He used the phony name so he could retain his eligibility to play college football at St. Mary & St. Benedict College, Arizona State Teacher’s College, and Santa Clara University.
His real name: Andrew Vabre Devine, who would go on to entertain movie and TV audiences as Andy Devine, a gap-toothed, squeaky-voiced sidekick in “B” westerns.
When he first headed to Hollywood, he played minor roles in some silent films. In 1905, he landed the first major role of his career mostly because of his athletic skill. He played football player Truck McCall in “The Spirit of Notre Dame.”
When the talkies came along, there was some concern about his raspy voice.
Although it eliminated him from contention for more dramatic acting parts, filmmakers decided his voice would work well in comedic roles. In fact, it became his trademark.
In the Fifties, Devine co-starred as the character Jingles P. Jones and rode a horse named Joker in “Adventures of Wild Bill Hickok” (1951), featuring Guy Madison in the lead role—first on radio and later on television.
According to IMDB, the role “was originally offered to but turned down by Burl Ives.” Devine also appeared in ten films as Cookie, the sidekick to Roy Rogers.
Devine proved a tireless and accomplished actor and switched easily from “B” westerns to “A” films.
Throughout his career, he appeared in more than 400 films, including roles in “Stagecoach” (1939) with John Wayne.
He also played Danny in the film “A Star is Born (1937).” Among his other screen credits was the frightened marshal in “The Man Who Shot Liberty Valance.”
As a credit to his versatility, Devine hosted a children’s TV show on NBC called “Andy’s Gang” from 1955 to 1960.
The sidekicks in B-Westerns provided comic relief for the audience. Despite the secondary role they played, many became stars themselves. In addition to Andy Devine, George Francis “Gabby” Hayes ranked among the most recognizable of all.
Hayes played sidekick to several heavyweight big-screen cowboys: Roy Rogers, Gene Autry, Hopalong Cassidy, Wild Bill Elliott, Hoot Gibson, Randolph Scott, and John Wayne.
Born May 7, 1885, in Wellsville, New York, Hayes worked as a circus performer and semi-pro baseball player. After he married Olive Ireland in 1914, the couple hit the road playing the vaudeville circuit. They were so successful that he retired in his Forties.
The stock market crash of 1929 depleted his bank account, and he went back to work. He and his wife moved to California where he began finding work in the movie industry.
Ironically, Hayes didn’t even learn to ride a horse until he was in his forties.
Soon, he began appearing in the series westerns of the 1930s—first and a bad guy and then as Windy Halliday, the sidekick for Hopalong Cassidy.
A dispute over money pushed him into the Roy Rogers film camp where he began appearing as “Gabby.” He was so popular that he had his TV Western series from 1950 to 1954—“The Gabby Hayes Show,” which appealed mainly to children.
When the series ended, the grizzled old-timer called it quits and retired. He and his wife remained married until her death in 1956.
The nasally-voiced and gray-bearded Gabby Hayes included in nearly every film two phrases he made popular: “You’re durn tooting” and “You young whipper snapper!”
Surprisingly, when he didn't appear on camera as a grizzled old timer, Hayes was handsome, well-groomed and well-read. Once, he confided that he had never been a fan of the Western genre.
Tim Holt ranks as one of my favorite B-Western stars. And who could forget his Mexican-Irish sidekick Chito Jose Gonzales Bustamente Rafferty, played by Richard Martin.
Martin played a handsome, young Mexican-American whose family lived in California.
He misspoke the English language, but in an amusing style rather than in a mocking way. Chita was also an unabashed romantic.
When Martin started in Westerns, he played a few bad guys but his characterization of Chito was so entertaining, the studios decided to use him as a western sidekick.
His role as Chito, however, didn’t debut in a Tim Holt film.
The character debuted in the 1943 World War II film, “Bombardier.”
According to the Los Angeles Times, he started his movie career as a receptionist for MGM, earning $17.76 a week. “His goal was to be a makeup man, but his acting career began after one of his friends, on a lark, bet an agent that he couldn’t get Martin an acting contract.”
A successful screen test led to a contract with RKO. He was paid $50 a week and landed a series of bit parts in A and B films—including a Zane Grey series where he played opposite Robert Mitchum for two episodes.
Mitchum bowed out when he won a part in “G.I. Joe,” the film that paved the way for his outstanding career path.
RKO then teamed Martin with Tim Holt for the final three films of the series, which opened the door to a longtime partnership.
They made twenty-six other films together—a comical counterpoint to Holt’s serious, even portrayal of a cowboy hero.
As Chito, Martin played the antithesis of the cowboy sidekicks. Rather than the grizzled old-timer, or cantankerous type in worn clothing, Chito dressed well and was soft spoken. The only time his comedic side emerged was during his often futile attempts at romance.
Martin, however, developed a real-life romance with actress Elaine Riley with whom met on her second day at RKO. They married in 1946.
When Howard Hughes decided to shut down all B pictures at RKO in 1952, Martin left the business and became an insurance broker. Richard Martin Associates specialized in estate planning and business insurance.
He often expressed surprise at how well his character, Chito, was remembered by the movie-going public.
So, who's YOUR favorite B-Western sidekick?
A novelist, storyteller, and naturally curious amateur historian, Tom Rizzo's new three-volume collection, TALL TALES FROM THE HIGH PLAINS & BEYOND, features more than 180 true stories of characters and events of the Old West.
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