A Year: Day to Day Men: 29th of September, Solar Year 2018

The Skateboard

September 29, 1907 was the birthdate of Orvon Grover Autry, known to film fans as the American cowboy Gene Autry.

Gene Autry was an American singer, songwriter, actor, musician and rodeo performer who gained fame as a singing cowboy on radio, film and on television.  Born in northern Texas, he worked on his father’s farm while attending school. After high school, Autry worked as a telegrapher for the Saint Louis-San Francisco Railway. He would oftern sing and accompany himself on guitar at local dances.

Autry went to New York in 1928 and auditioned for Victor Records. The company had just hired two similar sounding voices so he did not get a contract; but he did get the advice to sing on radio to gain experience. Autry started singing latter that year on the Tulsa radio station KVOO as “Oklahoma’s Yodeling Cowboy”, eventually recording two duets with singer Jimmie Long for Victor Records.

Gene Autry signed a recording deal with Columbia Records in 1929. His first hit was in 1932 with “That Silver-Haired Daddy of Mine”, a duet co-written and sung with Jimmy Long. Autry also recorded the classic Ray Whitley hit “Back in the Saddle Again” , as well as many Christmas holiday songs including “Frosty the Snowman” and “Rudolph the Red-Nose Reindeer”, which became a big hit.  Autry’s own composition of “Here Comes Santa Claus”, which he wrote after the 1946 Hollywood Christmas Parade, was recorded in 1947 and became an instant hit.

Gene Autry and Pat Burnette, a recently returned Army Air Force veteran, were discovered by producer Nat Levine in 1934. Together, they made their film debut for Mascot Pictures Corporation in the western “In Old Santa Fe” as part of a singing cowboy quartet. Autry was then given the starring role by producer Levine in the 1935 twelve-part film serial “The Phantom Empire”, which combined western, musical and science fiction genres. This was Gene Autry’s first starring role, playing himself as a singing cowboy.

Mascot Pictures was absorbed by the newly formed Republic Pictures Corporation, which continued making films with Gene Autry. He made forty-four more films with the company up to 1940, all ‘B’ Westerns, acting under his own name. Autry rode his horse Champion, had Pat Burnette as his regular sidekick, and had many opportunities to sing in each film. In the Motion Picture Herald’s Top Ten Money-Making Western Stars poll, Gene Autry held first place from 1937 to 1942 and second place, after Roy Rogers, from 1947 to 1954, when the poll ended.

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