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ANDY DEVINEby Karin Goudy ©
|There must be somebody who hasn't heard of Andy Devine,
but that person sure
doesn't live in Kingman where Andy is becoming somewhat of
a folk hero. Who would have thought on November
16,1906, when Amy Devine, Mae, her stepdaughter, and Tom,
Jr., her son, stepped from the train in Kingman, that the
year old boy she was carrying in her arms would turn out
to be Kingman's favorite son? Amy's husband, Tom,
had been a railroad employee in Flagstaff until a terrible
accident had taken his leg. Unable to continue his
work for the railroad, he took the settlement they offered
and purchased the Beale Hotel.
Tom Devine was 36 years old when he came to Kingman, an affable and likable irish Catholic, who was a second generation American. Although not as well educated as his wife Amy, and it has been said that she schooled him, he was educated enough to be elected Treasurer of Coconino County, He later served as Mohave County's Treasurer for many years and was a successful and respected businessman in this community. Tom Devine was also a community minded man. One of the more interesting endeavors that he was involved with was the Good Roads Association, a group of Northern Arizona citizens who were successful in having the National Old Trails Highway take the northern route rather than the southern route through Phoenix. This highway became the famous Route 66.
Amy Devine, Andy's mother, was probably a greater influence in his life than his father. She had been a teacher and tutor and had tutored the children of the Governor of Nevada before her marriage to Tom. It was Amy who patiently helped Andy recover his speech after the accident that damaged his throat and who strove to curb the exceptional energy that got him into many scrapes and accidents as a child. Amy was also a community-minded woman. She was a member of the Red Cross Relief Corp., was confirmed and became active in the Catholic Church and, at one time, tried to start an Elks' ladies group called the Does. That particular endeavor was not successful
If there is one thing that Andy's old Kingman friends agree on it is that Andy had one heck of a lot of exuberance. This trait frequently got him hurt. As early as February 29, 1908, the Mohave Miner was reporting that "Andrew, the three year old child of Mr.& Mrs. Thomas Devine, fell from the rear porch of the Beale Hotel to the ground, a distance of about 13 feet sustaining a fracture of the left arm and sundry cuts and bruises. The little fellow is getting along nicely.' It may have been the last time anyone called Andy "a little fellow," but it was not the last time he made the papers for a broken bone. On May 23,1914, the Miner again reported that "Andrew... fell from the rear porch of the Hogan residence and fractured an arm." And, according to Andy's wife, he broke another bone when he fell out of a tree while military school.
The stories about the mischievous young boy abound, both in Kingman and within Andy's family. Glenn Johnson, long time friend, said he always remembered two particular incidents about Andy. One was that in a greased pig contest Andy caught the pig because he tripped and fell on it. Even as a boy he was large and he just flattened the pig. Glenn also remembered that toward the end of WWI there was a Liberty Bond drive, and the army brought in a M1917 two man tank with a 30 caliber machine gun. Andy climbed on the back and rode all over town much to the amusement of the townsfolk and the dismay of the tank driver who could not get him off and drive the tank at the same time.
Dorothy Devine says the various versions of the "cat incident" make Andy sound awful, but she says the incident did indeed occur. What actually happened was that one of the local judges offered Andy and a friend 50 cents to get rid of a mangy old cat for him. He emphasized that they do so in humane manner. Fifty cents was a princely sum in those days, so Andy and his friend undertook this assignment.. They knew where some dynamite was, so took cat, dynamite and a long, long fuse to the dump where they proceeded to carefully wrap the cat in dynamite. What could be more humane than instant destruction, they reasoned. They lit the fuse and ran like crazy. They looked around and much to their dismay found the cat following them fuse burning vigorously. The boys ran by the Van Marter house and the cat ran under the house. Andy said he was terrified that the dynamite would blow up the house, but the cat ran out from under the house and into the woodshed. The woodshed blew sky high. No one ever knew what happened until years later Andy, in a personal appearance in Kingman, confessed to the crime.
There is one more Andy Devine "mischievous boy " story, and it is a favorite. Andy and his brother Tom both worked in the Beale Hotel for their father. Among the clientele were many salesmen, or drummers, as they were called in those days. They used to pack their satchels, park them near the front door and then play pool in the pool room while waiting for the train. One time Andy took hammer and nails, nailed the satchels to the floor and then shouted, "Train's a leavin'!" into the pool room. The drummers made a dash for the door, grabbed their satchels, but left the bottoms plus contents on the floor when they hurriedly jerked up on the handles. It worked better than Andy dreamed, but Dorothy says he wasn't able to sit down for a week.
According to Irma Lang, daughter of the theater owner in Kingman, Andy was a rascal, but more important he always told the truth, and he was always polite. He was also something of a ladies' man, but treated them politely as well. Andy didn't get in many fights, but Johnny Adams, a professional boxer from 1919-1931, was a real slugger. Johnny didn't lose many fights, but he lost his first one (in the fourth grade) to Andy Devine. "He started in on me because I swore in front of my sister .. my sister, who was older, stepped in, hit Andy a couple of times and broke it up." Andy must have been confused to be attacked by the girl he was defending.
Andy Devine was a small town boy, and he retained all his life those qualities which we associate with growing up in a small town. He never "went Hollywood" but instead went through life with a good sense of what was important. In a place where divorce was the name of the game, Andy and Dorothy were happily married for over forty years. They were introduced by Will Rogers, who kidded Andy about robbing the cradle and being a dirty old man, because Dorothy was only 19 and Andy was 29 when they were married, in 1933. Dorothy says they spent one night of their honeymoon in the Beale HoteL Andy told her they would stay in the new part, but she remembers a room so small that one of them had to go out in the corridor to give the other room to dress.
