Hoot Gibson, circa 1935
Edmund Richard Gibson
August 6, 1892
Tecumseh, Nebraska, U.S.
|Died||August 23, 1962 (aged 70)|
|Resting place||Inglewood Park Cemetery, Inglewood, California|
|Other names||Ed "Hoot" Gibson|
|Occupation||Actor, director, producer|
Rose August Wenger (stage name Helen Gibson) (m. 1913–1920)
Helen Johnson (m. 1922–1930)
Sally Eilers (m. 1930–1933)
Dorothea Dunstan (m. 1942–1962)
Early life and career
Born Edmund Richard Gibson in Tekamah, Nebraska, he learned to ride a horse while still a very young boy. His family moved to California when he was seven years old. As a teenager, he worked with horses on a ranch, which led to competition on bucking broncos at area rodeos.
Given the nickname "Hoot Owl" by co-workers, the name evolved to just "Hoot". (Michael Wallis' book, The Real Wild West: The 101 Ranch and the Creation of the American West, says that Gibson "picked up the nickname 'Hoot' while working as a bicycle messenger for Owl Drug Company." Dan L. Thrapp's Encyclopedia of Frontier Biography says that Gibson "is said to have been nicknamed because he once hunted owls in a cave.")
In 1910, film director Francis Boggs was looking for experienced cowboys to appear in his silent film short, Pride of the Range. Gibson and another future star of Western films, Tom Mix, were hired. Gibson made a second film for Boggs in 1911. After a deranged employee killed Boggs, director Jack Conway hired Gibson to appear in his 1912 Western, His Only Son.
Acting for Gibson was then a minor sideline, and he continued competing in rodeos to make a living. In 1912, he won the all-around championship at the famous Pendleton Round-Up in Pendleton, Oregon, and the steer roping world championship at the Calgary Stampede.
Gibson's career was temporarily interrupted with service in the United States Army during World War I as a sergeant in the Tank Corps. When the war ended, he returned to the rodeo business and became good friends with Art Acord, a fellow cowboy and movie actor. The two participated in summer rodeo, then went back to Hollywood for the winter to do stunt work. For several years, Gibson had secondary film roles (primarily in Westerns) with stars such as Harry Carey. By 1921, the demand for cowboy pictures was so great, Gibson began receiving offers for leading roles. Some of these offers came from up-and-coming film director John Ford, with whom Gibson developed a lasting friendship and working relationship.
Financial difficulties and later life
From the 1920s through the 1940s, Hoot Gibson was a major film attraction, ranking second only to Tom Mix as a Western film box-office draw. He successfully made the transition to talkies, and as a result, became a highly paid performer. After being released by Universal Pictures in the early 1930s, he signed a contract with the Poverty Row outfit Allied Pictures, making a series of profitable releases for the company. He appeared in his own comic books and was wildly popular until singing cowboys such as Gene Autry and Roy Rogers displaced him.
In 1927, actor Gibson, and five other California businessman sponsored The Spirit of Los Angeles, a modification of the International CF-10 for an attempt at winning the Dole Air Derby. Gibson had his name painted on the nose for publicity. The aircraft crashed in the San Francisco Bay before the start of the race. In 1933, Gibson injured himself when he crashed his plane while racing cowboy star Ken Maynard in the National Air Races. Later, the two friends teamed up to make a series of low-budget movies in the twilight of their careers.
Gibson's years of substantial earnings did not see him through his retirement. He had squandered much of his income on high living and poor investments. By the 1950s, Gibson faced financial ruin, aided in part by costly medical bills from serious health problems. To get by and pay his bills, he earned money as a greeter at a Las Vegas casino. For a time, he worked in a carnival and took virtually any job his dwindling name value could obtain. At one point he hosted a booth at rodeos that encouraged ranchers to raise nutria. He also appeared in an episode of Groucho's You Bet Your Life, filmed in December 1955. He made the final game with his contestant, but did not win the big money, though he earned himself a share of the $440 prize money for the show.
On September 6, 1913, Gibson married Rose August Wenger, a rodeo performer he had met at the Pendleton Round-Up in Oregon sometime between 1911 and 1913. Under the name Helen Gibson, she became a major film star in her own right for a time, notably in the lead role of The Hazards of Helen adventure film serial. Census records for 1920 indicate they were living separately; Hoot Gibson listed himself as married; Helen listed herself as widowed.
Gibson married vaudeville actress Helen Johnson on April 20, 1922, in Riverside, California. They had one child, Lois Charlotte Gibson. They were divorced on February 2, 1929, in Hollywood, California.
