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Oklahoma Memories

Gene Autry


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Gene Autry Melody Ranch introduction, singing and cheering

The Gene Autry Melody Ranch Show was one of the most popular programs on the CBS radio network from 1940 to 1956. Gene Autry was one of America's first singing cowboys, and his popularity faded only when he served as a pilot in the Army Air Corps during World War Two, and Roy Rogers eclipsed him in popularity. From the Oklahoma History Center, this is Oklahoma Memories. I'm Michael Dean.

Gene Autry was born September 29, 1907, in Texas, but the family soon moved to Oklahoma. Autry dropped out of school and found work was a telegrapher for the Frisco railroad and that led to his first big break.

"Well, this was back in about 1927, I worked for a railroad, the St. Louis-San Francisco, or for short they called it the Frisco lines, and I was a telegraph operator, and I worked in a little town in Oklahoma called Chelsea, Oklahoma, and that was close to the hometown of Will Rogers, and he used to come - 'He was from Claremore, I believe' - Claremore, yes, and he used to come through there quite often to visit with his sister that lived in Chelsea, and I always kept a guitar around the office to play and pass away the time, you know, at night. So he came in - 'You knew who it was?' - I didn't at first. When I first knew him probably I never would have done any singing in front of him, I was so scared. But anyway he heard me playing and singing and he gave me this telegram that was going to the syndicate that carried his column, and it was signed Will Rogers, and he said 'You know, young fellow, you ought to get yourself a job on the radio. ' So I didn't think too much about it, but the Depression came along about that time, and the railroad started laying off a lot of their employees and looked like that I was going to be one of them, so I thought well, if Will Rogers thought I was good enough to get on the radio, maybe I will, so..."

Autry left Oklahoma for New York City but soon returned to the Sooner State.

"I did a record at that time for Victor, then I went to Tulsa, Oklahoma, and went to work at KTOO, and I got a song called "That Silver-Haired Daddy of Mine," and it turned out to be a big hit. "
Gene Autry's show business career included recording 640 records, including more than 300 songs written or co-written by him. His records sold more than 100 million copies, and he had more than a dozen gold and platinum records, including the first record ever certified gold. He starred in more than a hundred films, and in 1950 began a weekly TV show. He retired from show business in 1964, but he did not retire from business.
"...but actually from the business standpoint, why, I got interested really in radio, owning radio stations and TV, when I went into the service in 1942. The year before I had made over a half million dollars, and I found myself in the Air Force and started about $100 or $125 a month. I started thinking what if something should happen to you. What if you should lose your voice or be incapacitated. You should always have something to fall back on and have something bringing income without you having to perform personally. "

Autry owned the California Angels and was a member of the board of directors of the American League. In the late 1970s he built KAUT-TV in Oklahoma City. At the time of his death he was one of the 400 richest men in America. Gene Autry who began his career in 1928 as "Oklahoma's Yodeling Cowboy" died in 1998.

His story is just one of the many stories told in the Oklahoma History Center, NE 23rd Street just east of the state capitol. The Oklahoma History Center is dedicated to collecting, preserving, and sharing our state's history. I'm Michael Dean.