In Order of Appearance
“America A Call to Greatness is a film for all times and it is just the right film for our times.”
-Jane Russell comments on America: A Call to Greatness.
Charlton Heston is known for having played roles larger than life such as Moses in The Ten Commandments, Andrew Jackson in The President’s Lady, and Judah Ben-Hur in Ben-Hur, for which he won the Best Actor Academy Award. He was only one of a handful of actors to speak out against racism and was an active supporter of the Civil Rights Movement. In his later years, ever the activist – Heston supported the 2nd Amendment Rights as President of the National Rifle Association. He served in World War II as a radio operator and aerial gunner, reaching the rank of Staff Sergeant before leaving the service at the end of the war.
Heston gained recognition for his role in Dark City, a 1950 film noir, but his big breakthrough came when he was cast as a circus manager in Cecil B. DeMille’s, The Greatest Show on Earth, which became the Motion Picture Academy’s best picture of 1952.
Heston played other leading roles in many popular fictional and historic epics such as El Cid, Michelangelo in The Agony and the Ecstasy, Khartoum, and the popular western, Will Penny.
Heston was president of the Screen Actors Guild from 1965 until 1971, the second longest tenure to date in that office. Then, in 1968, Heston starred in the highly successful Planet of the Apes. During that year he also portrayed Mark Antony in a Technicolor film version of Shakespeare's Julius Caesar. He subsequently starred in many other successful films such as The War Lord (1965), Soylent Green (1973), and Earthquake (1974).
Theatre had always been a love of Heston’s, and he continued to work in it throughout his career. One famous production had him starring as Sherlock Holmes in The Crucifer of Blood opposite Jeremy Brett as Dr. Watson. Having won critical acclaim for his interpretation of the famous detective he went on to star in an equally acclaimed television version. Heston made hundreds of other television appearances over years with such roles as Heathcliff in Studio One’s Wuthering Heights and as Long John Silver in a television adaptation of Treasure Island.
Charlton Heston passed away on Saturday, April 5, 2008 at his home in Beverly Hills, California with Lydia, his wife of 64 years by his side.
Mickey Rooney, born September 23, 1920, is an American film legend. He is an actor and entertainer whose film, television, and stage appearances span his entire lifetime. Over his career, he has won all the major acting wards including an Academy Award, a Golden Globe and an Emmy Award. In 1983 the Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Sciences voted him their Academy Honorary Award for his lifetime of achievement.
Rooney began performing in vaudeville with his family at 18 months and then in 1927 got the role of Mickey McGuire in a series of 78 comedy shorts based upon the popular comic strip character. He eventually signed with the film giant MGM in 1937.
In ’37, Rooney was cast as Andy Hardy opposite film great, Lionel Barrymore in A Family Affair. His presence was so strong and the film so successful that he went on to do 13 more Andy Hardy films at MGM and a final film in 1958. Aside from his continuing roles in the Hardy series, Rooney appeared alongside Judy Garland in many films including three of the Andy Hardy productions and a long string of successful musicals including the Academy Award nominated film, Babes in Arms. Rooney’s big breakthrough as a dramatic actor came opposite Spencer Tracey in 1938’s Boy’s Town.
Rooney was named the biggest box-office draw in 1939, 1940, and 1941. Then in 1944, Rooney entered military service for 21 months during World War II, during which time he was a radio personality on the American Forces Network. Following his return from the military he appeared for the last time with Judy Garland in the film Words and Music in 1948. He reprised his role as Andy Hardy on the radio, appearing with the original characters from the film cast. His first television series was The Mickey Rooney Show and then starred in the highly acclaimed original 90-minute television drama, The Comedian.
Mickey Rooney had little trouble making a successful transition to television and theatre. His portrayal as a mentally challenged man Bill, in the television film by the same name won him an Emmy and a Golden Globe. He is well known amongst youngsters as the voice of Santa Claus in four popular television stop/animation specials including the perennial Santa Claus is Comin’ to Town (1970) and The Year without a Santa Claus (1974).
During the 80s, Rooney starred in the popular Black Stallion motion picture series followed by the long running TV Series, The Adventures of the Black Stallion.