The fact that Hoot Gibson was married to two consecutive women who used the name Helen Gibson in some fashion has led to a good deal of confusion.
Gibson married a final time, to Dorothy Dunstan, a 22 year old yodeler, on July 3, 1942.
In 1960, for his contribution to film, Hoot Gibson was inducted to the Hollywood Walk of Fame and was honored with a star at 1765 Vine Street in the Motion Pictures section. In 1979, he was inducted into the Western Performers Hall of Fame at the National Cowboy & Western Heritage Museum in Oklahoma City, Oklahoma.
In popular culture
References to Gibson in American media include:
- From Here to Eternity (1951): "'I wonder,' he said,' what ever happened to old Hoot Gibson? I can just barely remember him. My God, he had grey hair when I was just a kid."
- The Carpetbaggers (1961): "'The Bijou's got a new Hoot Gibson picture,' Tommy said."
- The Beverly Hillbillies (1963): A phony relative Jake Clampett manipulates the Clampett family into pursuing Hollywood dreams in an attempt to further his own filmmaking ambitions. Granny is on to him when he isn't familiar with Hoot Gibson, but Jake wins her over by promising her a role in a Hoot Gibson picture.
- Myra Breckinridge (1968): "More than ever was Buck, revoltingly, the Singin' Shootin' Cowboy, so inferior in every way to Hoot Gibson."
- Fried Green Tomatoes at the Whistle Stop Cafe (1987): "Most of those guards are pretty simpleminded old boys ... they'll go to a picture show and see Tom Mix or Hoot Gibson and then they come back and ride around the farm, pulling their guns, trying to be cowboys."
- Hoot Gibson: Vegas Cowboy (2016): A four-episode comedy podcast on the Stitcher Premium network, starring Andy Daly in the titular role.
- Hoffmann, Henryk (2012). Western Movie References in American Literature. McFarland. pp. 68–69. ISBN 9780786493241. Retrieved 15 January 2017.
- Wallis, Michael. The Real Wild West: The 101 Ranch and the Creation of the American West. Macmillan. p. 446. ISBN 9780312263812. Retrieved 15 January 2017.
- Thrapp, Dan L. (1991). Encyclopedia of Frontier Biography: G-O. U of Nebraska Press. p. 553. ISBN 0803294190. Retrieved 15 January 2017.
- "Hoot Gibson". Nebraskahistory.org. 2006-01-11. Retrieved 2016-01-27.
- "YouTube". YouTube. Retrieved 2016-01-27.
- "Cupid Ropes Ed 'Hoot' Gibson". East Oregonian. Oregon, Pendleton. September 8, 1913. p. 1. Retrieved January 15, 2017 – via Newspapers.com.
- 1920 United States Census for Los Angeles, California, Sheets No. 19A and 10B
- "'Hoot' Gibson Weds Helen Johnson". St. Louis Post-Dispatch. Missouri, St. Louis. Associated Press. April 21, 1922. p. 19. Retrieved January 15, 2017 – via Newspapers.com.
- "Mrs. Hoot Gibson Given Divorce". The Indiana Gazette. Pennsylvania, Indiana. International News Service. February 7, 1929. p. 13. Retrieved January 15, 2017 – via Newspapers.com.
- "Hoot Gibson Weds Miss Sally Eilers". Lebanon Daily News. Pennsylvania, Lebanon. Associated Press. June 28, 1930. p. 10. Retrieved January 15, 2017 – via Newspapers.com.
- "Dorothy Dunstan Bride of Hoot Gibson at Las Vegas". The Wilkes-Barre Record. Pennsylvania, Wilkes-Barre. July 29, 1942. p. 6. Retrieved January 15, 2017 – via Newspapers.com.
- "Hoot Gibson, Film Cowboy, Dies. Made His First Movie in 1915; Broke Into Motion Pictures as a Stunt Man. Last Role Was in 'Horse Soldiers'". New York Times. August 24, 1962. Retrieved 2010-03-09.
Hoot Gibson, one of Hollywood's most famous cowboy stars, died early this morning of cancer at the Motion Picture Country House and Hospital, in Woodland Hills, Calif. He was 70 years old.
- Brooker, John (2017). The Happiest Trails. p. 366. ISBN 9781365741227.
- "Hoot Gibson". Hollywood Walk of Fame. Retrieved 15 January 2017.
- "Great Western Performers". National Cowboy and Western Heritage Museum. Retrieved 15 January 2017.
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