Public Cowboy No. 1: The Life and Times of Gene Autry

Public Cowboy No. 1: The Life and Times of Gene Autry

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by Holly George-Warren

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The only performer to earn 5 stars on the Hollywood Walk of Fame—for film, recordings, TV, radio, and live performance—Gene Autry was the singing cowboy king of American entertainment. Now, in Public Cowboy No.1, Holly George-Warren offers the first serious biography of this singular individual, in a fascinating narrative that traces Autry's climb


The only performer to earn 5 stars on the Hollywood Walk of Fame—for film, recordings, TV, radio, and live performance—Gene Autry was the singing cowboy king of American entertainment. Now, in Public Cowboy No.1, Holly George-Warren offers the first serious biography of this singular individual, in a fascinating narrative that traces Autry's climb from small-town farm boy to multimillionaire.

Here for the first time Autry the legend becomes a flesh-and-blood man—with all the passions, triumphs, and tragedies of a flawed icon. George-Warren recounts stories never before told, including revelations about Autry's impoverished boyhood, his adventures as an up-and-coming singer, and the impact his unbelievable success had on his personal life. She describes Autry's loving but doomed mother, who died on the brink of her son's success, and his ne'er-do-well father, who married five times and wandered the west. Autry battled his own demons but emerges here in a positive light, an immensely personable man, one of America's most charitable benefactors, known for his boundless generosity, and a patriot who enlisted during World War II. The book provides equally colorful details of Autry's lengthy radio and recording career, which included such classics as "Back in the Saddle Again" and "Rudolph the Red-Nosed Reindeer"; his movie career, where he breathed new life into the Western genre; and his role in early television, being the first movie star to develop his own TV shows. And along the way, we see how he invested shrewdly in radio, real-estate, and television, becoming the owner of the California Angels and the only entertainer listed among 1990's Fortune 400.

Based on exclusive access to Gene Autry's personal papers, as well as interviews with more than 100 relatives, employees, colleagues, and friends, this engaging biography brings to life a major Hollywood star—a man who, more than anyone else, put Western music and style on the American cultural map.

Editorial Reviews

Jeanine Basinger
Ms. George-Warren was given access to Autry’s archives, and she presents a complete portrait of the poor boy named Orvon Grover Autry who worked hard to rise to the top of a profession that was alien to his origins. She doesn’t psychoanalyze Autry, interpret him or tell alleged “secrets” that she alone miraculously knows. Her Autry is externalized, but her research is deep and impeccable. Every celebrity could use a biographer like Ms. George-Warren.
— The New York Times
Publishers Weekly

In this enjoyable, thoroughly researched volume, author and pop culture commentator George Warren (Cowboy) details the life and work of Gene Autry, the influential star of music, movies and television. After a descriptive genealogy, George Warren takes the reader through Autry's formative years, featuring his deadbeat dad, the oft-married Delbert, and his long-suffering mom, Nora. Born Orvon Grover Autry in 1907, the cowboy's childhood was spent watching Tom Mix movies in Achille, Okla., and singing for classmates. The bulk of the book is devoted to Autry's career as a musician and film actor, beginning with the telegraphing job he neglected in order to make his early recordings, and his subsequent discovery by American Record Corporation A&R man Art Satherley. Most striking, though perhaps not surprising, is that the much-revered man who "reinvent[ed] the saga of the cowboy and the West" was not a cowboy at all, but a deft performer and professional who made an unexpected, highly fortuitous move from film to television in the late 1940s. Included are abundant notes, a bibliography and a brilliant chronological list of Autry's 640 recording sessions. An easy, fluid read, this illuminating biography also provides a look into the early days of the radio and recording industry. (Apr.)

Copyright 2007 Reed Business Information
From the Publisher
"A thorough, no-nonsense account of a singular life, and the prolific music writer George-Warren employs a brisk, assured style that hews to the Cowboy Code."—The Atlantic

"At last, in the centennial year of Gene's birth, Holly George-Warren gives us Public Cowboy No. 1, his first serious, full-length biography. There isn't likely to be another for a long time, so it's fortunate that Ms. George-Warren's is a good one."—Dallas Morning News

"An appealing, bittersweet success story."—Jack Mrkowitz, Pittsburgh Tribune-Review

"The book is well-researched and written with a careful eye to history and a keen appreciation of music. And it is — appropriately, I think — tinged with a bit of George-Warren's genuine appreciation of Autry the artist and star but even more of Autry the person, the one she got to know before his death in 1998. Biographers don't always meet their subjects, obviously, and if they do, the results may be disastrous — or beneficial. In George-Warren's case, it proved to be providential."—Country Music Television website (

