By: Jack Swift’
Children are influenced by many things during their growing up years. I believe that many of them shared my interest in the western heroes that were popular during the 1940s and 1950s. There were many. Some who come to mind are Gene Autry, Roy Rogers, the Cisco Kid, Lash LaRue, Whip Wilson etc. While I read as many comic books, heard as many radio programs and viewed as many television shows with western themes as time and chores allowed, one of my favorite western heroes was Gene Autry, the Singing Cowboy. Autry and his faithful steed Champion rode across the airwaves and the silver screen during most of my childhood. Autry was one of the most popular western heroes but many others also stood out and will be remembered by those of us who are in their “Golden” years.
Anyway, I had it in the back of my mind to find out more about Gene Autry and his life and times. I recently decided to do just that.
I found that Autry was born September 29, 1907 in Tioga, Texas. It just occurred to me that is the year both my parents were born. As his title “the Singing Cowboy” suggests, he stood out as a singer and was often called on for a song in the script of his programs. Orvon Gene Autry was raised in Texas and Oklahoma. He was discovered by the inimitable humorist Will Rogers.
In 1929, Autry was billed as “Oklahoma’s Yodeling Cowboy” at a radio station in Tulsa, Oklahoma. His acting and business acumen is impressive, but his singing was what impressed me most. His song “Back in the Saddle Again” was one of the first songs I played on the guitar. He was famous for his renditions of the Christmas songs “Here Comes Santa Clause,” “Rudolph the Red Nosed Raindeer,” and others. His commercial breakthrough came with “That Silver Haired Daddy of Mine.” That record sold more than half a million copies. He was presented the gold record award for that piece of work. As he grew in popularity, he acquired a spot on the National Barn Dance out of Chicago. He continued his career after a stint in the Army Air Corps during World War II. He attained the rank of Sergeant while in the service.
He had a love of baseball and consequently he purchased the American League California Angels in 1961. He held the title of Vice President of the American League until his death at his home in California on October 2, 1998. He was 91 when he passed away.
By: Jack Swift’