Today is the birthday of the original Singing Cowboy Gene Autry (Orvon Grover Autry, 1907-1998). Autry was a one man empire, star of radio, movies, television and the recording industry, and also owner of several broadcast stations and the Angels MLB team (through its many incarnations). His recordings remain popular to this day (although they are mostly Christmas songs “Here Comes Santa Claus”, “Frosty the Snowman”, and “Rudolph the Red Nosed Reindeer). Autry’s screen sidekicks included Smiley Burnett and Pat Buttram, later of Green Acres.
Autry represented the pinnacle of entertainment excellence to my dad, who grew up in rural Tennessee listening to Autry on the radio, watching him in B movie westerns and serials and later watched him on television. It occurs to me in retrospect that when Autry’s tv show went off the air in 1955, there was NOTHING (or increasingly little) in pop culture specifically tailored to my dad’s tastes. Westerns grew increasingly “adult”, “issued oriented” and “liberal” (for a time anyway), and music became dominated by rock and roll. The innocence embodied by someone like Autry became as extinct as the do-do. Today as a general rule even children’s entertainment contains something to offend everybody, one way or another.
To find out more about show business past and present, consult No Applause, Just Throw Money: The Book That Made Vaudeville Famous, available at Amazon, Barnes and Noble, and wherever nutty books are sold. And don’t miss my new book Chain of Fools: Silent Comedy and Its Legacies from Nickelodeons to Youtube, just released by Bear Manor Media, also available from amazon.com etc etc etc