Elected honorary Mayor of Van Nuys, California
A much-loved character actor from the silent era through the early 1970s, Andy Devine provided garrulous comic support to stars ranging from John Wayne to Roy Rogers in hundreds of films and television series, including "Stagecoach" (1939), "Island in the Sky" (1953), "The Man Who Shot Liberty Valance" (1962) and countless others. But it was his work on serial later TV Westerns that brought him his enduring fame, especially to younger viewers, who delighted in hearing Devine's creaky, broken-calliope voice warn Guy Madison's Wild Bill Hickok about impending danger. His currency among children was later doubled when he served as host of "Andy's Gang" (ABC, 1955-1960), a gentle if offbeat mix of storytelling, puppets and Devine's folksy axioms. As a result, he remained as popular in his sixties as he had as a young man playing comic hayseeds in the 1930s and 1940s, enjoying plum roles in "Valance" and "How the West Was Won" (1963), as well as on countless episodic television shows. Though he slowed his screen efforts in the 1960s, Devine was active on screen until the mid-1970s, lending his distinctive voice to animated features, including Disney's "Robin Hood" (1973) until his death in 1977. His status as a beloved comic player and rough-hewn but gentle father figure virtually canonized Devine for generations of movie and TV audiences.
Born Andrew Vabre Devine in Flagstaff, AZ on Oct. 7, 1905, he was the son of Thomas Devine, Jr., a former railway worker-turned-county treasurer and community planner, and his wife, Amy, a former teacher. Their son was, by most accounts, a mischievous if good-natured boy with a knack for surviving mishaps that would have left most children gravely injured. His distinctive wheezing vocals were reportedly the end result of one such accident; according to various sources, including Devine himself, he had injured his throat while running or jumping on a bed with a curtain rod in his mouth, which pierced the back of his throat. Left speechless for several years, he eventually regained his voice, albeit with a creaky break when it escalated in volume. The story, however, was one attributed to Devine's voice, none of which were ever substantiated.
Devine attended a variety of colleges before settling at Santa Clara University, where he was a star football player. He also allegedly played professional football under the name "Jeremiah Schwartz," but acting was his ultimate ambition. He moved to Hollywood in the late 1920s, working for a period as a lifeguard at Venice Beach before landing uncredited bit roles in silent shorts. His football background earned him his first substantial role in "The Spirit of Notre Dame" (1931), a college sports drama with Devine as an ersatz George Gipp, the famed "Gipper" and player under Coach Knute Rockne whose illness spurred his teammates to victory. Initially, Devine was concerned that his voice would prevent him from landing more roles in talking films, but it turned out to be his greatest asset, lending a vulnerable quality to his bearish frame that rendered him immensely likable.
He worked steadily throughout the 1930s, largely as humorous bucolic support in Western adventures and comedies. Despite his typecasting, he proved remarkably versatile. He was Edna May Oliver's nurse in the 1936 version of "Romeo and Juliet," and introduced Janet Gaynor's aspiring actress to faded star Fredric March in the original "A Star is Born" (1937). Most audiences, however, remembered him best as the jittery stage driver, Buck, in John Ford's classic "Stagecoach" (1939), a role which he would repeat, in various permutations, throughout his career. In addition to his screen career, Devine was a popular performer on radio, most notably on Jack Benny's program, where he appeared in the recurring "Buck Benny Rides Again" sketches. Devine worked steadily throughout the 1940s, providing solid comic support in B-Westerns and costume dramas opposite the likes of Randolph Scott and Jon Hall. In 1946, he replaced George "Gabby" Hayes as Roy Rogers' sidekick in a string of Westerns that ran until the end of the decade.
His success in the Rogers pictures led to one of his most enduring roles as Jingles P. Jones, sidekick to Guy Madison on "The Adventures of Wild Bill Hickok" (CBS/ABC, 1951-58), which endeared him to cowboy-loving children everywhere. Though horse operas took up much of his screen time, Devine maintained his presence in other features, most notably in John Huston's stark "Red Badge of Courage" (1951) and in a rare heroic turn as a pilot who leads a rescue mission to find John Wayne's downed plane in the Canadian wilds in "Island in the Sky" (1953). Another atypical turn came with Jack Webb's crime drama "Pete Kelly's Blues" (1955), for which he dropped his voice to a gravely baritone in order to play a corrupt Kansas City police detective.
While working on "Wild Bill Hickok," Devine was tapped to replace radio personality Smilin' Ed McConnell, who had died of a heart attack, on his weekly children's television series, "Smilin' Ed McConnell and His Gang." Devine assumed hosting duties for the series, which was retitled "Andy's Gang," and brought grandfatherly warmth to the program's organized chaos, which centered around the misadventures of a puppet called Froggy the Gremlin, who tormented his human co-stars. While working on both series, Devine continued to make appearances in big screen features as well as several stage shows, most notably a 1957 production of "Show Boat" in Long Island, NY.
Devine began to curtail his acting roles in the 1960s, though some of his best work came during this decade. He was the fear-struck marshal who shrank from corralling wild outlaw Lee Marvin in John Ford's "The Man Who Shot Liberty Valance" (1962), then served as a corporal under James Stewart in the sprawling "How the West Was Won" (1963). By the mid-1960s, he had largely retired to enjoy the wealth that had come his way through some shrewd real estate investments. But he was unable to stay away from acting for too long, and by the end of the decade, he was working steadily in children's films like "Zebra in the Kitchen" (1965) and Westerns for both the big and small screen. In 1969, he was featured among a cast of classic Western performers, including Walter Brennan, Edgar Buchanan, and Jack Elam in the TV movie "The Over-The-Hill Gang" (ABC), which proved popular enough to spawn a sequel for the network in 1970.
Devine was still relying on the charming qualities of his voice in the early 1970s, when he provided voices for several animated features, including the Walt Disney production "Robin Hood" (1973), for which he voiced Friar Tuck. At the time, his appeal among audiences remained undiminished, and he applied that popularity to various civic and charitable organizations, which briefly earned him the title of honorary mayor of Van Nuys, CA. His final screen credit came in the 1977 animated feature "The Mouse and His Child," which arrived in theaters in the same year as Devine's death. Long plagued by leukemia, Devine succumbed to a heart attack on Feb. 18, 1977. His funeral at the Pacific View Memorial Park in Corona Del Mar, CA was attended by many of his famous co-stars, including John Wayne and James Stewart, who paid their respects to the man who had done so much in support of their screen adventures.
By Paul Gaita
Cast (Feature Film)
Cast (TV Mini-Series)
Elected honorary Mayor of Van Nuys, California