Although he was born in Tioga, Texas, Hollywood’s premiere singing cowboy Gene Autry sports deep enough Oklahoma roots to have a whole town in Carter County named in his honor. The legend of his show-biz career – he’s the only entertainer with five stars on the Hollywood Walk of Fame (for radio, recordings, motion pictures, television and live performance) – is amply documented and the stuff of enduring pride in this adopted native son.
Autry was nothing if not a canny businessman, and when the sun began setting in the late 1940s on his career in musical B Westerns, he smartly became one of the first top-line motion picture stars to foresee the coming of the Golden Age of Television and make the leap into the new medium.
“The Gene Autry Show,” sponsored by Wrigley’s Doublemint Chewing Gum, aired on CBS from 1950-55. In half-hour episodes it followed the adventures of a crooning cowboy named Gene Autry, who, along and his wonder horse Champion and his sidekick Pat Buttram, wander the Southwest to maintain law and order.
The “Collector’s Edition” package includes 14 discs containing 91 episodes (76 in black and white and 15 in color) that span the premiere show, “Head for Texas” in which Gene returns from a trip to discover that his boss’s new ranch hands are really rustlers in disguise, all the way through the full-color finale, “Dynamite,” where Gene and Pat stop a runaway stage only to find it empty, leading them on a chase to find the missing passenger and unravel a mining scam.
A bonus 15th disc focuses on Autry’s successful career as a producer (he was the first major movie star to produce and star in a weekly program for TV). The success of his own show led to the creation of Flying A Pictures, which produced other half-hour TV Westerns. The bonus disc includes two episodes each of Flying A shows “The Range Rider,” “Annie Oakley,” “Buffalo Bill, Jr.” and “The Adventures of Champion.”
The bonus package also contains episodes of Autry’s “Melody Ranch” radio show, film trailers for Autry movies, Wrigley’s Gum commercials with Autry, and a photo gallery of Gene Autry vending cards.
“The Gene Autry Show: The Complete Series,” being issued by Shout! Factory, marks the first time all of Autry’s shows and the Flying A bonus materials have been released under one cover.
- Dennis King