They raised their boys on a ranch away from the false glitter of the movie industry and kept their life separate from the movie colony. Andy and the boys were active in scouting and 4-H. They raised pigeons and horses, hunted and fished, and got interested in ham radios. Andy told his boys that he would try to live his life not to embarrass them, if they would do the same for him. After appearing with Andy in Canyon Passage in 1946, the boys decided movie acting wasn't for them. Tad and Dennis both graduated from college and from that time on were independent of their parents' wealth. Both Dorothy and Andy can take pride in a job well done in child raising.
Although Andy Devine's acting career started out as an accidental happening - he was standing on a street corner in Hollywood when "discovered" - he had to struggle to make his career successful. Andy's first picture was a silent film and, as a bit player, he made several such films in the mid-to-late 1920's. But the talkies came on the scene and Devine's film career appeared to be over, primarily because of his voice which was high, squeaky and had a timorous catch to it. The dramatic parts were out, but, with the popularity of the "rah-rah" college movies, Andy's voice became as asset. They put him in a bearskin coat and he became the friendly sophomore cheerleader. The "voice" which almost cost him his career, eventually became the key to Andy's success and popularity in films, stage, radio and television. Once heard, those raspy, squeaky tones are never forgotten. That voice, plus his bulky frame led inevitably to the comedic roles for which he is well known. The "steam calliope with the broken key" was the voice he grew up with although not the one he was born with. According to his wife, Dorothy, Andy was jumping up and down on the couch with a curtain rod in his mouth when be was a small boy. He fell and was seriously injured in the throat and vocal cords. For two years after the accident he could not speak without stuttering and the characteristic "break" was a direct result of that accident. A common rumor was that he had nodes on his vocal cords. He did not, but joked that he had the same "nodes" as Bing Crosby, but Crosby's were in tune. Once persuaded to see a doctor, Andy was told that it was his voice and he was stuck with it. Lucky Andy. Imagine being stuck with a voice that was insured by Lloyds of London for a "half a million"
It was not only the voice that made Andy "an original," as his friend Guy Madison called him. He had a fine sense of the comic relief character so important to the western morality play.. Although in his first western, Law and order (1932), he played a dull-witted young man who is hanged after an accidental killing, that type of role soon gave way to the "sidekick." He played Cookie Bullfincher in nine movies, replacing Gabby Hayes in the Roy Rogers' movies, and continued throughout his career playing the comic relief roles in musicals, westerns, and even a couple of gangster pictures.
Most of those films were Class B pictures, but Andy was one of those actors who could and did cross the line frequently into the Class A movies. His first class A movie, Stagecoach (1939) in which he played the stage driver, was a tremendous boost to his career. The making of the movie also brought him a friendship with John Wayne that lasted until Andy's death. Andy made more Class A movies than any other western sidekick except for Walter Brennan.
The rumor that Andy played Shakespeare is true. In Romeo and Juliet (1937) - with Norma Shearer, Andy donned tights and played Peter, the manservant, to excellent reviews. He also played in the original "A Star is born" one of his favorite films.
Andy made film after film until the mid 50's when he decided to be more selective. Some of those selections include Island in the Sky, Around The World in 80 Days, and a return to westerns with his roles of Marshal Link Appleyard in The Man Who Shot Liberty Valance, with his old friend John Wayne.
Devine was also a very successful television star, with the role of Jingles in Wild Bill Hickok being the most famous. In 1974, 20 years after the series, Andy was boarding a plane in Miami when a bomb was reported. All the passengers had to open their luggage so everything could be inspected. When the FBI agent came to Andy, he passed him through saying, "If you Can't trust Jingles, who can you trust."
His stage career was also an important part of his later acting years. He played the Captain in Showboat (1957) and went on to play in Anything Goes (1961), My Three Angels and Never Too Late. Andy was a delight to work with. He believed that he was only as good as the best actor on the stage and went out of his way to help newcomers. Live theater was different than movie acting. The stage requires a lot of publicity, but interviewers found themselves being interviewed instead. Andy was interested in people and wanted to know all about them. Dorothy traveled with Andy in his stage work. She laughingly calls her job "his wardrobe mistress," but she was much more than that. She was in fact the one who took care of all the details of which there were many.
He retired once, but it drove both Andy and Dorothy crazy so he went back to work and was still acting until shortly before his death, in 1977. In all, Andy made over 400 films and more radio, stage and television appearances than anyone cared to count. He was in the first pictures that Hollywood greats Henry Fonda, Jimmy Stewart and John Wayne made.
There is no doubt that Andy Devine is well loved by his peers, his fans and his hometown. He remained true to himself and his upbringing to the end, retaining his good-natured, unassuming personality despite his illness with leukemia. Andy died of cardiac arrest in 1977. Andy was buried at the Pacific View Memorial Park in Corona Del Mar, CA. His brother, Tom, followed, early in 1986. Andy's funeral reduced John Wayne and Jimmy Stewart to tears and Guy Madison praised him because to Andy "each Man's time is important, no matter his station in life.", We, in Kingman, celebrate Andy Devine Days, partly because he was a famous movie star, but primarily because he was one of our own, a decent, caring man who took what gifts he had and built a life to be proud of, if we listen carefully on Andy Devine Days we may hear, above the hoopla and fanfare, a squeaky, raspy voice, saying, "I've got the best seat in the house".
Golden West Airlines Magazine, October 1976
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