We just got back from a month long road trip. One of the great and beautiful places we stayed at during our trip was the Vee Bar Ranch in Wyoming. Situated in what can only be described as “God’s country,” the Vee Bar is the most beautiful ranch I have ever visited. I will go into greater detail on it in a future column, but the three days I spent playing cowboy brought back memories of my childhood heroes like Hopalong Cassidy and Roy Rogers. And another old coot who went by the handle of Gabby Hayes.
“Come on boys, let’s get inside and rustle up some grub.” In your entire life have you ever heard anyone outside of a ‘40s or ‘50s cowboy movie say anything like that? I don’t mean kidding around, I mean in a serious way. Of course not, neither have I. And why is it only “rustle up some grub?” Why isn’t it “rustle up some food?” Or “rustle up a nice meal?” Or “rustle up Sunday brunch?” And why isn’t it “prepare some grub” or “make some grub” or “cook some grub?” No, it always has to be the complete phrase, “Rustle up some grub.”
I like the term. It feels good to say it, “Rustle up some grub.” Matter of fact, I’d like to see the phrase be mainstreamed into today’s American culture. It’s the answer to contemporary high-tech terminology. You can keep your down-loading, tweeting, apps, boot, burn, byte, blog, cookies, and iPads – I’ll just rustle up some grub, partner.
Of course the phrase sounds best coming from someone like Gabby Hayes or Slim Pickens but it’ll work with anybody if you say it with the right attitude. Good ol’ Gabby Hayes. Now there’s a name no one speaks of anymore. Gabby used lots of wonderful cowboy expressions in all those Western pictures he made. I don’t know whether he said them first or just said them best, but whenever I think of phrases such as “plumb tuckered out,” I think of Gabby.
The one phrase I most associate with Gabby Hayes is the way he used to draw out “little might.” It would be used in a context like, “Hold it right there, hombre! I may be a leeetle might older ‘n you, but I c’n still slap leather with the best of ‘em.” Other Gabby-isms would include: “Move away from that shootin’ iron reeal slow-like, son.” “Gall blasted young whippersnapper!” and “durn persnickety female.” “Ya crazy galoot!” “Let’s mosey on down.” “I reckon he’s jus’ an ornery old coot.” “Yer dern tootin’”
Gabby’s use of movie cowboy swear words was legendary. An art onto itself. Sometimes it was “Dagnabit!” Other times it might be “dadgumit,” or “gall darn it,” or “Consarn it.” He was a master of western movie cussing gibberish. Gabby was the quintessential cowboy movie sidekick and he was a character like no other.
George Francis Hayes was born May 7, 1885, the third of seven children, in Wellsville, New York. He was the son of Elizabeth Morrison and Clark Hayes, and did not come from a cowboy background. As a matter of fact, he didn’t learn how to ride a horse until he was in his forties and had to learn for movie roles. His father operated a hotel and was also involved in oil production.
As a young man, George Hayes worked in a circus and played semi-pro baseball as a teenager. He ran away from home at 17, in 1902, and joined a touring stock company. He married Olive Ireland in 1914 and the pair became quite successful in vaudeville. But it wasn’t until Hayes got to Hollywood in 1929 that he made his mark and developed his world famous persona in Westerns.
He played in scores of Westerns and non-Westerns alike, finally in the mid-1930s settling in to an almost exclusively Western career. He first gained fame as Hopalong Cassidy’s sidekick Windy Halliday in the Hoppy films between 1936-39. In many early films, he alternated between whiskered comic-relief sidekicks and clean-shaven bad guys, but by the later 1930s, he worked almost exclusively as a Western sidekick to stars such as John Wayne, Gene Autry, Roy Rogers and Randolph Scott.
What most people never knew was that in real life Gabby was the exact opposite of what he appeared to be on screen. He was an intelligent, articulate, well-groomed man. A serious, well dressed, well read and elegant man, he was well liked by all who knew him and worked with him. George was a far cry from the grizzled old ornery coot named Gabby that he played to the hilt.
After his last film, in 1950, he starred as the host of a network television show devoted to stories of the Old West for children, “The Gabby Hayes Show” (1950). Hayes devoted the final years of his life to his investments. He lived in North Hollywood and passed away at Saint Joseph Hospital in Burbank, California, on February 9, 1969.
Well, all this jawbonin’ about Gabby has givin’ me a powerful appee-tite. Yep, I’m a-getting’ mighty hong-gry. So I guess I’ll jes mosey along (or maybe skedaddle off) and rustle me up some grub. Happy trails, until we meet again, partners! (Just for the record, in the three days at the Vee Bar Ranch, we never once heard anyone say “rustle up some grub.” It was more like, “What time would you like to have dinner?”)