Happy Birthday, Gene Autry
Happy Birthday, Gene Autry
“The Singing Cowboy,” Orvon Grover “Gene” Autry was born on September 29, 1907, in Tioga, Texas.
As a boy, Autry worked at his father’s ranch in addition to going to school. He left school in 1925 and found work as a telegrapher for the St. Louis-San Francisco Railway.
Autry enjoyed singing and playing guitar and occasionally performed at school dances. He also brought his guitar to work at the telegraph station, where he would sing and play to entertain himself during the lonely midnight shift. During one of these nights, humorist Will Rogers overheard him singing. Rogers told Autry he was good enough to sing professionally. Autry followed his advice and eventually found work singing on the radio. This earned him a spot on the radio show National Barn Dance, where he became known as Oklahoma’s “Yodeling Cowboy.”
In 1934, Autry was cast in the film In Old Santa Fe. He only had one scene, where he sang a song and called a square dance, but his next appearance was much more important – starring in the 12-chapter movie short The Phantom Empire.
The following year Autry starred in Tumbling Tumbleweeds, which made him a household name and ushered in the era of the “singing cowboy.” The movie introduced a successful formula where Autry played himself. With the help of his sidekick Smiley and his horse Champion, Autry tracked down the bad guys and brought them to justice.
From 1940 to 1956, Autry had his own weekly radio show, Gene Autry’s Melody Ranch. His horse Champion had a show too, The Adventures of Champion. Autry had a large following of young people who wished to be like him, so he created the Cowboy Code, or the Ten Cowboy Commandments, promoting clean living through leading an ethical, moral, and patriotic lifestyle.
In 1942, Autry enlisted in the US Army and served as a tech sergeant with the US Army Air Forces. He earned his Service Pilot rating and flew as part of a dangerous airlift operation over the Himalayas.
Between 1950 and 1956, Autry hosted his own television program, The Gene Autry Show. He also partnered in a rodeo company and had his own comic strip. In 1952, Autry purchased a 110-acre ranch in California. He named it Melody Ranch, after his movie of the same name. Though he sold most of the ranch, he kept 12 acres to serve as a movie ranch. It’s still in operation today.
Autry retired from performing in 1964, having made nearly 100 films and recorded 640 songs, more than 300 of which he wrote himself or co-wrote with a partner. Autry remained busy in his retirement. He invested in real estate, television and radio. In 1960, he became the owner of the Los Angeles Angels baseball team and later served as vice president of the American League.
Autry died on October 2, 1998, in Studio City, California. He received a number of honors during his lifetime and after his death. He has been inducted into several halls of fame: Western Performers, Radio, Oklahoma, Country Music, and Nashville Songwriters. He’s the only person to have stars in all five categories on the Hollywood Walk of Fame. Additionally, a town in Oklahoma and a precinct in Arizona were named in his honor.
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