Cowboys of the Silver Screen: GENE AUTRY

momlogolihNot much happened in the telegraphy office of the St. Louis-San Francisco railroad, especially not on the late shift. To pass the time, the young clerk brought his guitar and played to amuse himself. On one of those lonely nights, he received a visitor. That visitor was legendary humorist Will Rogers, and Rogers liked what he heard from a young man called Orvon Gene Autry.

The chance meeting launched a career spanning six decades that included 640geneautry1 records with over 100 million copies sold.  And that’s just the start of it. Gene Autry starred in 95 movies, had a long running radio program, and produced and starred in his own television show.  When he retired from Hollywood, he went on to own the California Angels and KTLA, a Los Angeles television station. He’s also the only entertainer to have five stars on the Hollywood Walk of Fame, one for every category established by the Hollywood Chamber of Commerce.  No wonder he’s on a postage stamp honoring Hollywood cowboys!

His success was quite a leap for the young man born Sept. 29, 1907 in Tioga, Texas. At the age of five, Gene’s preacher-grandfather taught him to sing. His mother encouraged her son’s interest in music with hymns and folks songs. Gene was 12 when he bought his first guitar for $8 out of the Sears Catalog. After graduating from high school, he took the telegraphy job that led to his chance meeting with Will Rogers.

Rogers advised him to purse a career in show business, and a year later Gene went to New York to audition for RCA Victor. He didn’t win immediate favor. An executive told him to come back when he’d gotten more experience, and Gene did just that. He returned in six months and made his first recording, “My Dreaming of You” with a flipside of “My Alabama Home.”

Gene Autry horse guitarIn 1929 he signed with Columbia Records and went on to star in “National Barn Dance,” a popular show on a Chicago radio station. By the 1930s, he was one of the most beloved country singers in America, and his sales proved it. Gene Autry earned the first Gold Record ever awarded. No wonder he’s known as “America’s Favorite Singing Cowboy.”

Movies came next for Gene. He first appeared on the screen in 1934, but the film that made him a star was “Tumbling Tumbleweeds” in 1935. It led to several more “singing cowboy” movies, produced by Republic Pictures at a rate of a movie every six weeks. By 1937, Gene was rated a top box office attraction in the class of Clark Gable, Mickey Rooney and Spencer Tracy.

In addition to the  movies, Gene had a radio presence. His “Melody Ranch” show aired from 1940 to 1956.  Just about everyone knew the words to Back in the Saddle Again.  When television became the main source of familyGene Autry radio entertainment, Gene was the first major movie star to make the shift. He produced and starred in the Gene Autry Show for six years.

The stats for Gene Autry go on and on, but there are two things he’s known for that don’t have a number attached. One of those things is “Rudolph The Red-Nosed Reindeer.” Gene recorded this Christmas song  in 1949, and it’s a true American Classic.

The second is even more fitting for Petticoats & Pistols, a blog dedicated to western romance.  Gene Autry is credited with “The Cowboy Code.” Here is it:


 1. A cowboy never takes unfair advantage – even of an enemy.

 2. A cowboy never betrays a trust. He never goes back on his word.

 3. A cowboy always tells the truth.

 4. A cowboy is kind and gentle to small children, old folks, and animals.

 5. A cowboy is free from racial and religious intolerances.

 6. A cowboy is always helpful when someone is in trouble.

 7. A cowboy is always a good worker.

 8. A cowboy respects womanhood, his parents and his nation’s laws.

 9. A cowboy is clean about his person in thought, word, and deed.

10.A cowboy is a Patriot.

If that doesn’t sum up what it means to be a western hero, I don’t know what does. Autry small


 The Singing Cowboy stamps go on sale Saturday, April 17th.  It’s fitting the official unveiling will be at the Autry National Center in the Museum of the American West in Los Angeles. 

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32 thoughts on “Cowboys of the Silver Screen: GENE AUTRY”

  1. Hi, Victoria! Thank you for a wonderful post about a great man, Mr. Gene Autry. I grew up in a family that loved cowboys and Western books, movies and TV shows. When my mother and her brother and sister were little, the whole family would “head to town” on Saturday mornings to watch the picture shows : ) Mom and her siblings and cousins spent many hours of play riding “stick horses” and playing cowboys! John Wayne is almost universally recognized. However, it’s hard for many people today to fully realize the impact that great Western stars like Gene Autry, Roy Rogers and Dale Evans, Gary Cooper, Clayton Moore (The Lone Ranger), Tom Mix, Willam S. Hart, and many others had on American society.

  2. Good morning, Virginia C! Having grown up in Los Angeles, I was aware that Gene Autry had been a “singing cowboy,” and that he owned KTLA and the California Angels. I saw a few of his shows on TV, but I had no idea how successful he’d been overall. He was an impressive man to be sure.

    I so agree with you about the impact these western starts had on our society. The “Cowboy Code” is right on.

  3. Hi Victoria,

    Great information. I live close to the Gene Autry Western Heritage Museum and often go there when I need inspiration. Learning about these western heroes has been so much fun this week.

  4. Great post on a fascinating cowboy. Even though I don’t listen to country music and have never seen one of Gene’s movies, he is such a part of our American culture that with each song you named, I could hear the tune and some of the lyrics running through my head. And I love the honor inherent in that Cowboy Code. Great stuff.

