Announcer Charlie Lyons was talking. "And now, here he is - America's Favorite Singing Cowboy, GENE AUTRY!" Handsome and smiling, the screen's original Singing Cowboy stepped out of the wings of New York's CBS Radio Studio into center stage and another Melody Ranch broadcast was under way. It was 1950 and my brother Richard and I were sitting in the front row, in the studio audience. Gene Autry was appearing at the Madison Square Garden Rodeo where he holds the all-time attendance record, and during those weeks, Melody Ranch emanated from the Big Apple. As the show came to an end and the band repeated Gene's theme, I'm Back In The Saddle Again, the Cowboy stepped forward and beckoned to me. Quietly I stood up and, hunched over, approached the stage - "Can you come to my dressing room after the show?" Gene asked, and of course I said yes.
When I walked in, Gene said he had been reading some of my articles in Autry's Aces, his Fan Club magazine, and asked if I would be interested in handling publicity for his personal appearance tour with the Gene Autry show in the Spring. It meant traveling as advance man for the 85 stop 'one nighters', two shows in each town or city, then doubling back and covering several places in depth for a week to ten days. Although I had done publicity for movies in England for an independent company, Renown Pictures, I had not traveled in the United States. "Do you think I can do it?" I asked. "I'm not up on plane, train and bus travel in the States."
Gene immediately put my fears to rest, and told me that Herb Green, his tour manager and the co-pilot of his twin-engined Beechcraft used on the tours would call me from the West Coast and send me an itinerary. He assured me I would do just fine.
During those interim few weeks, my job in New York seemed dull indeed compared to what lay ahead! Traveling with Gene Autry—seeing the Show with all those favorites like Smiley Burnette, Rufe Davis, Gail Davis, Pat Buttram, the Hoosier Hot Shots, the Cass County Boys, Carl Cotner, Frankie Marvin, Champion and Little Champion. Visiting virtually every part of the United States—and getting paid for all this—it was a dream come true.
I was assistant to the head booker of Walter Reade Theatres in the East when the call came—I was to join Gene's publicist, Don Lang, at the Lord Baltimore Hotel in Baltimore and learn the ropes for a few days before setting off alone to Sioux City, Iowa. As the plane took off and I was on my way for the great adventure, my mind flashed back to World War II London and the events that had led up to this.
It was at the Imperial Cinema on Edgware Road, a small neighborhood house, where I was jammed in a corner seat watching a reissue of Warner Brothers' mammoth Depression era musical, Footlight Parade. The second feature? Gene Autry in Guns and Guitars. It was tough to catch a Gene Autry picture in central London—the largest circuit houses played them only on Saturday matinees and it was the small cinemas, outlying suburbs and England's vast industrial areas where the Singing Cowboy was a bigger favorite that Clark Gable and where his films outdrew those of the big matinee idols. After Guns and Guitars, I would travel for miles by bus whenever an Autry feature was shown and in 1938 I headed the British Gene Autry Fan Club and published a quarterly magazine, The Westerner, with news of Gene's activities.