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Gene Autry Museum

Born the same year as the birth of our state, Gene Autry created the image of the singing cowboy. We visit the town and museum that carries his namesake.
Gene Autry Museum

Gene Autry

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Gene Autry Museum

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Show 0831: Gene Autry Museum

Air date: August 3, 2008

 

Transcript

Rob:  Born in the same year as the birth of our state, Gene Autry created the image of the singing cowboy.   Autry went on to make more than 90 movies, serve in World War II, and even buy a baseball team.  As our Brian Bendele reports, nowhere is his life better chronicled than in the town that carries his namesake, Gene Autry, Oklahoma.

Brian:  Gene Autry may have been born a Texan and sang his way to Hollywood, but his heart and his name will always be in Oklahoma.

Mary Schutz:  In 1941 the town got together, actually a bigger town than it is now, and decided to change the name from Burwin, kind of boring, to Gene Autry, not Autry, but Gene Autry.

Brian:  Mary Schutz is the program and production director for the Gene Autry museum in Gene Autry, Oklahoma, and says the singing cowboy had a major impact on the town and surrounding areas.

Schutz:  He used to have his ranch here.  Back in the 30’s, he brought his rodeo stock up here, and bought some land right outside of town here.  He actually donated money for things, like an auditorium in Ardmore.  A lot of film history happened here; some of the films were shot out at the ranch.  Also Roy Rogers and Dale Evans were married at the ranch, so it’s fun, historical stuff in this area.

Brian:  Autry starred in over 93 B western movies and became noted as the singing cowboy.  He had numerous hit songs along with his own radio show reaching the peak of his popularity from 1937 to 1942.  Yet all of his success might not have been possible without the chance encounter from another one of Oklahoma’s finest.

Schutz:  Will Rogers walked in and said keep on singing, that’s pretty darn good.  He let him sing a couple of songs, and said, you know what?  You need to go to New York and get a record deal.

Brian:  And the rest, as they say, is history.  Even though Gene Autry was named after the singing cowboy, it wasn’t until 1990 that the museum was created, and mostly out of necessity.

Schutz:  We decided to have a meeting and wanted to know what to do with the old school building.  So we made a museum out of it.

Brian:  Elven Sweeten is the director of the museum and owns the majority of the collection.  He says the museum is critical to the community.

Elven Sweeten:  Well it’s probably kept the town together quite a bit.  We don’t have anything, except two churches and the museum, and that’s about it.

Brian:  Vintage movie posters line the wall of the old gymnasium, but the main focus is on the movie screen.  And the museum is not only full of old movie posters, but also unique memorabilia, like Gene Autry’s horse, old Champion, the world’s wonder horse.

Schutz:  Now these bridles here are replicas of the kind that Gene Autry used with Champion; and an interesting aspect of this is that, these were designed and built by someone here in Ardmore.

Brian:  The museum also showcases other greats from the western music and film era, like Roy Rogers, Rex Allen, and you can even see the Duke.  But it was Gene Autry that paved the way, setting a high standard for western icons and role models for young kids.

Schutz:  The creativity, maybe, was a little limited, more limited than modern movies, but it still meant a lot to the kids, and they actually learned things.  They always learned, that above all, be truthful, that right will always win, the bad guy is going to loose.

Brian:  And wholesome values always come first, as the hero is clean cut and sharp dressed, singing a good song as he rides off into the sunset.

Rob:  Now if you’d like to see more on Gene Autry, each year, during the last week of September, the town rolls out the red carpet for their annual music and film festival.