The Official Website of Gene Autry, America's Favorite Singing Cowboy

Fun Autry Fact:

When the famous "Hollywood" sign fell into disrepair in 1978, various entertainers agreed to buy a letter for $27,777.77. Gene bought the first "L."

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Television

The First Show

"Gene Autry says:
'Sunbeam is MY Favorite Bread!'
SEE GENE ON TV EVERY THURSDAY
AT 5:30 PM over WMT — TV"

The Gene Autry Show first aired on CBS from 1950 to 1955 and was sponsored by Wrigley's Doublemint Chewing Gum. It follows the adventures of singing cowboy Gene Autry, his Wonder Horse Champion, and his sidekick Pat Buttram, who travel the Southwest to maintain law and order. The series is a collection of stand-alone half-hour episodes: sometimes Gene and Pat know each other, sometimes they do not; some shows are set in the past and some are in the near present. Regardless, each unique show has Gene's trademark mixture of action, comedy, and singing. It also features a wide range of guests, including the Cass County Boys, Alan Hale Jr., Sheila Ryan, and Gail Davis.

Before a single scene of the series was ever shot, Gene and his staff spent more than two years studying all angles of television production. They then made extensive preparations, including creating a new organization, Flying A Pictures, with Armand Schaefer as president and producer-in-charge. Armand's history with Gene began in 1934 with the serial Mystery Mountain and continued through Gene's successful movie career. Original scripts written especially for the television medium were purchased from well-known Western adventure writers, many of whom had also worked on Gene's features. A permanent filming location was established at Pioneertown, near Palm Springs, California. In 1952, filming was also done at the legendary Monogram Ranch in Newhall, California, which Gene would later purchase and rename Melody Ranch.

Gene and Pat promoting the TV
and radio shows in Cedar Rapids,
Iowa, c. 1953

Special filming techniques, devised with the home viewer in mind, were adapted. They eliminated long shots and concentrated instead on close-up action shots to give the viewer maximum intimacy with the players. In riding sequences, horsemen were photographed at close range and shown traveling across the screen rather than toward the camera. White tones and lighter shades were emphasized in the picture, and darker portions were kept deep gray rather than flat black. In order to assure the utmost in quality, the producers captured everything on 35 mm film.

Each episode of The Gene Autry Show, referred to as a film in the 1950s, is a complete half-hour story of wholesome, rugged, exciting Western adventure with Gene's songs—usually one to a show—neatly blended into the plot. Music is an important part of any Gene Autry project, and during 80% of each episode's action, background music helps set the mood. This percentage is in sharp contrast to the average 30% use of background music by other television programs at that time. Carl Cotner, the musical director for The Cowboy's CBS radio show Melody Ranch, composed and conducted for Gene's television show as well.

Gene Autry and Carl Cotner, c. 1950.

Gene's venture into television was not well received at first by the film exhibitors who believed the Singing Cowboy was undermining their business. (For details on this, please see the CBS Press Release dated July 7, 1950 and Alex Gordon's article.) In the end, however, The Gene Autry Show was successful, running five seasons on CBS from July 23, 1950, until December 24, 1955, with a total of 91 episodes, 15 of which were filmed in color. The year 1955 marked the end of Gene's onscreen career, as he had concluded his movies in 1953 with The Last of the Pony Riders. Although no longer starring in new programs for TV, Champion and Gene continued their popularity with television audiences in the 1960s and 1970s through syndicated episodes of The Gene Autry Show and edited versions of their much-loved feature films.

Press Releases:


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Flying A Pictures