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Kirby Grant

Real name:
Kirby Grant Hoon, Jr.

1911 - 1985

(From Old Corral image collection)

Above, Grant during his western film days at Universal.  He was Universal's last B western star (assuming you don't count the Tex Williams shorts of the late 1940s - early 1950s).


Special thanks to guest commentator Paul Dellinger for authoring the following narrative and background info on Kirby Grant


Kirby Grant surprised his fans at several film conventions by proving to have a fine singing voice. He hardly ever sang in his films, certainly not his best-known ones at Universal and Monogram or in his TV series (SKY KING, 1951-1954). His Universal sidekick, Fuzzy Knight, probably logged more on-screen singing than Grant.

But it was music that started him in the entertainment business. He won a scholarship to Chicago's American Conservatory of Music as a violinist and singer (he played a quartet singer and violinist in 1935 in his first movie appearance, uncredited, I DREAM TOO MUCH starring Henry Fonda).He encountered his first bad guy in Depression-era Chicago, when he and his band were playing in a nightclub. When their time was up, one of a group of men conferring said they were enjoying the group's music and asked if the band would play a little longer. The band complied and, afterward, the guy who had made the request placed a $100 bill in the pocket of each musician. Kirby said he later learned the man's name was Al Capone.

Sometimes billed as Robert Stanton, Grant's second movie was his first western, RED RIVER RANGE (1938), one of Republic's John Wayne-Crash Corrigan-Max Terhune Three Mesquiteers flicks. Next came supporting roles at RKO in a couple of George O'Brien westerns, LAWLESS VALLEY (1939) and BULLET CODE (1940).



(Courtesy of Les Adams)

Above from left to right are Burr Caruth, Lorna Gray (Adrian Booth), Bob McKenzie, Kirby Grant, John Wayne, Ray Corrigan, Sammy McKim, Elmer and Max Terhune in a scene from RED RIVER RANGE (Republic, 1938), one of the 8 Three Mesquiteers adventures in which Wayne appeared.


The next four years brought appearances in non-westerns such as MEXICAN SPITFIRE, DR. KILDARE'S VICTORY, BLONDIE GOES LATIN, ABBOTT AND COSTELLO IN SOCIETY and GHOST CATCHERS, among others. And he did get to be a singer in HELLO, FRISCO, HELLO. The only western during this period was an appearance in Johnny Mack Brown's second one at Monogram, THE STRANGER FROM PECOS (1943). Also worth mentioning is an uncredited appearance as a pilot in BOMBARDIER (1943), a World War II movie starring Pat O'Brien and Randolph Scott, and Richard Martin as Chito Jose Gonzales Bustamonte Rafferty --- a character lifted out of this picture and plunked down in a series of RKO westerns with Robert Mitchum and Tim Holt (and James Warren, although with a different actor as Chito).

Grant left Hollywood for the Army, serving until 1944 when he rejoined Johnny Mack Brown and Raymond Hatton at Monogram for a supporting role in LAW MEN. But the next year he was the leading man in what would prove to be Universal's last western series, stepping into the boots of Johnny Mack Brown (who had moved to Monogram) and Rod Cameron (who had moved up to better roles) at that studio. He drew Fuzzy Knight as his comic sidekick.

Knight had performed similar service in the Johnny Mack Brown westerns at Universal, and elsewhere. One of Knight's better roles had been in the A-budget movie, TRAIL OF THE LONESOME PINE, in which he brought tears to the eyes of movie audiences singing "Twilight on the Trail" at the funeral of a child played by former Little Rascal Spanky McFarland (Grant sang the song in honor of his former saddle pal at a film convention in Charlotte, N.C.). Fuzzy's swan song would be in six Lippert westerns where he co-starred with Jimmy Ellison, Russ Hayden and Raymond Hatton (and in one of them, he shocks the audience by proving to be the villain). Soon after, he joined Buster Crabbe for the CAPTAIN GALLANT OF THE FOREIGN LEGION TV show.

