Gene Autry, the archetype of the guitar strumming, singing Hollywood cowboy, is one of American cinema's most beloved figures. Born Orvon Autry, his entry to showbiz has a story book quality. During the 1920s he was working as a telegraph operator when American folk hero Will Rogers overheard him singing and convinced him to give show business a try. By 1928 he was singing regularly on a small radio station. Three years later, he was starring in his own national radio show (The National Barn Dance) and making records for Columbia. He first made his mark in films starring roles in the 13-part Republic serial Phantom Empire (1935) and the movie Tumblin' Tumbleweeds (1935). Then he went on to make dozens of Westerns, usually with his famed horse Champion and his comic sidekick Smiley Burnette. He was the top Western star at the box office from 1937-42, and is the only Western actor ever to make the list of Hollywood's top ten attractions, an achievement attained in 1940, '41, and '42. His career was interrupted by service in World War II (he served as a flight officer), during which his place was supplanted at Republic by singing cowboy Roy Rogers. Between 1947 and 1954, now working for Columbia Pictures, Autry trailed behind Rogers as the second most popular western star. His films focus exclusively on action, with little romantic interest. Autry's special twist, though, was to pause from time to time for an easy-going song, creating a new genre of action films that is considered by film historians to constitute a revolution in B-movies (one that went on to have many imitators). As a recording artist, he had nine million-sellers; and as a songwriter, he penned 200 popular songs including the holiday classic "Here Comes Santa Claus." After 20 years as a singing cowboy, Autry retired from movies in 1954 to further his career as a highly successful businessman (among many other investments, he eventually bought the California Angels, a major league baseball team). However, he continued performing on television until the '60s. In 1978 he published his autobiography Back in the Saddle Again, titled after his signature song.
Biography by Rovi
- Was discovered by Will Rogers.
- Recorded "That Silver-Haired Daddy of Mine" in 1931; it became the first-ever certified gold record by any artist.
- Made over 640 recordings, 300 of which were written or cowritten by him.
- Enlisted in the Air Force in 1942; was sworn in on his radio show at the behest of the Pentagon; served as a Flight Officer in WWII.
- Among his platinum recordings are "Here Comes Santa Claus" and "Peter Cottontail."
- His "Rudolph the Red-Nosed Reindeer" is the second best-selling Christmas song ever.
- Created "The Cowboy Code" because so many young people listened to his radio show. The Boys Scouts of America used much of it in penning its own code of conduct.
- The only person to have a star on the Hollywood Walk of Fame in all five categories of entertainment: television, movies, radio, music and live performance.
- Was the first performer to sell out Madison Square Garden.
- Owned the KTLA television station in Los Angeles as well as many radio stations across the country.
- Owned the California Angels Major League Baseball team and held the title of vice president of the American League from 1983 until his death.
- The town of Gene Autry, OK, was named in his honor.