Thursday, October 8, 2015

The Real Gene Autry

Gene Autry's grave

To wrap up the shooting of our TV episode on the famous singing cowboy, Gene Autry, Diana and I visited his grave at Forest Lawn Cemetery in Los Angeles. I guess I was expecting something different. The marker is small and lies flat on the side of a grassy hill, not far from the road. On the day we visited, I had to brush away some leaves and dirt to read the words. When I had asked for directions at the visitors’ center, the lady who helped me had not recognized Gene’s name.

Gene Autry 1907-1998
Gene Autry is the only entertainer to have five stars on the Hollywood Walk of Fame, symbols of his achievements in radio, recording, motion pictures, television, and live theatre/performance. He was a 33rd degree Mason, pilot, songwriter, recording artist, broadcaster, baseball team owner, and entertainment industry visionary. He was a generous friend, a courageous patriot, and a role model for kids. At the height of his fame, he may have been the best-known American in the world. It’s hard to imagine a more perfect man.

But Gene Autry was not perfect. As I dug into his story, I learned that he had a drinking problem that led to embarrassing public incidents. His long affair with Gail Davis, star of the Annie Oakley TV series that Autry produced from 1954 to 1957, was well-known around Hollywood.  Like all of us, Gene Autry was a flawed human. That he managed those flaws successfully is suggested by his myriad contributions later in life.  

Our 2008 TV episode, "Gene Autry and the Seven Champions," tells Gene’s story lovingly and honestly using impeccable sources. I’ve prepared a special commercial-free version for your viewing pleasure. I’ve also brought back a two-part radio interview with Gene’s official biographer, Holly George Warren. Enjoy!

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