Gene Autry: Salute to a savvy singing cowboy

Autrypubliccowboyno_1_1937_2I’m a sucker for a singing cowboy movie marathon, and Encore Westerns has a doozy lined up for the end of this month to commemorate what would have been Gene Autry’s 100th birthday on Sept. 29.

There’s no better illustration of the kind of B-Western volume that Autry turned out for Republic Pictures in the 1940s and ’50s than the fact that Encore can program a 100-hour marathon of his pics, to run from 8 p.m. on Sept. 28 to midnight on Oct. 2 without repeating a single pic, with the exception of the new half-hour docu “Gene Autry: White Hat, Silver Screen.” (For the sked, click here.)

Autry famously moved into TV production early on with his Flying A Prods. turning out an Autry-toplined show as well as oater-adventure skeins “The Range Rider,” “Annie Oakley” and “Buffalo Bill Jr.” Plus, he wrote the Christmas chestnut “Here Comes Santa Claus,” specifically for the Hollywood Christmas Parade, in which he was a frequent participant.

Autry, who died in 1998, was very much a local mogul when I was a kid, as the owner KTLA-TV Los Autrybackinthesaddle1941 Angeles, in addition to a few radio stations and the California Angels baseball team. (KTLA’s telecasts of Angels games would always feature a few lingering shots of the Cowboy, as he was known, sitting with some dignitary in the owners box. Too bad the team never clinched the World Series during his lifetime, but, hey, they did have Nolan Ryan.)

KTLA in those years always began its broadcast day with spins of Autry’s old TV shows. Amortization? Nostalgia? Ego? Maybe it was a combination of all three, but so what? He owned the place. These days, his legacy lives on most prominently at the Autry National Center and Museum of the American West across the street from the L.A. Zoo. A ton of Autry-ana can also be found at GeneAutry.com.

(Pictured top: Autry in 1937’s “Public Cowboy No. 1.” At right, Autry in 1941’s “Back in the Saddle.”)