Andy Devine

Andy DevineProbably the last time anyone called him “Little Andy” was at about three years of age.  He was a big man not just in stature but in heart and soul.  He didn’t know at the tender age of one when he reached Kingman with his mom and dad that he would someday be the Route 66 town would name the main street for him and salute him as their favorite son.

After Tom Devine lost his leg while working on the Santa Fe Railroad in Flagstaff the family moved west to Kingman and bought the Beale Hotel.

Andy was so full of energy that it seemed he was always getting hurt in one way or another and sometimes it even made the local news.  The Mohave Miner reported February 29th, 1908 that “Andrew fell thirteen feet from the rear porch of the hotel sustaining a fracture of his left arm and various bruises.”

Most Kingman residents recalled the ornery pranks Andy committed during his youth.  One serious accident actually changed his life.  While jumping on the couch with a curtain rod in his mouth, he fell, damaged his throat and vocal cords; in fact for two years he couldn’t speak without a stutter and a cracking sound that later would become his stock in trade.

Andy started out in silent films, a good thing since his squeaky voice might not have worked on the silver screen. ; “talkies” ended the careers of a few silent film stars including the beautiful Clara Bow, who could never overcome her Brooklyn accent. Instead it became his ticket to stardom.  His voice was once described as a “steam calliope with the broken key,” but it turned out to be just what movie executives were looking for.

Andy could color a story redder ‘en a Navajo blanket. In 1927, as the era of silent movies was coming to an end a friend told him his career was finished as the film industry would never hire a guy with voice that sounded like it needed a squirt from an oil can.  So he went back to his bungalow in the San Fernando Valley and tried to commit suicide. He opened up the oven door, stuck his head in then reached up and turned on the gas. He waited for a while and nothing happened so he checked and found his landlady had turned off the gas because he hadn’t paid the rent.

His first “talkie” was Law and Order in 1932, he played a dull-witted young man who was hanged after an accidental killing but that role quickly turned to that of hero’s sidekick.  He played Cookie Bullfincher in nine movies before replacing Gabby Hayes in the Roy Rogers movies.  He usually played comic relief roles in musicals, westerns and even some gangster flicks.   While most of his movies were “B” type he jumped to the A-team with John Wayne in 1939 and also made a lifelong friend.

Andy Devine ended up playing more movie roles than anyone except Walter Brennen.  He managed to keep his wife Dorothy and his boys away from the glitter of Hollywood, raising the kids on a ranch.  He was active in 4-H, raised pigeons and horses, spent a lot of time fishing and even got involved in ham radio.

During his movie career he did some 400 movies, working with Hollywood’s elite.  His career was diverse, with A Star is Born, the original version,  Island in the Sky, Around the World in 80 Days, and The Man Who Shot Liberty Valence.  He also moved to the small screen, starring with Guy Madison as Jingles in Wild Bill Hickok.

Andy Devine always seems to be remembered as a kind and gentle man who was had a genuine interest in people.  He was loved by his peers as well as his home towners in Kingman.  When he died of heart failure while fighting leukemia in 1977 John Wayne and Jimmy Stewart were reduced to tears at the funeral.  Guy Madison praised the gentle giant of a man as one who believed each man’s time is important, no matter his station in life.

Kingman residents honor their favorite son each summer during the PRCA Rodeo with Andy Devine Days.

An actor never knows when that lucky breakthrough role comes along. Andy’s came in 1939 with the movie Stagecoach. Originally, director John Ford wanted one of his regulars, Ward Bond, for the role as the stage driver. Trouble was, Bond didn’t know how to “pull six ribbons,” or handle the six reins on a six-horse driven stagecoach and Andy did, so he got the job and the rest is history.

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Marshall Trimble

Marshall Trimble is Arizona’s official historian and the Wild West History Association’s vice president. His latest book is 2018’s Arizona Oddities: A Land of Anomalies and Tamales. Send your question, with your city/state of residence, to marshall.trimble@scottsdalecc.edu or Ask the Marshall, P.O. Box 8008, Cave Creek, AZ 85327.