By Steve Starr
The handsome cowboy star, an idol to millions of people, was being honored with a testimonial at Boston's beautiful Cocoanut Grove Nightclub. Like a speeding train, a fire raced through the elegant paradise to burn out the lives of 492 terrified patrons that included the movie icon and most of his party who died in the horror of a raging inferno.
Charles Frederick Gebhardt was born December 4, 1889 in Vincennes, Indiana. His parents soon divorced. Mrs. Gebhardt remarried, but Charles disliked his stepfather, and at a young age went to live with friends of his family who owned a small general store. Charles escaped the town with his older sister Ada to live in Indianapolis.
At sixteen, with papers signed by Ada stating that her brother was eighteen, the future star enlisted in the Army. After two stints, during which he learned to ride a horse, Charles was discharged in Texas City. There, he heard about the 101 Wild West Show in Galveston, where he hoped to find a riding job. The only position available was currying horses for cowboys, and Charles took the work. One day, a riding part was needed, and Charles was given a costume and a horse upon which he gave back a great performance.
He toured the country with the show, and while performing in New York, met a beautiful cowgirl, Odille "Dell" Osborne, when she joined the troupe. They fell in love. When Dell decided to join the Julia Allen Wild West Show in 1915, he followed her and joined the same show. The couple was determined to get married, though they had little money. The promoters offered to pay for everything if the ceremony was performed as entertainment for the fans. Everyone agreed to the extravagant spectacle, which included the bride, groom and minster all on horseback.
Film Entertainment Magazine