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Sunday, January 4, 2009


Home Gene Autry - Historic postcard collection of The Museum of the San Fernando Valley - gift of Gary Fredburg 2008 (click on image to enlarge)

When Gene Autry died in his Studio City home on October 2, 1998, he was 91 years old. His phenomenal legacy in American arts and culture still shapes our society today. Gene was "discovered" at the age of 22 by the great humorist Will Rodger. He had been featured on local radio in Tulsa as "Oklahoma's Yodeling Cowboy." Rodgers helped the young singer win his first recording contract.
In 1934, Gene Autry added motion pictures to his resume. By the 1950s, he had made the singing cowboy hero, a major genre of American film. Over a 100 million copies of his recordings were sold during his lifetime, and his Christmas recordings are still seasonal standard to this day.
Gene Autry could have easily used his popularity and fame to avoid combat service during World War II, but instead joined the U.S. Army Air Corps (now the Air Force) as a pilot. Gene and other courageous men transported weapons, fuel and ammunition over the Himalayan Mountains from India, across Burma and into China. When the fighting ended, Gene accepted a post war assignment to accompany a USO troupe in the South Pacific.
Using his "Melody Ranch" radio broadcasting experience, Gene Autry became one of the first great stars of the newly popular media called television. He not only produced his own show, but became the executive producer of other hit TV shows as well. Gene's instincts to do things the right way took him into the ownership of radio and television stations. By the early '60s he was into professional baseball, land investments and many other ventures.
In the 1980s, Gene Autry's vision of preserving America's western history began to take shape. By the end of the decade the Gene Autry Western Heritage Museum became a reality in Los Angeles' Griffith Park. Today an expanded Autry National Center protects, preserves and exhibits treasures of the Southwest Museum of the American Indian, the Institute for the study of the American West and the Museum of the American West.
Oklahoma's Yodeling Cowboy became a man whose is a living legacy for generations to come.

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