Gene Autry was my first and most impacting role model. The world was at war then, and many other absurd and evil things were happening in the realm of the adults I couldn’t understand. Largely because of Autry’s influence on me, my own small world had its coherence and comprehensible value system. Above and beyond his ten-point “Cowboy Code” (avoid bad habits, be a good worker, be gentle with children and the elderly, etc.) real virtue emanated from him in a natural aura. It could have been that I saw what I wanted to see rather than what actually was. No matter. The end result, I believe, was good.
The impetus for the essay was an announcement that former Andrews, Texas, mayor Louis Miller had arranged for a weekend exhibit of memorabilia pertaining to Gene Autry. I did not discover until a few years later that Gene did not much appreciate such events; he considered them slightly tacky. He much preferred museums, like the one he established in Los Angeles initially called the Gene Autry Western Heritage Museum and now known as Autry National Center of the American West. Gene reportedly said that he instituted that museum as his way of showing appreciation for the culture of the Southwestern United States, which he viewed as having been the inspiration for his career. The museum is a multi-purpose facility designed as a combination library, art gallery, theater, and research facility. But hey, that’s okay. Mayor Miller’s intention was well-meaning; like myself, he was an old Gene Autry fan in his childhood.
(born Orvon Gene Autry, 1907 - 1998) rose to American superstardom with phenomenally successful careers in singing, song writing, and acting. Known as one of the entertainment industry's most popular singing cowboys and cowboy actors, Mr. Autry recorded more than 600 songs, wrote or co-wrote more than 250 songs, starred in his own successful weekly radio show for 16 years (Gene Autry's Melody Ranch), starred in more than 90 films, and produced and starred in 91 half-hour episodes of The Gene Autry Show for television. He also toured extensively for public performances, most famously with his horse Champion. He has the notable distinction of being the only entertainer to have five stars on Hollywood's Walk of Fame (for radio, recording, motion pictures, television and live theatre / performance). He was widely respected for living a life on-screen and off that adhered to the cowboy code that bore his name.