"George-Warren does an impeccable job of presenting the facts of Autry's life and career detailing his early attempts at making records through his most successful periods. For fans of the singing cowboy, country music or general pop culture this book is highly recommended."—Midwest Book Review

"Public Cowboy No. 1 increases our understanding of the American cowboy myth, perpetuated by those movies known as westerns. George-Warren creates a realistic, factual portrait of Autry, the star and the man."—Rick Tamble, The Tennessean

"The definitive portrait of Gene Autry."—John Beifuss, Commercial Appeal

Product Details

Oxford University Press, USA
Publication date:
Product dimensions:
9.40(w) x 6.60(h) x 1.80(d)

Meet the Author

Holly George-Warren is an award-winning writer, editor, and frequent commentator on Western films, music, and fashion. A contributor to more than 40 books on popular music, she is the author of Cowboy! How Hollywood Invented the Wild West and coauthor of How the West Was Worn: A History of Western Wear. Her writing has appeared in The New York Times, Rolling Stone, Village Voice, Entertainment Weekly, and many other publications.

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Public Cowboy No. 1: The Life and Times of Gene Autry 3.7 out of 5 based on 0 ratings. 6 reviews.
Saddlepal More than 1 year ago
Holly George-Warren has written what will become the standard biography of singer and western star Gene Autry. Her book is meticulously researched and it contains every aspect of both his personal and professional life. As one who loved Gene Autry films and carried the Autry lunchbox to school every day many years ago, I appreciate the author's time and efforts in outlining and explaining a remarkable life. The author has an obvious affection for Gene Autry. She records his unfailing loyalty to his large circle of friends and his immense generosity in supporting charities throughout his long life. Autry had many more friends than enemies. Sadly, the author must report that Autry, like many of our heroes, had some serious faults. His fans thought of Autry as a paradigm of virtue; a strong man of character, courage, and courtesy. In reality, Autry had a reputation as a womanizer and abused alcohol for much of his adult life. One would wish that he could have lived up to the high moral code which he promoted for years in his movies and television shows. These blemishes were hidden from the public and his millions of fans looked up to him as a wholesome role-model for living their own lives. There are marvelous movie posters and photographs to accompany the text which are worth the price of the book for fans. Adults will be taken back to their childhoods when they rode the dangerous trails of the old west with their pal, Gene Autry. A great ride will be had by all!
TheAnonymousDude More than 1 year ago
I am genuinely interested in Gene Autry and recognize his important contribution to American culture. But, this book is more of an academic exercise than I think the average reader of commercial non-fiction is looking for. I mean, footnotes? At over 500 pages, it really presents too much trivial detail. I didn't finish. Truthfully, I skimmed a lot of what I did get through. I would describe it more as a well written scholarly piece, rather than the entertaining biography I expected. If you are a truly obsessed Gene Autry groupie, then this book is for you. But, I really don't need documented knowledge of what songs Gene sang on specific radio shows and what he was wearing at the time.
turkeygirl25 More than 1 year ago
I'm a fan of Gene Autry's movies and music, and I wanted to know more about him, because I loved him from my knowledge of his music and movies. From this book, I learn both what I could cherish and what would make me weep for him and his wife Ina. I believe the author did an amazing job of presenting Gene Autry as he was when he walk on the earth, in all his greatness and human frailties, without seeming to praise or judge either way. My only real regret is not knowing the story of all Gene's life after the 1960's, when he "retired" from making music and movies to be strictly a business man and owner of a major league baseball team. The details of his last days on the entertainment circuit were so morally and mortally tragic, that I want desperately to hear that things improved when he was closer to home and certain temptations were not so ready to hand anymore. I just wish it for his own sake as a person, but also for my love for him as a fan. Still and all, reading this biography is a great lesson in life. No man is perfect. Every one has their faults and failures. Some men's go before, and some men's follow after. If a person could learn anything from anyone's life: be who you want to be -- who you ought to be both in private and in public at all times, as much as you humanly can be because one day it will all come out anyway, whether you like it or not! If you are honest from start to finish, Lord willing, you won't be monsterously ashamed in the end, since everything done had a chance for help and correction at one time or another!
Guest More than 1 year ago
I have been a life time fan of gene and was surprised to get to know the real gene autry with detail descrpition of his private life. The only dissapoinment of my hero was his drinking. I highly recommend this book for fan and nonefan alike. Joe de la rosa
Guest More than 1 year ago
If you want to learn more than necessary about how songs came into being, read this book. If you want to sweep an idol from his pedestal, read this book. If you want to remember kindly, good and talented Gene Autry, buy his CDs and DVDs and give this work of craft a miss.
Anonymous More than 1 year ago