Sunday, March 28, 2010

Underrated Performer of the Week: Andy Devine

Andy Devine, the comic character actor, is this week's Underrated Performer. Andy was born on Octber 7, 1905 in Flagstaff, Arizonia and was raised in Kingman, Arizona.

His trademark high-pitch, gravelly voice was the result of a childhood accident. The story goes that while running with a stick (some versions have it as a curtain rod) in his mouth, Andy tripped and fell, ramming the object through the roof of his mouth. For about a year, he was unable to speak at all. When his voice came back, it had the wheezing, almost duo-toned sound that would become his trademark and make him a star.

Andy was a athlete, playing college football at St. Mary & St. Bendedict College, Arizona State Teachers College, and Santa Clara University. He was good enough to play semi-pro football under the fake name of Jeremiah Schwartz to keep his college amateur status.

Andy's first role was a uncredited part in the 1926 silent film The Collegians. He keep working in silent films, scoring his first good role in 1931's The Spirit of Notre Dame, playing a football player named Truck McCall. From then on, Andy was on his way.

He worked on the original 1932 Destry Rides Again starring Tom Mix, but his part wound up being deleted. In 1933, he made his first of four films for William "Wild Man" Wellman, Midnight Mary. It was followed by 1937's A Star Is Born and 1938's Men With Wings.

His next big film was John Ford's Stagecoach (1939), where he played the stagecoach driver Buck. John Ford gave Andy the part because of his actual experience in driving a six-horse team. Andy worked all through the 1940s, usually playing the comic relief. Some of his better films of this period are 1940's Buck Benny Rides Again with Jack Benny, 1941's The Flame of New Orleans with Marlene Dietrich, and Bruce Cabot, 1943's war film Corvette K-225 with Randolph Scott, and 1951's The Red Badge of Courage.

In 1951, Andy became well-known for playing Jingles P. Jones, a role Burl Ives turned down. in The Adventures of Wild Bill Hickok staring Guy Madison.

In 1953, Andy again teamed with William Wellman in the film Island in the Sky, one of the best films about flying search and rescue ever made. Wellman gave him the dramatic part of Willie Moon, a C47 pilot who leads a mission to find the downed John Wayne. It's by far my favorite of Andy's roles. In real life, Andy was a excellent pilot and owned a flying school that trained pilots for the US during World War II. Jack Webb also let Andy play a dramatic role in his 1955 film Pete Kelly's Blues. Andy played detective George Tenell.

In 1955, before the Wild Bill show ended, Andy took over the job of hosting a kids show that for, some of us of "'a certain age" would be what we remember Andy for: Andy's Gang, which ran from 1955 to 1960.

Andy worked on TV and films all during the 1960s and 1970s . His films include: John Ford's Two Rode Together and The Man Who Shot Liberty Valance, How the West Was Won, It's a Mad Mad Mad Mad World, Myra Breckinridge, the voice of Friar Tuck in Disney's animated Robin Hood and the TV film The Over The Hill Gang. His last film was Won Ton Ton: The Dog That Saved Hollywood.

His TV work includes: Wagon Train, The Twilight Zone, Hap Gorman on the first five episodes of Flipper, Batman, Burke's Law, Gunsmoke, The Virginian, and Alias Smith & Jones. His last project was the 1977 The Mouse and His Child as the voice of the Frog.

Andy has two stars on the Hollywood Hall of Fame, one for radio and one for TV. The main street in Kingman, Arizona is named Andy Devine Boulevard.

Andy died on February 18, 1977 in Orange CA.


  1. What a fun pick for the week, Paul! I remember watching "Wild Bill Hickok" in syndicated reruns as a kid (didn't Guy Madison always kinda jump on his horse?). I'd never heard the story about Andy's voice and didn't realize he was in so many well-known movies.

  2. Who, "of a certain age," doesn't love Andy Devine? My brother and I watched "Andy's Gang" with glee (and, of course, "Wild Bill Hickcock"). He was one of those character actors that adds to any film or TV show he appeared in. Thanks for spotlighting Andy, Paul!

  3. Rick,and Eve, thanks for the kind comments. this was fun to do. Rick , from 1932 to 1948 Andy was in over 100 films , IMDb lists 182 credits for him. Eve , when I was doing research for this I was saddened by the comments on you tube about what a "creepy and perverted" show Andy's gang was. I hope they did not came from those of us of "A Certain Age"

  4. ...well, if they did, those were the kids that didn't get it! I would say "Andy's Gang" was a bit subversive, but great fun. I supposed the same could be said of "PeeWee's Playhouse" a few decades later...

  5. Paul, What a wonderful post on Andy Devine. I think my favorite performance of Andy's is, Stagecoach. I do not remember watching "Andy's Gang". I will have to check it out.. We were driving down Andy Devine Boulevard, about a month ago.

  6. Dawn, Andy's Gang was a product of it's time . I don't know if it plays as well today, but my Four year old son Matthew is starting to like Froggy (I'm getting scared)LOL

  7. Paul, this was a fascinating post to read. I enjoyed both the You-tube clips. I was especially interested to read about Andy's work in training WWII pilots. I have just returned home from a visit with my favorite WWII pilot - my father - so your research meant a lot to me. Excellent article, Paul!

  8. Toto, thanks for the kind words. My dad was a WII pilot also.