In his first outing, BAD MEN OF THE BORDER (1945), Grant masquerades as an outlaw and is helped by Armida as a female Mexican agent to catch counterfeiting ring. Also released in 1945 were CODE OF THE LAWLESS, and TRAIL TO VENGENANCE (in which Grant gets vengeance on his brother's killer). Grant's and Knight's other four features came out in 1946. Jane Adams, Grant's leading lady in TRAIL TO VENGEANCE, did those honors again in GUNMAN'S CODE where Grant and Knight are Wells Fargo agents; RUSTLER'S ROUNDUP, just what it sounds like, and LAWLESS BREED, with our heroes accused of murder and escaping a lynch mob to find the real ones. This was the last movie of the series. The remaining movie was GUN TOWN, with Louise Currie as a bullwhip-wielding stage driver along the lines of Jean Arthur's 'Calamity Jane' in Cecil B. deMille's THE PLAINSMAN. In fact, she steals the show from Grant, even to plugging chief villain Lyle Talbot at the end. Talbot's character is engaged to Currie while actually romancing saloon girl Claire Carleton (who, in turn, is enticing Currie's brother into the outlaw gang). The film appears to have a bigger budget than it does with judicious use of footage from bigger budgeted predecessors, including an Indian attack on the town in the finale.

While doing his western series, Grant continued appearing in non-westerns and even as a western radio singer in SONG OF IDAHO (Columbia, 1948). For his next series, he moved to Monogram/Allied Artists and co-starred with a white dog named Chinook in a Mountie series loosely based on the books of James Oliver Curwood. Again, Grant continued appearing in other roles in such movies as BLACK MIDNIGHT, FEUDIN' RHYTHM (both 1949) and INDIAN TERRITORY (1950).



(From Old Corral image collection)

Barbara Sears has a sixgun on Kirby Grant in a lobby card from BAD MEN OF THE BORDER (Universal, 1945). This was the first of six Kirby Grant B westerns for Universal. Grant replaced Rod Cameron who was moved to higher grade features.



(From Old Corral image collection)

Above from left to right are an unidentified player, 'Chinook the Wonder Dog', and Kirby Grant in NORTHERN PATROL (Allied Artists, 1953), one of the Mountie series that Grant did for Monogram/Allied Artists in which he played "Cpl. Rod Webb, RCMP".



(From Old Corral image collection)

Above from left to right are Bill Phipps, 'Chinook the Wonder Dog', Grant and pretty Gloria Talbott in another scene from NORTHERN PATROL (Allied Artists, 1953).


TRAIL OF THE YUKON introduced the Mountie and his dog in 1949. CALL OF THE KLONDIKE (in which the Mountie looks for a girl's missing father and a lost gold mine); THE WOLF HUNTERS (involving yet another lost mine) and SNOW DOG (with wolves used as instruments of murder) followed in 1950. NORTHWEST TERRITORY (solving the mystery of a man murdered for his oil claim) and YUKON MANHUNT (with Gail Davis and Rand Brooks among the suspects in a series of payroll robberies) came out in 1951. YUKON GOLD was the only movie in the series released in 1952, and boasted Martha Hyer as a gold camp gambler. Grant's Mountie 'Rod Webb' tracked down illegal trappers in FANGS OF THE ARCTIC and Indian burial ground plunderers in NORTHERN PATROL, both in 1953. The series ended in 1954 with YUKON VENGEANCE, with Monte Hale appearing as a villain.

That pretty much ended Grant's movie career, but television was waiting. SKY KING had proved a popular radio show starting on ABC as a 15-minute series in 1947 and quickly becoming a half-hour show, alternating weekdays with JACK ARMSTRONG through 1950 and moving to Mutual where it continued until 1954. Future TV newsman Mike Wallace was among those who announced for it and touted Peter Pan Peanut Butter to listeners. The radio character was played by so many actors (Jack Lester, Roy Engel, Earl Nightingale, John Reed King) that, unlike the Lone Ranger's Brace Beemer or Sgt. Preston's Paul Sutton, his radio voice never became all that identifiable. Schuyler (Sky) King was an Arizona rancher who rode a palomino (Yellow Fury) and flew a couple of airplanes (the Songbird and Flying Arrow) while running the Flying Crown Ranch with Penny and Clipper, his niece and nephew, and foreman Jim Bell, whose wife, Martha, was the cook, and in one memorable episode clobbered a gunman with a skillet.



Grant as TV's SKY KING
The TV show began appearing in 1951 on NBC and by 1952 it was on ABC, where it finished in 1953. But at 72 episodes, there were enough for frequent re-runs and, more recently, boxed videotapes.

