Hoot Gibson (August 6, 1892 - August 23, 1962) was an American rodeo champion and a pioneer cowboy film actor, director and producer.
Early life and career:
Born Edmund Richard Gibson in Tekamah, Nebraska, he learned to ride a horse while still a very young boy. His family moved to California when he was seven years old. As a teenager he worked with horses on a ranch, which led to competition on bucking broncos at area rodeos. Given the nickname "Hoot Owl" by co-workers, the name evolved to just "Hoot".
In 1910, film director Francis Boggs was looking for experienced cowboys to appear in his silent film short, Pride of the Range. Gibson and another future star of Western films, Tom Mix, were hired. Gibson made a second film for Boggs in 1911. After a deranged employee killed Boggs, director Jack Conway hired Gibson to appear in his 1912 Western, His Only Son.
Acting for Gibson was then a minor sideline, and he continued competing in rodeos to make a living. In 1912, he won the all-around championship at the famous Pendleton Round-Up in Pendleton, Oregon and the steer roping World Championship at the Calgary Stampede.
Gibson's career was temporarily interrupted with service in the United States Army during World War I. When the war ended, he returned to the rodeo business and became good friends with Art Acord, a fellow cowboy and movie actor. The two participated in summer rodeo then went back to Hollywood for the winter to do stunt work. For several years, Gibson had secondary film roles (primarily in Westerns) with stars such as Harry Carey. By 1921, the demand for cowboy pictures was so great that Gibson began receiving offers for leading roles. Some of these offers came from up-and-coming film director John Ford, with whom Gibson developed a lasting friendship and working relationship.
Financial difficulties and later life:
From the 1920s through the 1940s, Hoot Gibson was a major film attraction, ranking second only to Tom Mix as a western film box office draw. He successfully made the transition to talkies and as a result became a highly paid performer. He appeared in his own comic books and was wildly popular until singing cowboys such as Gene Autry and Roy Rogers displaced him.
In 1927, actor Gibson, and five other California businessman sponsored The Spirit of Los Angeles, a modification of the International CF-10 for an attempt at winning the Dole Air Derby. Gibson had his name painted on the nose for publicity. The aircraft crashed in the San Francisco Bay before the start of the race.
In 1933, Gibson injured himself when he crashed his plane while racing cowboy star Ken Maynard in the National Air Races. Later, the two friends teamed up to make a series of low budget movies in the twilight of their careers.
Gibson's years of substantial earnings did not see him through his retirement. He had squandered much of his income on high living and poor investments. By the 1950s, Gibson faced financial ruin, aided in part by costly medical bills from serious health problems. To get by and pay his bills, he earned money as a greeter at a Las Vegas casino. For a time, he worked in a carnival and took virtually any job his dwindling name value could obtain. This included an episode of Groucho's You Bet Your Life, filmed in December 1955. He made the final game with his contestant but didn't win the big money, though he earned himself a share of the $440 prize money for the show.
Hoot Gibson married Rose August Wenger, a rodeo performer he had met at the Pendleton Round-Up in Oregon sometime between 1911 and 1913. Under the name Helen Gibson, she became a major film star in her own right for a time, notably in the lead role of The Hazards of Helen adventure film serial. Census records for 1920 indicate they were living separately; Hoot Gibson listed himself as married; Helen listed herself as widowed.
Following their separation/divorce, Gibson met a young woman named Helen Johnson, whom he married in either 1920 or 1922 and with whom he had one child, Lois Charlotte Gibson. They divorced in 1930. The fact that Hoot Gibson was married to two consecutive women who used the name Helen Gibson in some fashion has led to a good deal of confusion.
After his divorce from Helen Johnson Gibson, Gibson had a brief marriage to film actress Sally Eilers, which ended in 1933. Gibson married a final time, to Dorothy Dunstan, on July 3, 1942.
Hoot Gibson died of cancer in 1962 in Woodland Hills, Los Angeles, California and was interred in the Inglewood Park Cemetery in Inglewood, California.
For his contribution to motion pictures, Hoot Gibson has a star on the Hollywood Walk of Fame at 1765 Vine Street. In 1979, he was inducted into the Western Performers Hall of Fame at the National Cowboy & Western Heritage Museum in Oklahoma City, Oklahoma.