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Article Archive >> Community

Reflections: Singing cowboys of movies past!

Reflections
Singing cowboys of movies past!
By William L. Bulla
Weekly Contributing Writer

Recently I was in a restaurant amid, a group of persons 17 to 25-years of age, when the picture of Gene Autry and his horse, Champion, came onto the TV screen. I said, "Oh, look! It's Gene Autry!" Immediately two of them exclaimed, "Who's he?" I soon discovered the name was not familiar to any of them.
I was astonished! I thought everyone knew Gene Autry. I had grown up with his films and music. Then I realized I am living on memories created years before these young people even existed.
As a kid growing up in Oklahoma in the early 30's, I was fascinated with the cowboy singing stars of the day. One of my special favorites was a young man named Gene Autry. He worked as a cowboy on his father's ranch through the 20's. In 1928, Autry was singing on Tulsa's radio station KVOO as "Oklahoma's Yodeling Cowboy." He went on to become the second of the singing cowboys in films, succeeded as the top star by Roy Rogers when Autry served in World War II.
Although his signature song was "Back in the Saddle Again", Autry is best known today for his Christmas holiday songs. "Here Comes Santa Claus" (which he wrote), "Frosty the Snowman" and his biggest hit, "Rudolph the Red-Nosed Reindeer". He is a member of both the Country Music and Nashville songwriter's halls of fame. He is the only celebrity to have five stars on the Hollywood Walk of Fame. Some of us older guys, not only remember Autry for his work on radio, television and in the movies for three decades, but because he was the owner of the Los Angles/California Angels Major League Baseball team from 1961 to 1997.
It was not my intention to do a biography on Gene Autry. I was suddenly made aware that fame is fleeting. I now reflect on the names I remember of other Hollywood stars from years past. I realize that some of them cause me to dig back into the depths of my memory to recall why I had remembered their names. There are some I cannot put a name to a face, while with others I am unable to put a face with a name.
I have told you that Gene Autry was the second movies singing cowboy star, and that Roy Rogers was number three, but who was the first? Do you have any idea?
Well, John Wayne was the first singing cowboy, though against his will. He hated to sing and didn't have a great voice, but he was a movie star, so Hollywood kept giving him singing cowboy roles. Finally, Wayne had enough and refused to sing in any more movies. Republic Studios, forced to find a new singing cowboy, selected Autry, who debuted in the movie In Old Santa Fe with Ken Maynard. Autry wasn't the star and he only sang for ten minutes, but it launched his career as King of the B-Movies in the '30s and early '40s.

William L. Bulla is a freelance writer residing in Washington County.

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