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Kirby Grant

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Kirby Grant Jr.
Kirby Grant (left) with Gloria Winters and Ron Hagerthy in Sky King
Kirby Grant Hoon Jr.

(1911-11-24)November 24, 1911
DiedOctober 30, 1985(1985-10-30) (aged 73)
Resting placeMissoula, Montana
OccupationActor, musician
Years active1934–1959
Spouse(s)Carolyn J. Gillis Grant (1928–1989)

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 starred in 10 Mounted-Police adventures, usually in the role of Corporal Rod Webb.

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.[2]

Movie career

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. 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.

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. These seven westerns established Kirby Grant as an action star. In 1949 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 1952 with the contemporary series Sky King.

Sky King

Grant starred in the series Sky King during its entire run (1952, and 1956–59), 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 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 farther 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 was dead on arrival. That morning, Grant was en route from his condominium in Winter Springs to the Kennedy Space Center to watch the (last successful) launch of the Space Shuttle Challenger at Cape Canaveral.[3] 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.

Recording career

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

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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 regional Cessna sales manager, on loan from the Cessna Aircraft Company, recalled how Grant "flew the 310B like a professional". In reality, it was Fergusson who flew the plane for the 310 flying sequences. According to Gloria Winters, Grant learned to fly 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. (There are no FAA records of a license issued to Kirby Grant and Kirby Grant was the announcer for TVSCO'S "Great American Air Show" and not a pilot.)

Edit from personal experience, feel free to keep it or toss it.--I had the honor of conducting a lengthy interview with Kirby Grant at the Dayton (Ohio) Air Show back in the early 80s, and during that interview I asked specifically about his pilot's license and flying. Mr. Grant stated quite explicitly that he was indeed a licensed pilot, but that like so many of us as we age (he was around 70 at the time) he had lost his FAA medical certificate required to exercise his piloting rights. He added that he was in the process of trying to re-qualify for it and was very close at the time, but I don't know if he ever did regain it.

Selected filmography


  1. ^ "Kirby Grant, `Sky King,` Killed In Auto Accident". Orlando Sentinel (October 31, 1985).
  2. ^ "Archived copy". Archived from the original on December 27, 2002. Retrieved December 27, 2002.CS1 maint: archived copy as title (link)
  3. ^ Headline News – on the Death of Sky King, 1985 on YouTube
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