Gilbert George Fawcett

Gilbert Fawcett, Duluth’s “Old Timer.” (Image: Duluth Public Library)

Gilbert George Fawcett was born in Duluth on February 2, 1893. He was the youngest of four children of Hugh and Emily. He grew up in a home at 126 West Palm Street in Duluth Heights and attended Lowell School. As a child, he performed recitations and both violin and piano solos and appeared in plays. He finished eighth grade at Lowell Elementary and attended Duluth Central High School for a time. In 1910, he was working for his father’s construction company as a bookkeeper, and the next year he was employed as a stenographer for the Duluth, South Shore & Atlantic Railway.

In 1914, Gilbert left Duluth for Los Angeles, where he was employed as the private secretary to F. S. McGinnis, vice-president of the Southern Pacific Railway. In his spare time, he participated as an actor with the Pasadena Community Playhouse and the Oliver Morosco Players. He played violin in a small concert orchestra, and he also registered at film-casting offices and took parts as an extra in silent movies; he met stars Mabel Normand, J. Warren Kerrigan, and Wallace Reid.

When the United States entered World War I, Fawcett joined the service. He enlisted in the U.S. Army on March 29, 1918, as a construction engineer. He spent time in Paris, Brussels, Nice, and Italy, returning to California in 1919. He returned to his home town in 1921 to partner with his father in the construction business. Later he also worked as a manager of Collins Lunch, another family business. He took a year off in 1930 and traveled in Europe where in Paris he was reportedly the guest of playwright Virgil Thompson and met poet Ezra Pound.

Returning to Duluth, Fawcett was active in Duluth’s Little Theater and also became interested in radio. In 1936, he and some partners began operating KDAL radio as a local station. In September of 1937, the station became affiliated with CBS. In 1941, Fawcett created a program on KDAL called “Dream Castle,” which featured regional poetry and music. Later in the 1940s, Fawcett wrote weekly radio dramas called “Historic Site Ahead,” in which he related stories of the history of Duluth and the region. The Sunday afternoon broadcasts, sponsored by Freimuth’s Department Store, were on such subjects as “The Old Lighthouse on Minnesota Point,” “Duluth’s First Grain Elevator,” the “Moving of Hibbing,” and the “Vanished Town of Buchanan.”

This caricature of Fawcett was used to promote his “Tales of the Twin Ports.” (Image: Duluth Public Library)

Fawcett worked at KDAL for many years and in several capacities, including program director and traffic manager. Perhaps most notably, for years he wrote and narrated “Tales of the Twin Ports” in the role of “The Old Timer,” relating stories of history and progress in Duluth and the region. He also aired the first commercial on KDAL-TV, in March of 1954.

Fawcett was both a supporter of and participant in Duluth’s Little Theater and the Duluth Playhouse. He served in various behind-the-scenes volunteer jobs and acted in a number of plays, including “The Dark Tower,” “The Distaff Side,” “The Truth About Blaydes,” and “Personal Appearance.” In 1964 he wrote a brief history of early theater in Duluth.

After retiring from KDAL, Fawcett did a lot of travelling. In 1959 he took a cruise to the South Pacific. In 1960 he traveled to Japan and Hong Kong, and later to Hawaii, Spain, Athens, Ireland, and Yugoslavia.

Gil Fawcett died at the age of 80 on April 1, 1973, in Miller-Dwan Hospital after being injured in a fire in his home at 215 N,. Ninth Ave. E. a few days before. He is buried in Forest Hill Cemetery next to his parents.

Sources:

  • Ouse, David. Forgotten Duluthians. X-Presso Books, Duluth, Minnesota: 2010.