    Oh, and btw, I just finished reading Kansas Courtship and thoroughly enjoyed it.

  5. Hi Margaret! Isn’t the Gene Autry Heritage Museum great? When I went I few years ago, I had fun checking out the gun collection and finding the exact model of the Colt Lightning I’d given the hero in “Abbie’s Outlaw.” There’s so much to see there!

  6. Howdy, Karen! I’m glad you enjoyed “Kansas Courtship.” It was a fun book to write. Gene Autry impressed me for all sorts of reasons, but “The Cowboy Code” was the coolest thing of all. With a foundation like that, it’s no wonder he was such a success.

  7. Hi Victoria, great post loved it! I love the cowboy code. I think this is why I love cowboy so much because of the code they live by!

  8. Hi Vicki,

    I love this post I always like Gene Autry. Thank you for sharing the cowboy code. I have learned something new today

    Have a wonderful weekend

    Walk in harmony,

  9. Hi Quilt Lady! The Cowboy Code makes the world a better place, doesn’t it? Our heroes live by it!

    Hi Melinda, I hope you have a good weekend, too. Gene Autry impressed me. I learned a lot!

  10. very interesting–thank you for sharing!

    had no idea about “rudolph the red nosed reindeer”

    and LOVE LOVE LOVE the cowboy code!! 🙂

  11. Hi Tabitha, There’s an even longer story about Rudolph. I blogged a bit about it around Christmas time. The story goes that he recorded it in a few minutes as the backside of another record. No one remembers the main song, but we all know about Rudolph with his nose so bright . . . LOL! Now it’s in my head! I’ll be humming it all day, even though it’s April and 80 degrees outside 🙂

  12. Vicki, Gene Autry was a big part of my childhood. I loved to watch him on TV and the words to Back in the Saddle Again is still imbedded in my brain. I’m glad he’s being nationally recognized by the postage stamp. He’s my hero!

  13. I spent my younger years at the movies on Saturday night with Gene Autry and Roy Rogers, as well as all the other western heroes. There is a town here in Oklahoma named Gene Autry after the singing cowboy.

  14. Too bad everyone doesn’t go by the cowboy code. No wonder we love them. I’m afraid I haven’t seen too much by Gene Autry but I loved Roy Rogers 🙂

  15. Howdy, Linda! When the Fillies picked which cowboys to blog on, my first choice was William S. Hart because I’d been to his museum. Once I got started on Gene Autry, I was in awe. Talk about an impressive man . . . That Cowboy Code is masterful.

    Hello Goldie! Tune in tomorrow for Roy Rogers. My husband and I got to talking this morning about watching his show on Saturday morning TV. He and Dale were strong, goodhearted people. Gotta love a cowboy!

  16. Gene Autry and Roy Rogers (check back tomorrow for him!) are the two men I think of when someone says “singing cowboy.” Thanks for the great background on Autry.

  17. Wonderful post, Vicki! I love the cowboy code. I wish everybody followed it. No wonder we read or write Westerns! I saw the musical Will Rogers Follies and just loved it. And grrrr. Although I live within an hour, I still haven’t been to the museum. Definitely gotta put it on the calendar.

    Thanks again for a good one! oxoxoxxo

  18. Hi Tanya, The Autry museum is really cool. It’s a mix of history and movie memorabilia. I had a good time!

    Hi Tracy! I think you’re right about Trigger 🙂 How about set of stamps for “Hollywood Horses”? LOL! I’m seeing Trigger, The Lone Ranger shouting, “Hi Ho, Silver,” and Mr. Ed!

  19. I loved Gene Autry! I loved the song Rudolph but had a favorite album with Gene Autry singing Here Comes Peter Cotton Tail that was a real favorite.

  20. Hey, there! Ah, Gene Autry. I wonder what he really thought about that B side record becoming such a major sensation. But what I am really thinking about is the Cowboy Code and the time it was written in. Makes you think, especially #5. Context, context. Makes him even more of a man!

    Continued blessings your way.

  21. Thank you for the wonderful post on Mr. Gene Autry. I remember watching him as a little girl and my mom had all his records. Then we were season ticket holders with the California Angels and saw Mr. Autry every game. The man loved his baseball and his baseball team and his team and fans loved him back.

    Have a most blessed day!

    Smiles & Blessing,
    Cindy W.

  22. Hi Julie! I can just see the scene in the recording studio: “Let’s do it quick. No one’s going to listen to a song about a reindeer.” We never know what will stick! I like the cowboy code a lot. It all comes down to love and respect for everyone,

    Howdy, Cindy! I’m a Los Angeles Dodger fan, but I’m always glad to see the Angels do well. Gene Autry left quite a legacy!

  23. I think we could use a lot of this cowboy commensense in todays world.. Maybe needs to be taught in the schools too..

    Didn’t know much about Gene Autrey, just knew he owned a baseball team.. And sang a Christmas song and made a few movies…
    Thanks for these peice of history..

  24. Hi Victoria last week I sent a mail but got no answer so I thought I’d write here. I just wanted to let you know that I got the package with the books. That very nice surprise and you were very generous with me, thank you:)

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