Mickey Rooney has had one of the longest careers of any actor and still continues to appear in motion pictures and on television. After battling personal problems for many years, Rooney became a born-again Christian in the 1970s and frequently shares his faith in many venues around the nation.
Deborah Winters was born into a film family, the daughter of popular film actress Penny Edwards (That Hagen Girl with Ronald Reagan and Pony Soldiers with Tyrone Power) and Ralph Winters, Universal Studios’ popular Director of Television Casting for 28 years. In was natural that she would begin her career young and she did at age 5.
Deborah appeared in numerous commercials and episodic television dramas in her youth. Her big break came when she was cast as the lead in CBS Playhouse production of The People Next Door in 1968 opposite Lloyd Bridges, Kim Hunter and Robert Duvall. This led to the feature film of the same name, in which she was cast opposite Eli Wallach, Julie Harris, Cloris Leachman and Hal Holbrook.
In 1969, Winters stared with Michael Douglas in his first feature, Hail Hero. In that same year she starred with Patty Duke, James Farentino and Al Pacino in Fred Coe’s film, Me, Natalie. In 1970, Jack Lemmon selected Deborah as the lead in his directorial debut of Kotch. She starred opposite Walter Matthau in this very popular picture that went on to be nominated for 5 Academy Awards.
Winter’s success in Kotch led to her lead role in another enduring film, Class of ’44 (1973). In that same year she transitioned back into television and began a long run of appearances in such popular dramas of the time as Medical Center and Gemini Man and The Shattered Mask. During the late 70s Deborah starred in Stacey Keach’s Six Characters in search of an Author, Crisis in Sun Valley, and in the television long form thriller, Tarantulas: The Deadly Cargo.
Herman Wouk’s famous book, The Winds of War was made into the multi Emmy Award winning mini-series by the same name. Deborah was cast as Robert Mitchum’s Daughter in Law in what became the second most watched mini-series in history. Her memorable scenes during the bombing of Pear Harbor have appeared in many film retrospectives.
During the 80s she guest starred in the popular television series, Blood Brothers, Lottery, and Matt Houston amongst others. She next returned to film, starring in The Lamp, The Outing, and Little Girl Lost. In 1992, she was cast in the lead in another popular mini-series, Behind the Mask. Shortly afterwards, she gave birth to her youngest son, Grayson and retired from film to become as she describes it, a working mother.
Deborah has appeared in many commercials and theatrical dramas over the years. She has won numerous awards for her work including the Pacific Palisades Community Theatre Award as best actress for her role as Maggie in Tennessee Williams’ Cat on a Hot Tin Roof. She briefly returned to television, starring in the acclaimed World in Crisis series in the late 90s.
Jane Russell’s successful appearance in her first picture, The Outlaw (1943), led her to star in a wide assortment of screen roles. Russell displayed her considerable comedic talents with her performance as Dorothy Shaw in Gentlemen Prefer Blondes (1953) opposite Marilyn Monroe and in its sequel, Gentlemen Marry Brunettes that followed in 1955. She appeared in two successful movies opposite Robert Mitchum, His Kind of Woman (1951) and Macao (1952). Other films followed with many popular co-stars of the day including Frank Sinatra, Bob Hope, Groucho Marx, Victor Mature, Vincent Price and Hoagy Carmichael. Together with Rita Hayworth, Lana Turner and Marilyn Monroe, Russell became the personification of the contoured sweater girl. More than one popular magazine of the time noted that her famous proportions of 38D-24-36 and height of 5' 7 were more statuesque than her contemporaries.
In 1947, Russell launched a parallel musical career singing with the Kay Kyser Orchestra on radio and recording an album and a number of singles with Columbia Records. She also recorded with Frank Sinatra and The Modernaires and then formed a gospel group with Connie Haines, former vocalist in the Harry James and Tommy Dorsey orchestra. Their Coral single Do Lord reached number 27 on the Billboard singles chart in May 1954. Russell, Haines and Davis followed up with an LP for Capitol Records, The Magic of Believing. A collection of Russell's gospel and secular recordings was issued on CD in 2005.
