Roy Rogers, Dale Evans and Gabby Hayes in a publicity still. (Republic Pictures)
GOWER GULTCH — The mirror doesn’t lie. Nor does the bottom of a prospector’s pan.
After more than a month without shaving, I took a good look at myself this morning. That’s when I realized, I no longer look like Tony Hayes – I look more like my distant cousin, Gabby.
Yes, George L. “Gabby” Hayes – the most beloved dagnabbed sidewinder to ever hit the dusty trail.
Perhaps that is fitting, given that isolation has started to make me more cantankerous than ever. I only worry that my writing will eventually sound like genuine frontier gibberish.
For those of you scratching the fleas out of yer britches, you can find ol’ Gabby chomping his gums in hundreds of films (most of them Westerns) from the mid-1920s til his final feature in 1950. There were also numerous radio appearances for our high-falutin friend. And a television show that ran for five whole seasons to boot. Not bad for a former Vaudevillian from New York, who turned up in Hollywood at age 45, after the stock market crash in 1929 wiped out his life savings.
Gabby Hayes had a fine full beard – not unlike the one I am presently sporting – and a knowing little twinkle in his ever-squinting eyes. I’m pretty sure I could pull off that very same look, if I was under some desperado’s gun.
It’s true that Hollywood no longer makes the kind of big-name Westerns, where character actors like Gabby Hayes shined. And that’s a real shame.
Look around – where is today’s Roy Rogers? Gene Autry? Bob Steele? Tom Mix, Randolph Scott or John Wayne?
Smiley Burnette, Slim Pickens and Pat Buttram – gone.
Andy Devine, Eddy Waller, Chill Wills and Charley Grapewin – gone.
Jack Elam, Paul Brinegar, Frank McGrath and Ken Curtis – all gone.
Edgar Buchanan? (Folks say he is still snoozing on a hotel porch in Hooterville.)
Still, I can’t help but wonder if keeping these graying whiskers might mean hitting pay-dirt with a lucrative movie career?
The way I see it, hoary hair follicles are the hardest thing to get over with CGI. Add a bit of knee-slapping-dialogue-spitting, and an impromptu Irish jig – like the turn Walter Huston gave us in The Treasure of the Sierra Madre – and you can see how I’d reason The Real McCoy may still have a future in film.
(Bonus points to anyone who just read “The Real McCoy” and made a subliminal connection to the late Walter Brennan – who starred as Amos McCoy on television. Over the course of his 50-year career, Brennan won numerous accolades and three Academy Awards for portraying crusty curmudgeons – a feat only surpassed by the crustiest curmudgeon of them all: Katherine Hepburn. But I digress.)
Admittedly, a beard alone would not suffice for any parched pioneer. There is an entire array of affectations I would have to master, if I’m to sell myself to any aspiring Hopalong Cassidy.
The thread-bare wardrobe should be no problem. After all ~ I am a freelance writer. Then too, being hunched over my keyboard 24/7 for the last two months, I feel like I’m holding fast to the reins of a Conestoga wagon.
The gum-rubbing glares could be an issue, since Gabby usually kept his teeth in his shirt pocket, and for me to remove my pearly whites I’d need a pair of surgical pliers. But the cow-licked dome is easy enough to dodge, since no one expects a real western side-kick to remove his tattered Stetson hat.
When I mentioned this turnabout to my Sunday-go-to-meetin’ friend Miss Laura, she scoffed at the notion, saying, “You are always so stylishly arrayed when out in public. Being a wild-haired, wanna-be cousin of Gabby is quite a contrast to imagine!”
I thought that was a very nice thing to say; then, I suddenly remembered that the last time Laura saw me “stylishly arrayed when out in public”, we were waltzing together to “Beautiful Dreamer” at a rather staid Victorian Ball.
For the record, I was wearing a black frock coat, a silk cravat, and a brocade waistcoat that night. Imagine if I had been in a tanned-leather vest, a pair of Levis, and a neckerchief instead — sprightly spinning Miss Laura about to the strains of “Oh, Dem Golden Slippers.”
Her Paw might’a had me ridden outta town on a rail.
I could probably go on here a mite while longer, but I reckon that pot o’ beans on my camp fire is a bubblin’, my beefsteak is a sizzlin’, and the black coffee in the coals should be about right for soakin’ hard tack. Besides, with no particular place to be a’headin’, I’ll be nestled against my saddle once the sun sets low – a sorrowful harmonica in hand, my trusty Winchester at the ready, and a coyote’s howl to lull this ornery old-timer to sleep.
CALIFORNEE, HERE I COME!
Anthony C. Hayes is an actor, author, raconteur, rapscallion and bon vivant. A former reporter at The Washington Herald and an occasional contributor to the Voice of Baltimore, Tony’s poetry, humor and prose have also been featured in Smile, Hon, You’re in Baltimore; Magic Octopus Magazine; Destination Maryland, and Tales of Blood and Roses.