Grant appeared with the Carson and Barnes Circus, until 1970. He later became a public relations director at Sea World in Florida.

Kirby Grant was born November 24, 1911, in Butte, Montana. He was killed in a car accident in Florida on October 30, 1985.  Grant and his wife Carolyn had moved to Florida around 1971.  They had two daughters, Kendra and Kristin, and a son, Kirby III.

The Motion Picture Herald and Boxoffice polls were conducted from about the mid 1930s through the mid 1950s.  With a few exceptions, the annual results would list the 'Top Ten' (or 'Top Five') cowboy film stars.  In most cases, the winners were what you would expect --- Autry, Rogers, Holt, Starrett, Hoppy, etc.  Kirby Grant never achieved a ranking in those polls.



Grant at 1980s film/nostalgia conventions


(Courtesy of Minard Coons)

Above - pretty Republic Pictures heroine Peggy Stewart and Kirby Grant.


Right - Kirby Grant with a great smile for the camera.

 

(Courtesy of Minard Coons)



Robert Stanton Confusion & Chaos


Les Adams adds a tidbit about two men named Robert Stanton, one of whom was Kirby Grant.  Grant dropped the Robert Stanton name in 1945 for good.  The 'other' Robert Stanton was crooner Dick Haymes' brother Robert 'Bob' Haymes, who sang with the big bands of Orrin Tucker, Bob Chester, Freddie Martin, others.  The Stanton name had hardly gotten cold before Columbia and Bob Haymes adapted it for what appears to be one film only, THE GENTLEMEN MISBEHAVES (Columbia,1946). Haymes was in at least eight Columbia films prior to THE GENTLEMEN MISBEHAVES under the name of Bob Haymes (SAILOR'S HOLIDAY, SWING OUT THE BLUES, BLONDE FROM BROOKLYN AND TWO SENORITAS FROM CHICAGO, etc.). Robert Stanton (as a name for anybody) departed the scene after THE GENTLEMEN MISBEHAVES. But that one-time use by Haymes and Columbia was enough to give Kirby Grant a film credit he doesn't have. Well, he has it in most sources, but it isn't his.  Additionally, some bios and filmographies on Grant give him credit for a half dozen or more of the Bob Haymes films, when Haymes was billed as Haymes, not Stanton.


LINKS

  Although some of the data is incomplete or inaccurate, the Internet Movie Database (IMDB) has information on Kirby Grant: http://us.imdb.com/name/nm0335510/

Jim Tipton's Find A Grave website has a photo of the marker for Kirby Grant Hoon, Jr. at the Missoula Cemetery, Missoula, Montana: http://www.findagrave.com/cgi-bin/fg.cgi?page=gr&GRid=12561

There's a variety of Sky King clips on YouTube. But there is also a news broadcast from October, 1985 about Grant's death in a car accident on the way to see a shuttle launch: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=e7W1_8ozEiE

Boyd Magers has a writeup on Kirby Grant and the SKY KING TV show at his Western Clippings website: http://www.westernclippings.com/remember/skyking_doyouremember.shtml

Kent Volgamore's SKY KING TV show website is at: http://www.skyking.com/

The Sky King Fan Club website is at: http://www.angelfire.com/mi/freeper/

The TVparty.com website has a page on SKY KING: http://www.tvparty.com/lostkids3.html

There's a large photo of Grant, Gloria Winters and the Songbird plane, along with some info on the (Original) Apple Valley Airport, Apple Valley, CA. The website mentions that the airport was built and owned by Roy Rogers. Go to: http://www.airfields-freeman.com/CA/Airfields_CA_SanBernardino_W.htm

The TV Acres website also has a page on SKY KING and his Cessna 310-B airplane: http://www.tvacres.com/aircraft_civilian_songbird.htm

There's some info on Kirby Grant, and the two different Sky King airplanes which were nicknamed the "Songbird". The first plane was a UC-78 "Bobcat" (military version of the Cessna T-50) and the second was a Cessna 310. For more info on these twin-engine aircraft, go to:
http://www.airportjournals.com/Display.cfm?varID=0603015
http://www.flightsim.com/main/review/c310.htm
http://www.cessnat50.org/



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