Russell debuted in a successful solo nightclub act at the Sands Hotel in Las Vegas in 1957. She also performed in later engagements in the U.S., Canada, Mexico, South America and Europe. A solo LP was issued on MGM Records in 1959. She was consistently involved in theatre performing in Skylark at the Drury Lane Theatre, and in Bells Are Ringing at the Westchester Town House in Yonkers, New York. In 1971, she starred in the Musical Drama Company on Broadway. Russell performed the role of Joanne in the play for six months.
Russell wrote an autobiography in 1985, Jane Russell: My Path and My Detours. In 1989, she received the Women's International Center (WIC) Living Legacy Award. Her hand and foot prints are immortalized in the forecourt of Grauman's Chinese , and she has a star on the Hollywood Walk of Fame on Hollywood Boulevard.
At the height of her career, Russell started the Hollywood Christian Group, a weekly Bible study at her home designed for Christians in the film industry. She appeared occasionally on the Praise The Lord program on the Trinity Broadcasting Network, a Christian television channel based in Costa Mesa, California.
Christopher Michael Hewett was a successful actor and theatre director best known for his role as Lynn Belvedere on the ABC sitcom Mr. Belvedere. Born in England and educated at Beaumont, Hewett made his acting debut in the Dublin Stage Production of A Midsummer Night's Dream. At 16, Hewett joined the Royal Air Force, leaving in 1940. Hewett then joined the Oxford Repertory Company and made his West End Theatre debut in 1943.
He later appeared on Broadway in the musicals My Fair Lady, The Unsinkable Molly Brown, and Kean and in the play Sleuth, among others, and directed the 1960 Broadway revue From A to Z and the 1967 off-Broadway revival of the Rodgers and Hart musical, By Jupiter. Hewett also directed several stage productions including The Marriage-Go-Round and Beyond the Fringe and Camelot.
Hewett made his film debut in the 1951 crime drama Pool of London, and appeared as the stage director Roger DeBris in Mel Brooks's 1968 film comedy The Producers. He later appeared in guest roles on Robert Montgomery Presents and DuPont Show of the Month. In 1976, Hewett played the generic bureaucrat Federov in the sitcom Ivan the Terrible. From 1983 to 1984, he portrayed Lawrence, Mr. Roarke's (Ricardo Montalbán) sidekick on the final season of the ABC series Fantasy Island. The following year, Hewett landed his best-known role as Lynn Aloysius Belvedere, an English butler who works for a middle-class American family in the sitcom Mr. Belvedere. After the series ended its run in 1990, Hewett appeared in a guest spot on an episode of the NBC teen sitcom California Dreams. His last onscreen role was a cameo appearance on the FOX series Ned & Stacey in 1997.
A devout Catholic, Hewitt served as a deacon at St. Victor's church in West Hollywood. During his later years, he suffered from arthritis and diabetes and passed away on August 3, 2001, at the age of 79.
Dorian Harewood first gained national attention for his portrayal of Simon Haley (father of author Alex Haley) in the ABC miniseries Roots: The Next Generations. He is also known for his roles in Full Metal Jacket and The Jesse Owens Story, and for his co-starring role in the ABC Television series Strike Force. In 1994, he was awarded the NAACP Image Award as the Outstanding Actor in a Drama Series, Mini-Series or Television Movie, for his recurring role as jazz/blues saxophonist Clarence Cool Papa Charleston on the NBC drama series I'll Fly Away.
It was while appearing on Broadway that Harewood was encouraged to pursue a dramatic career by Bette Davis when they co-starred together in Miss Moffat. He followed with forceful performances on stage, most notably in David Rabe's Vietnam drama Streamers (1976) and The Mighty Gents (1978), before making his film debut in Sparkle (1976). His film career continued with his notable performances in The Falcon and the Snowman (1985) and Pacific Heights (1990).
Harewood established his theatrical reputation, first in the cast of the Broadway rock musical Two Gentlemen of Verona, then in the road company of Jesus Christ, Superstar. He won a Theatre Guild Award for his work in the 1974 production, Don't Call Back. An accomplished singer, Dorian Harewood toured Europe with the legendary Four Tops, singing live onstage with the incomparable Stevie Wonder, and performing at the Taj Mahal in Atlantic City as well as the Las Vegas Hilton with the great Gladys Knight.
