Do You Remember Gene Autry?

Gene Autry, nicknamed “The Singing Cowboy” was born in Tioga, Texas, on September 29th, 1907. His family moved to Ravia, Oklahoma, in the 1920s. Gene Autry became one of the most prolific Country and Western entertainers of all time.

Did you know that “The Singing Cowboy” got his start here in Sapulpa? After graduating from high school, Autry went to work for the Frisco Railroad as a telegraph operator and worked several years in Sapulpa.

Gene Autry

Gene Autry worked in a converted boxcar with windows and a “pot-bellied stove,” which served as the telegrapher’s office, located just north of the Harvey House-Frisco Depot on Hobson Ave. In his spare time, he would play his guitar and sing for customers, as well as performing at church events, such as an “All-Church Banquet” at the First Christian Church in 1929. Autry also performed for several Sapulpa civic clubs, such as the Junior Chamber of Commerce and the Frisco Employees Club. Another favorite venue was an ice cream parlor on East Hobson Ave.

One day, while playing his guitar and singing at the telegraph office, a passenger who had stepped off the train, stopped to listen and gave Autry some advice. The passenger, Will Rogers, told the young lad if he kept up the “good work” he would be a success.

Gene Autry performed on KVOO radio with “Catfish” Jimmie Wilson and eventually had his own show. KVOO billed him as “Oklahoma’s Yodeling Cowboy.” Autry later signed a contract with Columbia Records and subsequently performed for the “National Barn Dance” on Chicago radio station WLS. Gene Autry later went to Hollywood and first appeared on the big screen in 1934.

Poster for the Gene Autry movie, “South of the Border”

The Yale, The State, and The Criterion theaters showed Autry’s movies, such as “Boots and Saddles,” “Comin Round The Mountain,” “Sioux City Sue,” “Shooting High,” “Sagebrush Troubadour,” and many more.

M. J. Katz, the president of the Chamber of Commerce, announced in October of 1941, that Gene Autry would be coming back to Sapulpa for a homecoming and there would be a “Gene Autry Day.”

A letter was sent to Autry in 1941 from the liquidating agent, E.L. Pitchlynn, distributing final dividend checks for the now-defunct Sapulpa State Bank, informing Autry that “old-timers” believed that he was the O.G Autry (Gene Autry’s given name was Orvon Grover Autry) who had dividend checks waiting to be claimed.

The Sapulpa Herald announced in July of 1942 that Gene Autry had enlisted in the Army Air Corps. Autry became Sgt. Gene Autry. During the war, he ferried fuel, ammunition, and arms in the China-India-Burma theater of war and flew over the Himalayas, the hazardous air route known as “The Hump.” When the war ended Autry was reassigned to Special Services, where he toured with a USO troupe in the South Pacific before resuming his movie career in 1946.

Autry made 640 recordings, including more than 300 songs written or co-written by him. His records sold more than 100 million copies and more than a dozen went gold and platinum, including the first record ever certified “Gold.” His Christmas and children’s records “Here Comes Santa Claus” (Right Down Santa Claus Lane) and “Peter Cottontail” are among his platinum recordings. “Rudolph the Red-Nosed Reindeer,” the second all-time best selling Christmas single sold 30,000,000 copies.

Autry produced and starred in 91 half-hour episodes of “The Gene Autry Show” for CBS Television. Autry also produced such popular TV series as “Annie Oakley,” “The Range Rider,” “Buffalo Bill Jr.,” “The Adventures Of Champion,” as well as the first 39 episodes of “Death Valley Days.” From 1934 to 1953, Gene Autry appeared in 93 feature films.

Gene Autry owned a radio station, a television station and the Los Angeles Angels baseball team.

Autry is the only entertainer to have all five stars on the Hollywood Walk of Fame, one each for Radio, Recording, Motion Pictures, Television, and Live Theatre/performance.

Gene Autry died at his home in studio city, California, on October 2nd, 1998.

Don’t miss your chance to see “A Gene Autry Christmas!”

The Sapulpa Historical Museum is hosting a Christmas Open House, Thursday, December 12th, at 5:30 p.m. The theme will be “A Gene Autry Christmas.” Hot apple cider and desserts will be served, along with Gene Autry music, and a tour of the museum.

So the next time you hear “Rudolph the Red-Nosed Reindeer,” just remember, it was recorded by Sapulpa’s “Singing Cowboy,” Gene Autry.
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Charles Betzler

Charles Betzler

Long-time Sapulpa resident, Charles Betzler, followed his father, Charlie, into the radio and TV repair business. At age 9, he fixed his first broken radio and his first love is vintage audio equipment. In his 50 + years of technical work, graduation from OSUIT, and years of Continuing Education, Charles, in his capacity as Emergency Management Director of nearby city, designed the Emergency Operations Center, and the radio-activation system for the sirens. In his long career, he has repaired every type of consumer electronics from black-and-white TVs to the latest lap-top.