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Radio: Double Mint Ranch

3 minute read

One night 10 years ago a stranger ambled into the Chelsea, Okla. station of the Frisco Line to file a telegram. He noticed a guitar resting beside the telegraph operator, a fellow named Autry, and requested They Plowed the Old Trail Under. Autry sang it, whereupon the stranger took the guitar and sang Casey Jones. The stranger chatted a while, told Autry his voice might get him somewhere some day, handed him a stick of chewing gum, and left his telegram. It was signed “Will Rogers.”

Only recently Gene Autry, now the dandiest, gaudiest, most popular singing cowboy in all Hollywood, turned down an offer of $3,000 to endorse a cigaret, because he does not smoke and his vast fandom knows it. But he gum-chews like a kraut cutter. So last Sunday night Gene Autry went to work at $1,000 a week on a new half-hour radio show over CBS for Double Mint gum, replacing Wrigley’s Gateway to Hollywood series of last year. First time out on radio’s Melody Ranch, Gene lassoed the folks with I’m ridin’ the range all day, Poundin’ the plains all day Ridin’ until my bones are weary . . . Ridin’ my life away.*

Then he galloped through a foam-flecked drama of the range country calculated to make Autry votaries champ their Double Mint in double-quick time.

Gene Autry is no stranger to radio. He twanged his first radio ballad over KVOO in Tulsa in 1928, for nothing. Hollywood tapped him in 1934 to start a movie career that no other hell-for-leather guitar plunker has ever equaled.

Now Gene Autry, at 32, gets $12,500 each for eight Republic pictures a year, got $25,000 from Twentieth Century-Fox for Shooting High with Jane Withers, makes $10,000 to $12,000 a year on phonograph records that sometimes outsell Bing Crosby’s. Another $25,000 a year comes from his magic imprimatur on cap pistols, sweat shirts, cowboy suits, a bandit-hunt game, toothbrushes, bandannas, books, balloons, dolls, a new, syndicated comic strip, make-up kits.

Because his big income is well known, Autry’s zooming fan mail (in September, 50,103 letters, more than 10,000 over Clara Bow’s record) contains all sorts of touches. Some even enclose checks filled in for as much as $1,000 for Autry to sign. Gene replies to all with free photographs of himself and his horse, Champion, autographed “Your pal, Gene Autry.” But to his friends he says plaintively: “Most people don’t realize this don’t represent my real income. They fergit I have my horses and equipment and wardrobe to keep up, insurance to pay, musicians and men to make my arrangements, and songwriters, an office force to handle my mail, and then my income tax. … So it isn’t so much when you add it all up.”

The number of Autry fans, however, when added up, is colossal. Recently, on a tour of Great Britain, where he was living proof of the fond British belief that the U. S. is still quite woolly, he outdid Gracie Fields’s attendance records in her own bailiwick, in Dublin paraded before 750,000. In the Motion Picture Herald’s, annual Exhibitors’ Ten Best for 1939, Autry was top Western star for the third straight year, a record made phenomenal by the fact that his pictures rarely if ever have hit the big, first-run theatres, but pile up their popularity abroad and in the sticks.

“Some of ’em,” Gene explained once recently, “play in towns so small even Mrs. Roosevelt hasn’t been there.”

*By special permission of the copyright owner, Sam Fox Publishing Co.

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