Television warmly welcomed Harewood following his debut in Foster and Laurie (CBS, 1975). He has been a regular on several series, notably The Trials of Rosie O'Neill (CBS, 1990-92) and the NBC sci-fi drama Viper (1994). Other major credits include Beulah Land (NBC, 1980) and Amerika (ABC, 1987). In the 90s, Harewood began a second career providing character voices for animated series, including The Tick (Fox, 1994- ), Aladdin (CBS, 1994- ) and Savage Dragon (USA, 1995). He also had starring roles in Strike Force with Robert Stack (ABC), Trauma Center (ABC) and the highly acclaimed NBC series I’ll Fly Away, for which he won the NAACP Image Award for Best Actor in a Dramatic Series. He had a recurring role in 7th Heaven and appeared in the NBC series, Las Vegas and the ABC series, Private Practice.
Mr. Harewood continues to perform in film and television recently appearing in lead roles in The Christmas Shoes, the new Little House on the Prairie, The Jimi Hendrix Story, and ABC’s The Practice. He also starred in the prestigious remake of the 1957 classic Twelve Angry Men/
Steve Geyer is an extremely popular Christian comedian who has been performing stand-up comedy nationwide for more than 20 years. He has opened for such acts as Sinbad, Billy Crystal and Ray Romano and even hosted a regional HBO Comic Relief Special. In addition to the club circuit, Steve has been a featured speaker at Youth Specialties conventions and many Christian festivals including Atlanta Fest and Texas Alive. Steve’s seasoned delivery and mastery at connecting with an audience, opened doors in television, which led a featured appearance on the wildly popular TV show, Bananas Comedy.
It may seem a long way from today’s rowdy comedy clubs to the pulpit, but Steve Geyer has bridged both worlds with ease. Steve Geyer is unafraid to take on any subject or heckler and has become a master at connecting with an audience quickly and gaining their trust. He now employs those skills in challenging his listeners with the life-changing tr uth of the gospel. It is frequently said that whenever Steve is around the road sign should read Comedy in Progress.
Steve became a Christian believer while working on the club circuit and a few years after his conversion, he began speaking in churches. He recorded a live video and three comedy records with Star Song Records and has toured with many Christian artists such as 4HIM, Point of Grace, DeGarmo & Key, dc Talk, White Heart, and many others. In 1999,m Steve hosted the Prison Fellowship Ministries’ annual fund-raising banquet. Combining the heart of a pastor with the seasoned delivery of a professional humorist, Steve has developed a very successful outreach ministry.
Steve has served on staff at Heritage Christian Church since June of 2003. Before coming to Heritage, Steve assisted as senior high youth pastor at Belmont Church in Nashville, TN for many years where he developed and implemented a student leadership program called Target Training. This program prepared students during their junior year in high school to take leadership roles in the youth ministry their senior year. It also improved the academic achievements for the students who participated in Target Training. He has been a published writer in several Christian publications and has most recently finished writing a soon to be published work entitled, I’m Twice as Old as I Used to Be.
Along with maintaining his duties at Heritage Christian Church, Steve continues to travel the nation as a motivational speaker, trainer, and comedian.
Peter Graves has combined an enormously successful film acting career, spanning the classic Stalag 17 to the hilarious Airplane, with an equally rewarding TV career encompassing more than a half-dozen series, several major mini-series and numerous movies-for-television.
Since his film debut in Rouge River, Graves starred in a legion of leading roles in such motion pictures as The Court Martial of Billy Mitchell, A Rage To Live, The Raid, The Ballad of Josie, The Long Grey Line, Texas Across the River, Five Man Army, Number One With a Gun, Airplane II and others. Producer Leonard Goldstein signed Peter for The Raid and with Edward G. Robinson in Black Tuesday. Graves was so impressive that Goldstein signed him to a long-term personal contract, which ended with the producer’s death in 1954.
During a long and very successful career, Graves has appeared in more than seventy films, TV series and TV-movies. He is especially well known for portraying Price, a hot-shot German spy placed among allied POWs in Billy Wilder’s classic Stalag 17 and as the rancher and adoptive single father to a son played by child actor Bobby Diamond on the 1950s long running NBC television series Fury.
