Kirby Grant

Active - 1935 - 1954  |   Born - Nov 24, 1911   |   Died - Oct 30, 1985   |   Genres - Western, Action, Comedy, Adventure, Musical

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Biography by Hans J. Wollstein

Surprisingly, Universal Studios' last B-Western star and television's legendary Sky King had begun his professional career as a concert violinist at the age of 12, later graduating from Chicago's American Conservatory of Music. In fact, Grant made his screen debut playing the violin in I Dream Too Much (1935), a musical starring French opera diva Lily Pons. Often billing himself Robert Stanton, the former child prodigy began appearing in Westerns starring The Three Mesqueteers and George O'Brien before finding a niche as a pleasant crooner in more mainstream fare ranging from Blondie Goes Latin (1941) as an orchestra leader to Hello, Frisco, Hello (1943). Following a stint in the army, Grant finally found a berth at Universal in 1944, replacing Rod Cameron as the star of the studio's low-budget Westerns. As always, the Universal oaters enjoyed better production values than their poverty row rivals but Grant proved fairly nondescript and was often overshadowed by his comic sidekick Fuzzy Knight, and on occasion, even his leading lady. According to Jane Adams, who appeared in two of his Universal Westerns, Grant was a "very nice, down-to-earth man. Not temperamental at all." A bit of temperament may perhaps have benefited the series, which was summarily discontinued in 1946 when the studio was reorganized into the new Universal-International. Grant continued to appear in the odd non-Western role, then in 1949 he signed with Monogram/Allied Artists for a series of Northwest melodramas vaguely based on the works of pulp fiction writer James Oliver Curwood. Slickly enough produced, these "Northwesterns" had fur smugglers substituting for cattle rustlers and so on, but Grant was once again overshadowed by a co-star, this time a beautiful white malamute named Chinook. The Monogram series continued on and off until 1954, but by then Grant had become famous as television's Sky King. Trading in his horse for an airplane, Grant starred in a total of 130 episodes of this durable Western-cum-Aviation adventure, which lasted from 1951 to 1953 but would continue in re-runs well into the 1960s. Grant pretty much retired with the demise of his two series and later functioned as public relations director at Florida's Sea World. A welcome guest at B-Western revivals, Kirby Grant was tragically killed in a car accident near Titusville, FL. Reportedly, he had been on his way to view the launching of a space shuttle at Kennedy Space Center.

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