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For This Actor, Gravel Flats Was Devine

In the Golden Age of Hollywood, many Southland communities saluted screen star residents as honorary mayors. Van Nuys extended such a title in 1938 to western actor Andy Devine.

Well-liked by audiences and fellow actors, Devine had a ranch on Woodman Avenue he called Gravel Flats. A favorite gathering place for his show business pals, it was named not for the soil--which was rich enough to grow towering corn crops--but for the owner’s distinctively squeaky voice, the result of a childhood vocal cord injury when he tripped with a curtain rod in his mouth.

The Arizona native was a star athlete at Santa Clara University, then drifted south to play a little pro football and pick up bit movie parts. When talkies arrived, the gravelly voice was his undoing. In one early sound movie, he was reduced to carrying the microphone. He quit for a job as a Venice lifeguard until a friend suggested he read for a small comic role. His bulky football player’s gag line delivered in a squeak was a big hit, and his new career was assured.

He appeared in hundreds of movies, mostly as second-fiddle in countless horse operas. Among his most notable roles was that of Buck the driver in the 1939 John Ford classic “Stagecoach.”

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He segued easily into two early television series. He was Jingles the sidekick in “The Adventures of Wild Bill Hickok” and then the leader of “Andy’s Gang.”

He yielded the Van Nuys ceremonial mayoralty in 1958 after moving to Newport Beach, and worked until he fell ill with leukemia, succumbing in 1977 at the age of 71.

He kept a fond spot in his heart for the Valley. He often half-joked that after he sold Gravel Flats to apartment developers he could retire any time, without a worry about starving.


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