Gene Autry

Born in the plains of Tioga, Texas, on Sept. 29, 1907, Orvon Gene Autry was working as a railroad telegrapher in Oklahoma when Will Rogers reportedly heard him sing and urged him to pursue a career in music.

After carving out a successful career in radio with his soothing tenor voice, Autry eventually debuted as Hollywood's first real "singing cowboy," playing himself in Ken Maynard's In Old Santa Fe (1934) and starring in a string of B Westerns with his trusty horse, Champion, and his sidekick, Smiley Burnette, throughout the 1930s and '40s.

After serving in World War II, he starred in The Last Round-Up (1947) and The Strawberry Roan (1948) before moving to television with "The Gene Autry Show" (1950-56) and retiring in 1956. A lifelong collector of Western memorabilia, Autry died on Oct. 2, 1998, 10 years after establishing the Gene Autry Western Heritage Museum in Los Angeles.

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