The late Gene Autry, Hollywood's best-known singing cowboy, has been honored in Hollywood, where he made his fortune and defined a movie genre.
The intersection at Hollywood Boulevard and Highland Avenue was Gene Autry's first Hollywood home. Seventy years ago, it was the site of the old Hollywood Hotel, where he lived for a time after moving to Los Angeles from Chicago. Today, it is a tourist destination and home of the Kodak Theatre, where the Academy Awards, or Oscars, are presented each year.
February 27, the film industry will honor its current stars at the Oscar ceremony. Entertainer Johnny Grant, known as the honorary mayor of Hollywood, says few have had as much of an impact as Gene Autry. He first made his mark as a singer.
Gene Autry acted in more than 90 films, also turning out a string of musical hits, from his popular children's song Peter Cottontail, to his rendition of the tune You Are My Sunshine.
Among more than 300 songs that he wrote or co-wrote are two holiday hits now considered classics, Rudolph the Red-Nosed Reindeer and Here Comes Santa Claus.
Gene Autry is the only entertainer with five stars on the Hollywood Walk of Fame, one for each branch of the entertainment business: movies, television, radio, stage performance and music.
Johnny Grant was a friend of the late star, and hosted the celebration in his honor. He notes that this is the anniversary of the founding of this section of Los Angeles where the movie industry flourished.
"It is Hollywood's 118th birthday, and we celebrate it by dedicating this corner to forever be known as 'Gene Autry Square'," he announced.
Gene Autry was more than a cowboy star. He was a shrewd businessman who owned radio and television stations, a production studio, a music publishing house, ranches and oil wells, and for many years, the California Angels baseball team.
Host Johnny Grant joked that the star's extensive holdings did not stop there.
"Remember, at the end of Gene's pictures, how he used to ride off into the sunset? He owned it," he joked.
Gene Autry died in 1998 at age 91. With other cowboy stars, such as the late Roy Rogers, he is remembered for the kind of entertainment in which the good guys and bad guys were easy to tell apart, and where there was little violence.
There was also little romance, except, of course, for the bond between the cowboy and his trusted companion, his horse. For Roy Rogers, that was Trigger; for Gene Autry, Champion.
"There is no need a'looking for Roy and for Gene, They have disappeared from the big movie screen. They have been replaced now by violence galore, and nobody kisses their horse any more," said one of his songs.
Gene Autry also left his mark by creating the Museum of the American West, considered one of the nation's best repositories of cowboy art and artifacts. Today, it is part of the larger Autry National Center, which has an extensive collection of American Indian art works, and also houses an institute for scholarly study. School children visit to learn of the Old West, and how its stories inspired later generations. Part of that story revolves around Hollywood singing cowboys like Gene Autry.