Peter added a new dimension to his career when he was signed to star in his first important legitimate theater production, The Captain and the Kings. The play which also starred Dana Andrews, Charles Ruggles and Conrad Nagel, brought Graves strong critical approval during its three-month pre-Broadway national tour, as well as its run on New York’s Great White Way. When the play closed, Peter found a host of motion picture and television guest-star offers waiting. One of them was A Rage to Live, a Mirisch Corporation motion picture for United Artist release co-starring Suzanne Pleshette, Ben Gazzara and Bradford Dillman. Among the television guest roles he accepted was a two-part appearance for Kraft Suspense Theater, The Case Against Sgt. Ryker. The Kraft Production launched Graves into his third series, Court Martial.
Signing on to head the Mission: Impossible force for six of the seven years the original series ran on CBS-TV (1966-73) firmly established Graves as a star of international importance; a status that continues undiminished. When ABC-TV decided to bring Mission: Impossible back to the home screens, they chose Graves to head the all-new cast. He won a Golden Globe Award in 1971 for his role in the Mission Impossible series and also received nominations for Emmy awards and Golden Globe awards in other seasons of that show.
Graves continues with his hosting chores for the Arts & Entertainment Network’s popular Biography series. His other series credits include The Rebels and two Time-Life series, Discover: The World of Science, in national syndication and on PBS-TV. Additionally, he created the role of Palmer Kirby on ABC-TV’s The Winds of War mini-series and reprised that role for War and Remembrance.
Cassidy Rae grew up in a rural environment where she spent most of her time horseback riding and participating in several sports, including softball and gymnastics. Being home-schooled provided Cassidy had a lot of time with her family, but she still managed to juggle her time as a cheerleader, athlete, and student. Ms. Cassidy was discovered at age 14 by a talent agent in Florida and began modeling and acting in commercials. By the time Cassidy was fifteen years of age, she told her mother that she wanted to be an actress. So, her mother helped her get an agent, and the rest became history.
She received a one-year scholarship at the Huntington Film Institute in Orlando, which led to a part in the Nickelodeon series Clarissa Explains It All (1991). In 1993, She moved to Los Angeles together with her mother Amy to start her acting career. Her first on-screen appearance was in the TV show Angel Falls (1993); next she was cast in the short-lived Spelling show Models Inc. (1994).
Cassidy Rae made frequent appearances on both the big and small screen, including regular series roles on both Models, Inc. and Hyperion Bay. She also starred in Crowned & Dangerous (Yasmine Bleeth, Jill Clayburgh), Journey to the Heart (Cybil Shepherd, Venus DeMillo), Evolver (Ethan Embry, Chance Quinn), Favorite Deadly Sins (Dennis Leary, Joe Mantenga), and Love's Deadly Triangle: The Texas Cadet Murder (Holly Marie Combs, David Lipper). She appeared on Just Shoot Me, and as Kaylene in the episode Paradise by the Dashboard Light and Prescription for Love (2000).
Like many of today's best and brightest in Hollywood, Cassidy Rae is both a talented actress and a natural beauty. She showcased both of these assets in the movies Crime in Conneticut (1999), Zoe (2000), and Extreme Days (2001).
Cassidy became engaged on Thanksgiving Day in 1992, married and shortly thereafter, retired from acting to enjoy her marriage and raise her children. In 2006, she wrote I am enjoying my ‘real’ life with my children for the time being and look forward to the right time to return.
Julianne Morris, a popular American actress first reached stardom as Amy Wilson on the soap opera The Young and the Restless from November 18, 1994 to May 22, 1996. After leaving Young and the Restless, Morris returned to daytime television as Greta Von Amberg on Days of our Lives from May 15, 1998 to April 19, 2002. In between her days on her series, Julianne spent time in South Africa, playing the evil Rumina on The Adventures of Sinbad.
Since leaving Days of our Lives, Morris has appeared in a number of productions, which include a made for TV movie called Another Pretty Face (2002).
Unlike the character she played on Days, Morris was fortunate enough to grow up in a traditional family environment in a town where everyone was a trusted neighbor. As a youngster, she traveled all over the world doing missionary work with her family, making stops in Honduras, Nicaragua, Belize and Guatemala (to name a few). Her parents, loving Christians who helped pave their daughter's way to a wholesome life, supported Morris in whatever she chose to do.
