Reviews for Gene Autry Westerns
Posted August 3, 2007
Here is a review from The Albuquerque Tribune for Boyd Magers' book Gene Autry Westerns.
Albuquerque author compiles Gene Autry filmography
By Ollie Reed Jr.
As a kid growing up in America's heartland in the 1940s and '50s, Boyd Magers seldom missed a Saturday afternoon with his silver-screen cowboy heroes.
At the Beldorf theater in Independence, Kan., and, later, the Center theater in Ponca City, Okla., Magers would hunker down Saturdays with the likes of Lash LaRue, Rocky Lane, Tex Ritter, Roy Rogers, Jimmy Wakely, Whip Wilson, Johnny Mack Brown, Eddie Dean and Gene Autry.
Autry, the box office champ of them all in the years before World War II, became known as America's Favorite Cowboy.
But he wasn't Magers' favorite.
"I liked Wakely, although lots of people didn't," said Magers, 67, now an Albuquerque resident, an authority on Western films and author of the new book "Gene Autry Westerns."
Even though he liked other cowboy stars better, Magers enjoyed Autry's movies and says Autry's impact on the American cowboy movie is second only to Western movie icon John Wayne.
Wayne and Autry were born 100 years ago this year.
Wayne starred in Western epics such as "The Searchers" and "Red River" and won an Oscar for his role in the 1969 Western "True Grit."
"But Autry really started the singing cowboy genre with (1935's) 'Tumbling Tumbleweeds,' " Magers said during an interview at his Southeast Albuquerque home. "Other movie cowboys like Bob Steele had sung on-screen before, but this was the first time that songs were introduced naturally, through a story involving a medicine show, into a traditional Western movie."
Autry, born near Tioga, Texas, on Sept. 29, 1907, made 90-plus B or budget Westerns between 1934 and 1953 and was a giant in the music business, recording not only Western songs such as "Back in the Saddle" but also hits such as "Rudolph the Red-Nosed Reindeer" and "Here Comes Santa Claus."
His centennial is being celebrated in Los Angeles from Aug. 3 through Aug. 9 during Gene Autry's Film Friends Fan Club Convention. Magers will take part in the event as a panelist and bus-tour host and will read a part in a recreation of one of Autry's "Melody Ranch" radio shows.
Also, the popular Western music group Riders in the Sky recently reissued an expanded version of its 1996 Autry-tribute CD, "Public Cowboy No. 1," and is celebrating Autry's music this year with its Centennial Salute to Gene Autry Tour. The group performs at 7:30 p.m. Aug. 5 at the Rockin' R Gallery in Placitas and will likely sing some of Autry's best-known songs.
In 1935's "Tumbling Tumbleweeds," Autry sings the popular Western song of that title as well as "I'll Yodel My Troubles Away," "Ridin' Down the Canyon" and "That Silver Haired Daddy of Mine."
The movie not only broke trail for future singing cowboys such as Rogers, Wakely, Ritter and Rex Allen, it also provided a blueprint for a new kind of film that mixed music, comedy and hoof-pounding, wide-open spaces Western action.
Magers said the new genre hit home with the movie-going public.
"It was the Depression, and people were looking for something different," he said. "They were looking for escapism, not for realism."
Autry's movies created a mythic world, an appealing combination of modern life and the Old West that never actually existed.
Movie audiences might see Autry in a bunkhouse or herding cattle, but they might also see him in a nightclub or doing a radio show.
"You would see Gene, on horseback, chasing gangsters in a car," Magers said.
Magers has a huge collection of B Westerns, including all of Autry's movies, and he publishes "Western Clippings," a bimonthly magazine about Westerns. He is the author of several books of Western-movie history "Westerns Women," "Ladies of the Western," "Best of the Badmen" and "The Films of Audie Murphy."
Magers' "Gene Autry Westerns" doesn't pretend to be an Autry biography. It is a fact-crammed account of all of Autry's Western movies, as well as a look at his TV show (1950-56), his movie sidekicks, his leading ladies, his movie songs, his movie locations and his movie horse, Champion.
Actually, Magers said, there were as many as seven Champions, some of which appeared in the movies and others that made public appearances with Autry.
Magers watched every one of the Autry movies through again at least once before writing the book.
"I watched them in chronological order so I could see the development of Gene as an actor, a singer and a horseman and also the development of the movies," he said. "Gene got better. The movies did, too."
Gene Autry's first movie was a 1934 Western called "In Old Santa Fe," which starred onetime silent film cowboy Ken Maynard. Autry just had a bit part as a square-dance caller and singer.
And the movie was filmed in California, not in old Santa Fe.
In fact, of all the Westerns Autry made, Magers said only part of one 1950's "Sons of New Mexico" was filmed in New Mexico.
That one was set at the New Mexico Military Institute in Roswell. Autry and the institute's cavalry cadets ride to the rescue at the end.
Autry was the top hand in Western movies when he put his career on hold to join the Army Air Force during World War II. Magers said a fickle public just about forgot him during his years in the service.
"Gene almost had to start over after World War II," he said.
His first movie after the war was 1946's "Sioux City Sue," one of Magers' favorites.
In it, Autry plays a cowboy who reluctantly accepts a Hollywood recording contract because his ranch is in financial trouble. Then he finds out the studio only wants to use his voice for a cartoon donkey. It's as much comedy as Western.
"It's a picture unlike any he made before or after the war," Magers said. "Pure fun."
Autry's final Western movie was 1953's "Last of the Pony Riders," in which he takes on outlaws preying on Pony Express riders.
Magers said Autry's big screen bow was above average.
But his all-time personal favorite is 1939's "Rovin' Tumbleweeds," in which Autry plays a rancher who wins election to the U.S. Congress on a flood-control platform.
"But he can't get anything done because of bureaucratic red tape in Washington," Magers said. "It's innovative, different. It may be the first movie where Gene wears a suit."
After his movie career, Autry went into TV production. He bought radio and TV stations and the California Angels baseball team. In 1995, his net worth was estimated at $320 million.
He died in 1998 at age 91, but he kicked up some dust during his long life.
"He changed the face of screen Westerns," Magers said. "He fired the imagination of the world."