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

Fun Autry Fact:

In the late 1930s, Gene turned down an offer of $3,000 to endorse a brand of cigarette.

News Archive: 2007

Here is a review from Poughkeepsie for the book Public Cowboy No. 1: The Life and Times of Gene Autry by Holly George–Warren.

Book Offers Fresh Look at 'Public Cowboy'
By John W. Barry
September 23, 2007

Holly George-Warren of Phoenicia, who wrote a book about Gene Autry, recently gained a fresh perspective on how this singing cowboy touched people's lives.

Author Holly George-Warren
Photo credit: Mark Loete

At the Gene Autry's Friends Fan Club Convention, held in California in August, George-Warren was approached by a fan who had read her book — "Public Cowboy No. 1 — The Life and Times of Gene Autry."

The Autry fan told George-Warren, who teaches in the State University of New York at New Paltz journalism department, that his parents divorced when he was a child. The fan's mother never remarried and Autry — an entertainer the boy never met — became his father figure.

George-Warren's inclusion in her book of Autry's human side — his mistakes, his impoverished boyhood and father who married five times while wandering the West, among other facts — at first angered the fan. Then, he grew to see that Autry was only human, George-Warren said.

The Autry fan told George-Warren that after reading her book, he forgave Autry for being human — along with his own father.

Autry was a father figure, radio star, silver screen cowboy, television personality, live performer, recording star and owner of the California Angels Major League Baseball team. The man who was born in Tioga, Texas, in 1907 and died in 1998 in Studio City, Calif., let his fans decide which of his many sides was their favorite.

Perhaps that is part of the reason Autry's persona resonates so strongly a century after he was born.

"He was kind of this revolutionary figure of pop culture in the 20th century," said George-Warren, a former editor at Rolling Stone.

The man with the velvet voice, who could launch a singing career, belt out a few tunes live on the radio or in a shanty town, win election to Congress, save farmers from flooding AND get the girl, all in the course of a 63-minute movie, would have turned 100 Saturday. Judging by the slate of events set to mark his centennial nationwide, along with links he maintains to the Hudson Valley, Autry, for some, never fully disappeared, never quite rode quietly off into the sunset.

Autry's legacy has lasted, George-Warren said, because beyond the entertainment, he continues to symbolize something much bigger.

"It is the persona of the whole American ideal of the independent-minded individual — the person who does things his way, who is able to win the day through his instinct and his natural talents," said George-Warren.

Ranger Doug is the alter-ego of Doug B. Green, of the singing cowboy ensemble Riders in the Sky. The Grammy winning-band from Nashville has re-released its 1996 album, "Public Cowboy #1: The Music of Gene Autry" and will perform Sept. 29 at the Gene Autry Film & Music Festival in Gene Autry, Oklahoma.

Ranger Doug said he has loved Autry since he was a child.

"When you're a kid, you don't know anything about broken hearts or unfaithful spouses or getting drunk in the barroom or holding hands in the moonlight," he said.

"But you can relate to being out with your friends on a horse, singing; having an adventure; and independence — every kid wants that, the independence of riding out under those skies."

Locally, George-Warren is not the only person intrigued by Autry.

Mike Perpetua, who was born in Saugerties, met Autry when the performer played at Kingston High School in the 1950s. Autry performed in Kingston in 1955 and 1956.

"I can picture him standing there," said Perpetua, a Phoenicia resident and retired janitor with the Onteora school district, who was a teenager when he met Autry. "He was setting up and they were bringing in bales of hay."

Perpetua said Autry endures because, "He was just kind of like a big hero and a role model to a lot of kids."

Maxine Hansen served as Autry's secretary for the last 13 years of his life and is now the assistant for Autry's widow, Jackie. Hansen said the public is still fascinated with Autry for three reasons:

- "He is the American, if you want to say, rags to riches story. And it's just a fascinating story."

- "The characters he played and the man he was, it's really the same person."

- "He was very accessible to his fans."

Bill Eberle of Wappinger Falls, a DJ on Vassar College's WVKR (91.3 FM) radio, spotlights Autry and others who made similar music on his program, "Classic Country," which airs on WVKR from 9-11 a.m. Eberle plays the music of Autry, Johnny Cash and others of similar ilk.

"He's one of the good old country singers," said Eberle, "like Roy Rogers and Patsy Cline."

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