The Hazards of Helen Gibson

A toss of the sombrero today for the great western star, stunt woman, rodeo rider, and vaudeville performer Helen Gibson (Rose August Wegner, 1892-1977). Her screen name is the result of two factors. She was married to Hoot Gibson from 1913 to 1920. And from 1915 to 1917 she starred in Kalem’s western adventure serial The Hazards of Helen, taking over for Helen Holmes. (Note: this Helen Gibson is not to be confused with Hoot’s second wife, Helen Johnson).

The gal in question came from Cleveland, and got her start in the business by answering an ad seeking young performers from the Miller Brother 101 Ranch outfit. This is where she acquired all of her rodeo skills, riding, roping, bull whip cracking, and so forth. She was with the show from 1910 to 1911, winding up in Venice, California, where Thomas Ince hired the whole cast for his movie production company. Her first role was in Ranch Girls on a Rampage (1912), playing Ruth Roland’s sister. She married Hoot the following year, and the couple performed in and competed at rodeos together when not acting in pictures. As we mentioned, she starred in The Hazards of Helen from 1915 to 1917. Next came a three year contract at Universal, where she starred in sccores of western features and shorts, including a couple of early efforts directed by John Ford in 1919.

In 1920, Helen Gibson’s reach exceeded her grasp. She formed her own production company, which went bankrupt before it even finished her first picture. Hoot divorced her the same year. She continued starring in pictures through 1922. An operation for a ruptured appendix took her out of circulation for a while. From 1924 through 1926 she performed with the Ringling Brothers, Barnum and Bailey Circus along with Ken Maynard and others. In 1926 she also toured vaudeville’s big time Keith circuit.

In 1927 Gibson returned to Hollywood, now as a supporting (usually, bit) player and stunt woman. (Many regard her as the first important Hollywood stunt woman and double). She had close to 250 screen credits, including some Ma and Pa Kettle comedies and such John Ford classics as Stagecoach (1939), The Horse Soldiers (1959) and The Man Who Shot Liberty Valance (1962), her last.

For more on vaudeville history, please see No Applause, Just Throw Money: The Book That Made Vaudeville Famous, and for more on silent film read  Chain of Fools: Silent Comedy and Its Legacies from Nickelodeons to Youtube.