“Free thinking is an American privilege, but when a thing is free you distrust its value.” –Guy Kibbee
Guy Kibbee was a beloved character actor, appearing frequently in Warner Bros. films and Pre Code musicals. He was born Guy Bridges Kibbee in El Paso, Texas, on March 6, 1882 or 1886, to James and Adaline Kibbee. Though his obituary and gravestone claim the 1882 birth date, his World War I draft card—filled out by Kibbee himself—and the 1900 census support the 1886 birth date. Kibbee’s first experience in the working world was setting type at the age of seven alongside his father, James. Kibbee’s father worked as an editor for the El Paso Herald-Post.
The Kibbee family would move to Roswell when James secured a role with the Roswell Register, eventually traveling all over the southwest as his father predominantly founded newspapers in New Mexico. Of his many siblings, Kibbee also had a younger brother named Milton, born in Santa Fe, New Mexico, who would also become an actor.
While growing up, Kibbee’s oder brother, Jim, began working on the stage and Guy would tag along with his brother to work as a prop man. When one of the players in the stock company would overindulge in drinks, Guy would often step in and take on his role—sporting a a full mane of red hair and weighing under 200 pounds.
By age 14, Kibbee expressed an interest in entertainment and ran away to join a traveling stock of entertainers. He began performing on Mississippi riverboats and stock companies, initially playing romantic leads in shows. Due to his hair loss in his late teens, he stepped away from romantic leads and into a variety of other roles, excelling in comedies and dramas.
Soon after, Kibbee married Helen Shay. The couple resided in Staten Island and had at least two children, including son named Robert, who worked in academia and eventually became a chancellor for the City University of New York, and John. They would eventually divorce.
Kibbee would marry again to Esther “Brownie” Reed, remaining with her until his death. The couple would have at least two children, including a daughter named Shirley Ann and son named Guy Kibbee Jr.
As the years went on, Kibbee would make his Broadway debut in 1930’s Torch Song, which opened to door to working in Hollywood. Paramount Pictures saw potential in Kibbee and he relocated to California to work for them, soon transitioning to Warner Brothers. While at Warner Bros., Kibbee became part of their stock company of actors under contract, rotating through many different films in supporting roles. Among his film appearances in this period were 42nd Street (1933), Gold Diggers of 1933 (1933), Captain Blood (1935), Mr. Smith Goes to Washington (1939), and Our Town (1940) to name a few.
Behind the scenes, Kibbee loved food, cards, baseball, and football. He was also exceptional at golf.
Over the years, Kibbee would work on radio and have a brief stint on television. He would return to his roots and perform on the stage again, typically telling stories as a solo performer until he fell ill in 1953.
Kibbee was soon diagnosed with Parkinson’s disease, spending nine months at the Aurora Health Institute in New York. Columnist Walter Winchell requested that readers of his column send the ailing Kibbee letters of encouragement, leading Kibbee to receive over 3,000 letters from fans.
Kibbee was transferred to the Percy Williams home in East Islip, New York, already broke. The hope was supported by the Actors Fund of America to assist actors who were sick and in dire financial straits. He entered the home in 1954 and would be bedridden there for more than a year.
While at the Percy Williams home, Kibbee was able to watch some films in which he appeared, preferring the Scattergood Baines films for a laugh. He passed away on May 24, 1956, most likely at the age of 70. He was buried in the Actor’s Fund section of Kensico Cemetery in New York.
Today, there are few locations of relevance to Kibbee that exist.
In 1917, Kibbee resided at 6 W. 98th St. in New York, New York, which no longer stands. He later lived with Helen’s parents and his children with Helen at 94 Trossach Rd in Staten Island, New York. The original home no longer stands but this is the property today:
By 1930, Kibbee was living with Esther and their children at 1216 Broadway Blvd. in Kansas City, Missouri. The site of their home is now a parking lot.
In 1940, he, Esther, and their children lived at 10839 Oxnard Avenue in Los Angeles, California. They also had a live-in governess for the children and servant. The site of this home is also a parking lot.
Two years later, they relocated to 605 N. Crescent Dr. in Beverly Hills, which does remain standing as a private residence today.
In 1950, the couple lived at 130 W. 94th St. in New York, New York, though the original building does not appear to remain.
Interestingly, Kibbee’s legacy also lives on in association with a breakfast dish—Guy Kibbee eggs. Kibbee prepares this dish in Mary Jane’s Pa (1935), cracking an egg into a piece of bread with a hole cut out and frying it. The dish is also known as “eggs in a basket.”
Kibbee’s many wonderful supporting performances delight classic film fans to this day.