By: Victor Phillips, Director of Membership and Visitor Services
By the time Gene Autry realized his dream to open a museum that would tell the stories of the American West, his list of accomplishments was monumental. Sgt. Gene Autry proudly served in the Army Air Corps during WWII, where, among his duties, he ferried fuel, ammunition, and arms to Allied forces in the China-India-Burma theater. He was a successful businessman—his holdings included television and radio stations, music publishing corporations, and film production companies. In 1960 he purchased a Major League Baseball team—my own childhood memories of Gene are of him being the beloved owner of my life-long favorite team, the Los Angeles Angels (the California Angels of my youth).
But it was perhaps his years spent as “America’s Favorite Singing Cowboy,” that have had the biggest impact on his legacy to date. I don’t offer this hypothesis based on the impressive volume of his work (he starred in 93 feature films and made 640 recordings, not to mention his wildly successful radio and television shows), nor the long list of honors and accolades given him (to name a few: he has five stars on the Hollywood Walk of Fame, a Governor’s Emmy Award from the Academy of Television Arts and Sciences, and he’s a member of the Country Music Hall of Fame). What I base this argument on, and what inspired me to write this blog post, is my experience interacting with many of his fans who recall afternoons spent at the matinee watching their hero in the flicker of black and white, or who speak fondly of sharing their favorite Gene Autry songs with their children and grandchildren.
Images (Click image for details):
In my role as the Autry's Director of Membership and Visitor Services, I’m often the recipient of notes from Gene’s fans across the country. Sometimes folks write requesting information about Gene or about the museum. Other times, they write to thank the museum for continuing Gene’s work with the museum collections. But the letters I enjoy reading most are those that relate the sheer joy that Gene Autry’s films and music brought into the lives of their authors. Oftentimes, these letters will include personal photographs of favorite movie posters or childhood toys. I’m continually moved by the sincerity and sentiment of these letters and their accounts of Gene, and I am always struck by the abiding impact his life and work have had on his ardent fanbase.
Just as the deep impression that Gene Autry made on his many fans endures, so does his work in film and music—not to mention his work as a museum founder. So, as the museum endeavors to make more online content available to engage our members and followers during this period of social distancing, I invite you to visit the official YouTube page of Gene Autry Entertainment, click on a video clip, tap your toe, and smile for a while.
More Gene Autry resources:
GeneAutry.com The Official Website for Gene Autry, America's Favorite Singing Cowboy
Gene Autry Merchandise at the Museum Store