April 7th, 1970 – St. Cloud native Byron Barr (aka: Gig Young) won an Oscar for Best Supporting Actor for his role in the 1969 film They Shoot Horses, Don’t They?

Stearns County has another famous native resident: Hollywood actor Gig Young.  Gig wasn’t always known by that name.  First he was Byron Barr, and he was born in St. Cloud on November 4, 1913.  He attended Riverview Grammar School and St. Cloud Technical High School for a few years before his family moved to Washington, D.C. in 1932.

Byron’s father owned a pickling and preservation plant in St. Cloud known as Barr’s Pickling Factory.  When he was 15, Byron started working at the factory, but was fired right away (the foreman didn’t know he was the boss’s son!).  He was reinstated, but he didn’t really like the canning business.  He would much rather spend time with girls and his friends, playing cards and going to movies at the local theater.  In high school he took a job as an usher at that theater, the Paramount Theatre.

In D.C., Byron started taking drama classes with the Philip Hayden Players, and developed acting skills sufficient to earn him a scholarship to the Pasadena Playhouse in California in 1938.  He acted in many plays while he was there, including Pancho starring George Reeves (who later played Superman).  A Warner Bros. scout was at that play and signed both Byron and George Reeves to contracts.

As a film actor, Byron starred with many big names including: Humphrey Bogart, Gary Cooper, Errol Flynn, Jimmy Cagney, and Henry Fonda.  In 1942, he got his first feature role, as a character named Gig Young in the film The Gay Sisters.  He quickly gained notoriety for this role, and critics used this stage name, Gig Young, in their articles.  The head of Warner’s advertising decided to roll with this, and changed Byron Barr’s name to Gig Young.

Gig went on to star in many successful films.  He was nominated for Academy Awards for best supporting actor in 1951 (Come Fill the Cup) and again in 1958 (Teacher’s Pet), before winning the 1969 Oscar for Best Supporting Actor on April 7th, 1970 for They Shoot Horses, Don’t They? Gig Young also won a Golden Globe for this performance, which has been donated to the Stearns History Museum.

You Tube Video tribute to Gig Young:

Thanks to Sarah Warmka and the Stearns History Museum for their help with our series, “This date in Central Minnesota History” on WJON.