Kirby Grant (November 24, 1911 – October 30, 1985), born Kirby Grant Hoon, Jr., was a long-time B movie and television actor, mostly remembered for having played the title role in the Western-themed adventure television series Sky King. Between 1949 and 1954, Grant played the title role in the series of ten Corporal Rod Webb films.
Early life and career
Grant was born in Butte in Silver Bow County in southwestern Montana. He was a child prodigy violinist. He continued to study music and became a professional singer and bandleader.
In 1939 the "Gateway to Hollywood" talent-search contest awarded him a movie contract. These "Gateway" contracts were already prepared with fictitious screen names (thus Josephine Cottle became "Gale Storm" and Ralph Bowman became "John Archer"; Grant won with Dorothy Howe, who became "Virginia Vale"). Grant's contract was made out to "Robert Stanton," and Grant used the pseudonym in his earliest films before adopting his first and middle names professionally. "Robert Stanton" and "Virginia Vale" were introduced in the RKO Radio Pictures feature Three Sons, with Edward Ellis and William Gargan. For the next few years Grant freelanced among various studios; his most familiar picture from this period (as Kirby Grant) is probably Blondie Goes Latin, a 1941 film with Penny Singleton and Arthur Lake.
In 1943, Grant signed with Universal Pictures, where he played romantic leads in B musicals, and in Abbott and Costello and Olsen and Johnson comedies. His smooth baritone voice got him teamed with Universal's singing star Gloria Jean for two features in 1944, and then Universal selected him to replace Rod Cameron (who had just been promoted to more important roles) as the studio's B-Western series star in 1945. Grant also appeared briefly in the 1943 submarine picture Destination Tokyo, playing the role of Lieutenant Colonel James H. Doolittle, organizer of the famous Doolittle Raid on Japan.
These seven westerns established Kirby Grant as an action star. In the late 1940s Monogram Pictures hired him for a series of mounted-police adventures, featuring "Chinook the Wonder Dog." Grant was working in this capacity when television beckoned in 1951 with the contemporary series Sky King.
Grant starred in the series Sky King during its entire run from 1951 to 1959, filming 72 episodes in all. He played Arizona rancher-pilot Schuyler "Sky" King, who fought bad guys and rescued people with his airplane. Early villains were bank robbers and kidnappers; some later foils were Russian spies and saboteurs. Sky's first airplane was a Cessna T-50 (known among pilots as the "Bamboo Bomber" because of its wooden wings), and later a much more modern Cessna 310B. Sky's airplanes were named "Songbird". Sky and his niece Penny, played by Gloria Winters, lived on the "Flying Crown Ranch". The series called for Grant to wear the same outfit in each episode. This was a common practice in the early days of television: the series regulars in Adventures of Superman and Dragnet, for example, always wore the same outfits so different episodes could be filmed at the same time, and file footage could be added to new footage without anyone noticing.
Later appearances and retirement
Grant did little acting after Sky King ended, although he and Gloria Winters were in demand for personal appearances at fairs and aviation events. He traveled with the Carson and Barnes Circus from 1965 to 1967. Grant retired in 1970. Sky King continued to play in reruns from 1959 to 1966, but Grant received no residuals.
Grant and his wife, Carolyn, had three children. In the early 1970s, the Grants moved from California to Florida.
The couple founded the nonprofit Sky King Youth Ranches of America, which provided homes for abandoned or orphaned children. He had plans to resurrect the Sky King series with the Flying Crown Ranch becoming a home for such kids, and publicizing their stories, but it never materialized.
At about 8:00 a.m. on October 30, 1985, Grant was killed in an automobile accident west of Titusville in Brevard County, Florida. Three vehicles were traveling east bound in single file, Grant was in the third vehicle. He pulled out of line (to the left) to pass both vehicles in front of him, when the middle vehicle also pulled out to pass at the same time. To avoid a collision, Grant suddenly swerved further left, and went onto the shoulder of the oncoming lane, he then over-corrected back all the way to the right, when his vehicle left the roadway and spun into a ditch, which contained three feet of standing water. Grant was thrown out of his car and into the water. A passerby pulled him out, and he was taken to Jess Parrish Hospital in Titusville, but had already passed away upon arrival. That morning, Grant was enroute from his condominium in Winter Spings to the Kennedy Space Center to watch the (last successful) launch of the Space Shuttle Challenger at Cape Canaveral. He was to have been honored by the astronauts for encouraging aviation and space flight. He was 73 years old. Kirby is interred in Missoula, Montana.
Kirby Grant is listed as the recording artist on two Wizard Records singles, #245-A "Loving Time" and 245-B "Letter from Tina" circa 1970.
Grant's pilot status
According to Kirby Grant, III, his father was a pilot, and the two flew together many times. Grant was rejected for pilot training during World War II because of color blindness. In the article "310 B Goes To Hollywood," Bill Fergusson, the show's usual stunt pilot on loan from the Cessna Aircraft Company, recalled how Grant flew the 310B like a professional. According to Gloria Winters, Grant started his flying career in a 1929 Waco.
As in his television series, Grant was a rancher and flier. His ranch was located in Valley Center, California. His home was on Valley Center Road at the end of his private airstrip.(4)
It has been reported that Kirby Grant's pilot's license was issued in 1929. There are many anecdotal reports of Grant flying airplanes at air shows.
- Song of Idaho (1948)
- Trail of the Yukon (1949)
- The Wolf Hunters (1949)
- Snow Dog (1950)
- Call of the Klondike (1950)
- Northwest Territory (1951)
- Yukon Manhunt (1951)
- Yukon Gold (1952)
- Fangs of the Arctic (1953)
- Northern Patrol (1953)
- Yukon Vengeance (1954)