The Life and Legacy of Gene Autry: The Singing Cowboy & True Country Gentleman

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Tony Maples Photography


Born Orvon Grover Autry on a ranch in Tioga, Texas, the man we know as Gene Autry also went by another familiar name. “The Singing Cowboy” lived to the ripe old age of 91, and had it not been for lymphoma, we’re guessing he would have happily continued on for many years to come. Upon his passing in 1998, Forbes magazine listed him as one of the richest Americans, estimating his worth at $320 million. He made his fortune through real estate, the ownership of the Anaheim Angels, owning/managing TV and radio stations, oil wells and hotels, and of course, through the entertainment industry.

Autry’s grandfather was a preacher, and as a young lad in Texas, he sang soprano in the church choir. His parents moved to Oklahoma when he was a teenager, where he helped work his father’s ranch each day after school. The story goes that after obtaining a job as a railroad telegrapher, in the lulls of the work he would sing, yodel, and play guitar, and it was there that Will Rogers heard him and encouraged him to try it professionally.

He signed a recording deal in his early 20s with Columbia Records and, eventually, Ray Whitley’s song, “Back In The Saddle Again,” became a huge hit for him, a theme song, and was the title of his 1976 autobiography. His wide appeal was not only due to his singing and acting talent but also to his generosity and gentle nature. He was married to Ina Mae Spivey from 1932 until her passing 1980, and the following year he married Jacqueline Ellam but had no children from either of the marriages.

During World War II, even though he was wealthy and successful, he enlisted in the U.S. Army Air Force and ferried cargo from the Far East. According to his New York Times obituary, the Army permitted him to wear his treasured cowboy boots together with his uniform – something that was quite unheard of at that time. It was during this time that Roy Rogers found a place in Hollywood and was promoted as the “King of the Cowboys.” But for Autry, even long after his term in the army and his retirement from show business, he continued to don Western wear, because that’s what he loved to wear and that’s who he was. His career in the entertainment industry spanned seven decades, and he was the only entertainer on the Hollywood Walk of Fame to have five stars – one for each of his works in film, television, radio, records, and live theater (including rodeo work.) And among the other very impressive facts about the man, his legacy, and his career, the fact that he was the first performer to ever sell out Madison Square Garden speaks volumes. Shared on the Gene Autry Official YouTube Channel, this recording of “Back in the Saddle Again” is from his movie of the same title by Republic Pictures, filmed in 1941. He was a powerful player in the industry, a modest and hard worker, and a true country gentleman as much as he was “The Singing Cowboy.”




Gene Autry