When Morris chose to attend the North Carolina School of the Arts in Winston-Salem instead of pursuing intellectual studies at Florida State, they obliged her wishes, and prayed that she was making the right choice. She studied her craft in small-town North Carolina but in the middle of her freshman year, Morris got the itch to take the plunge . . . so she headed for New York City. There, she spent the next few years studying at the American Academy of Dramatic Arts in New York. She spent some time doing commercials and other acting gigs before deciding to uproot once again by making a move to Los Angeles.
Meanwhile, the 5' 6 actress has appeared as a guest on many TV shows such as Baywatch Nights, L.A. Heat, and Two and a Half Men. She was also seen alongside Adam Sandler and Drew Barrymore in the romantic comedy movie 50 First Dates (2004).
On June 7, 2003, Julianne married former North Shore star Kristoffer Polaha. They have two sons, Kristoffer Caleb Polaha and Mica. Since the birth of her first son, Julianne took a break from acting to be a full-time mother living in Hawaii and Los Angeles with her husband and sons. She is currently active in the Los Angeles community with Stitches, a group, which supports underprivileged children and their families.
Rita Moreno is an American actress who has managed to have a thriving career for the better part of six decades and remains one of the very few (and very first) performers to win an Oscar, an Emmy, a Tony, and a Grammy. Born in Humacao, Puerto Rico, Rita was eleven years old when she lent her voice to Spanish-language versions of American films. She had her first Broadway role-- as Angelina in Skydrift – by the time she was 13, which caught the attention of Hollywood talent scouts. She played a small role in the 1952 movie Singin' in the Rain as Zelda Zanners, a fictional silent screen vamp, and had a supporting role in the 1956 musical The King and I.
In 1961, Moreno landed the role of Anita in Robert Wise's film adaptation of Leonard Bernstein's and Stephen Sondheim's groundbreaking Broadway musical, West Side Story, which was played by Chita Rivera on Broadway. Moreno won the Best Supporting Actress Academy Award for that role. Moreno went on to be the first actress (and the first Hispanic) to win an Emmy (1977), a Grammy (1972), an Oscar (1962) and a Tony (1975). In 1985, she won the Sarah Siddons Award for her work in Chicago.
Ms. Moreno has also appeared in Summer and Smoke (1961), The Night of the Following Day (1968) and Carnal Knowledge in (1971). She appeared on the PBS children's series The Electric Company in the 1970s, most notably as Millie the Helper. In fact, it was Moreno who screamed the show's opening line, HEY, YOU GUYS! She also had roles as the naughty little girl Pandora, and as Otto, the very short-tempered director. Moreno was often seen in the family variety series The Muppet Show, and she made other guest appearances on television series such as The Rockford Files, The Love Boat, The Cosby Show, George Lopez, The Golden Girls, and Miami Vice. She was also a regular on the sitcom version of Nine to Five (based on the film hit) during the early 1980s.
Moreno's Broadway credits are many and include The Last of the Red Hot Lovers, Gantry, The Ritz, for which she won the 1975 Tony Award for Best Featured Actress, and the female version of The Odd Couple. In 1993 she was invited to perform at President Bill Clinton's inauguration and later that month was asked to perform at the White House. During the mid 1990s, Moreno provided the voice of Carmen Sandiego on the animated Fox show Where on Earth is Carmen Sandiego?
During the seventies, Moreno won a 1972 Grammy Award for her contribution to The Electric Company soundtrack album, following it up three years later with a Tony Award as Best Featured Actress in a Musical for The Ritz (1976), a role she would reproduce on the Big Screen. She then won Emmy Awards for The Muppet Show and The Rockford Files. Thereafter she continued to work steadily on screen (both large and small) and on-stage, solidifying her reputation as a national treasure, a status that was officially ratified with the award of the Presidential Medal of Freedom by President George W. Bush in June 2004.
Moreno continues to be active on stage and screen. In 2006, she portrayed Amanda Wingfield in Berkeley Repertory Theatre's revival of The Glass Menagerie. She was seen on Law and Order: Criminal Intent and was a regular on the TV series Cane, which starred Jimmy Smits and Hector Elizondo.
