Gene Autry: Something to Sing About

The sooner we all start figuring out how to benefit from it, rather than run away from it, the better off we all will be.

Gene Autry.

Gene Autry

With that, “Oklahoma’s Yodeling Cowboy,” came out with both guns blazing. Change was in the winds (or at least on the airwaves) and Gene Autry was determined to be a trailblazer. The change he was talking about was television. After much deliberation, Autry had decided to produce a weekly series for the controversial new industry.

The Gene Autry Show

The Gene Autry Show premiered on July 23, 1950, and was an immediate hit with the small but enthusiastic TV audience. The success wasn’t exactly accidental. The show was the most expensive ever produced for television. It was shot on location and incorporated techniques that were new for the medium. Autry realized that long range action shots that worked effectively in his movies wouldn’t work on small television screens, so he shot most of the action head on. He also made extensive use of close-ups to capitalize on the intimacy of the TV experience. Of course, music played a big part in any Autry production and TV was no exception. Each “film” as they were called had 80% background music against a 30% industry standard and there was always at least one song.

None of this seems particularly threatening until you remember that in the early days of TV, the movie industry was in full panic. Everyone from the studio head to the kid selling popcorn at the local theater feared that television would mark the end of their business. They viewed Autry as a traitor accused him of inflicting “financial suffering” on theaters nationwide. Movie houses even began canceling contracts to show new Autry films. But Autry was not to be deterred and as the sun set on this chapter of our cultural history, he was still riding high in the saddle.


The entertainment landscape has a whole new look since Autry fought those early skirmishes. There’s one thing, though, that’s still the same—change. Popular wisdom is that change is inevitable so people better get used to it. But that’s only partially true. While there will always be some degree of change, we should never be complacent about it. That’s because not all change is good.

Often, things change because of fads. An author with good marketing skills writes a book and suddenly everyone starts adopting fanciful job titles, applying feng shui to the filing system and making geriatric employees do trust falls. If you find your office embracing a fad—watch out! This kind of change only lasts until the next “big idea” comes along to continue the chaos.

Gene Autry’s advice is well taken. We shouldn’t run from change. But let’s figure out the benefits before we give it a headlong embrace. When we do that, it will be something worth yodeling about!    —Ebert


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