Of the nine people who won all four major entertainment awards (Oscar, Emmy, Tony and Grammy), Moreno won all four awards in the shortest amount of time within a 16-year time frame.
Gene Autry was an American performer who gained fame as The Singing Cowboy on the radio, in movies and on television for more than three decades beginning in the 1930s. Autry was a highly successful businessman and the popular owner of the Los Angeles Angels Major League baseball team from 1961 until his death.
Mr. Autry’s signature song was Back in the Saddle Again, but he is as well known today for his Christmas holiday songs, Here Comes Santa Claus (which he wrote), Frosty the Snowman, and his biggest hit, Rudolph the Red-Nosed Reindeer. He is a member of both the Country Music and Nashville Songwriters halls of fame, and is the only celebrity to have five stars on the Hollywood Walk of Fame.
Autry, the grandson of a Methodist preacher, was born near Tioga, Texas . After leaving high school in 1925, Autry worked as a telegraphist for the St. Louis–San Francisco Railway. Talent with the guitar and his voice led to performing at local dances. After an encouraging chance encounter with Will Rogers, he began performing on local radio in 1928 as Oklahoma's Yodeling Cowboy and later signed a recording deal with Columbia Records in 1929. He worked on the WLS-AM for four years, and with his own show, where he met singer-songwriter Smiley Burnette.
Gene Autry’s first musical hit was in 1932 with That Silver-Haired Daddy of Mine, a duet with fellow railroad man, Jimmy Long. In the years that followed, Autry made 640 recordings, including more than 300 songs written or co-written by him. His records sold more than 100 million copies – and he has more than a dozen gold and platinum records, including the first record ever certified gold.
Discovered by film producer Nat Levine in 1934, Autry made his film debut for Mascot Pictures Corp. in Old Santa Fe as part of a singing cowboy quartet. Afterwards he was then given the starring role by Levine in 1935 in the hit 12-part serial The Phantom Empire. The rest is history as Autry went on to make a further 44 films up to 1940, all westerns in which he played under his own name, rode his horse Champion, had Burnette as his regular sidekick, and had many opportunities to sing in each film. He was the top Western star at the box office by 1937, reaching his national peak of popularity from 1940 to 1942. His Gene Autry Flying A Ranch Rodeo show debuted in 1940 and aired for an unprecedented 16 years.
Autry served as a C-47 Skytrain pilot in the United States Army Air Forces during World War II flying dangerous missions over the Himalayas, nicknamed the Hump, between Burma and China. He briefly returned to Republic after the war to finish out his contract. Thereafter, he formed his own production company to make Westerns under his own control, which was distributed by Columbia Pictures, beginning in 1947.
In 1950, Autry became the first major movie star to use the television medium. Always a man of vision, Autry excelled and for the next five years through his Flying A Pictures he produced and starred in 91 half-hour episodes of The Gene Autry Show for CBS Television. This success lead him to produce such popular TV series as Annie Oakley, The Range Rider, Buffalo Bill Jr., The Adventures Of Champion as well as the first 39 episodes of Death Valley Days.
Gene retired from show business in 1964, having made almost 100 films up to 1955, and over 600 records. He was elected to the Country Music Hall of Fame in 1969 and to the Nashville Songwriters Hall of Fame in 1970. After retiring, he invested widely and wisely in real estate, radio, and television, including the purchase from dying Republic Pictures the rights for films he had made for the company. He was consistently Included on Forbes magazine's list of the 400 richest Americans.
Among the many hundreds of honors and awards Autry has received were induction into the Country Music Hall of Fame; the American Academy of Achievement Award, the Los Angeles Area Governor's Emmy from The Academy of Television Arts & Sciences; and the Board of Directors Lifetime Achievement Award from the International Achievement in Arts Foundation. Gene Autry was also inducted into the Nashville Songwriters Hall of Fame, The National Cowboy Hall of Fame, the National Association of Broadcasters Hall of Fame, and he received The Songwriters Guild Life Achievement Award. His songwriting peers also honored him with a Lifetime Achievement Award from ASCAP.
Gene came out of retirement briefly to perform in America – A Call to Greatness. He was 87 years old at the time and it was to be his final performance. Gene Autry died at his home in Studio City, California on October 2, 1998. He was 91 years old.