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Public Cowboy No. 1: The Life and Times of Gene Autry Paperback – February 5, 2009

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Editorial Reviews

From Publishers Weekly

Starred Review. In this enjoyable, thoroughly researched volume, author and pop culture commentator George-Warren (Cowboy!) details the life and work of Gene Autry, the influential star of music, movies and television. After a descriptive genealogy, George-Warren takes the reader through Autry's formative years, featuring his deadbeat dad, the oft-married Delbert, and his long-suffering mom, Nora. Born Orvon Grover Autry in 1907, the cowboy's childhood was spent watching Tom Mix movies in Achille, Okla., and singing for classmates in Tioga. The bulk of the book is devoted to Autry's career as a musician and a film actor, beginning with the telegraphing job he neglected in order to make his early recordings, and his subsequent discovery by American Radio Corporation A&R man Art Satherley. Most striking, though perhaps not surprising, is that the much-revered man who "reinvented the saga of the cowboy and the West" was not a cowboy at all, but a deft performer and professional who made the unexpected, highly fortuitous move from film to television in the late 1940s. Included are abundant notes, a bibliography and a brilliant, chronological list of Autry's 640 recording sessions. An easy, fluid read, this illuminating biography also provides a look into the early days of the radio and recording industry.
Copyright © Reed Business Information, a division of Reed Elsevier Inc. All rights reserved. --This text refers to the Hardcover edition.


"A thorough, no-nonsense account of a singular life, and the prolific music writer George-Warren employs a brisk, assured style that hews to the Cowboy Code."--The Atlantic

"At last, in the centennial year of Gene's birth, Holly George-Warren gives us Public Cowboy No. 1, his first serious, full-length biography. There isn't likely to be another for a long time, so it's fortunate that Ms. George-Warren's is a good one."--Dallas Morning News

"An appealing, bittersweet success story."--Jack Mrkowitz, Pittsburgh Tribune-Review

"The book is well-researched and written with a careful eye to history and a keen appreciation of music. And it is -- appropriately, I think -- tinged with a bit of George-Warren's genuine appreciation of Autry the artist and star but even more of Autry the person, the one she got to know before his death in 1998. Biographers don't always meet their subjects, obviously, and if they do, the results may be disastrous -- or beneficial. In George-Warren's case, it proved to be providential."--Country Music Television website (

"George-Warren does an impeccable job of presenting the facts of Autry's life and career detailing his early attempts at making records through his most successful periods. For fans of the singing cowboy, country music or general pop culture this book is highly recommended."--Midwest Book Review

"Public Cowboy No. 1 increases our understanding of the American cowboy myth, perpetuated by those movies known as westerns. George-Warren creates a realistic, factual portrait of Autry, the star and the man."--Rick Tamble, The Tennessean

"The definitive portrait of Gene Autry."--John Beifuss, Commercial Appeal


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Product Details

  • Paperback: 480 pages
  • Publisher: Oxford University Press; 1 edition (February 5, 2009)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 0195372670
  • ISBN-13: 978-0195372670
  • Product Dimensions: 9 x 1.4 x 6.1 inches
  • Shipping Weight: 1.7 pounds (View shipping rates and policies)
  • Average Customer Review: 4.4 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (38 customer reviews)
  • Amazon Best Sellers Rank: #1,044,240 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)

More About the Author

Holly George-Warren is an award-winning writer, editor, producer, and music consultant. She has contributed to more than two dozen books about rock and roll, including The New Rolling Stone Encyclopedia of Rock & Roll, The Rolling Stone Book of Women in Rock, and The Rolling Stone Illustrated History of Rock & Roll. She's also written for the New York Times, the Village Voice, the Journal of Country Music, and Rolling Stone. Ms. George-Warren lives in upstate New York with her family.

Customer Reviews

Most Helpful Customer Reviews

45 of 45 people found the following review helpful By Wayne Engle on April 15, 2007
Format: Hardcover Verified Purchase
Gene Autry, my childhood hero and that of millions of others, finally has gotten his due, on the eve of what would have been his 100th birthday.

Autry was as unmistakably American as Will Rogers or Walt Disney, and every bit as remarkable. This book, the first full-length biography of Autry and superbly written by Holly George-Warren, explores every nook and cranny of his long, busy and productive life, telling of things that many of us already knew -- but in much more fascinating detail; exploding a few myths that Autry had encouraged about himself over the years; and adding more than a few revelations about his life that will shock the more naive of his fans.

Gene Autry got the name in Hollywood of being a tightwad -- but that's not the picture we get from this book. Yes, he loved money with the passion of many people who had little or none of it growing up. But once having amassed a fortune in show business, he was for the rest of his life a "soft touch" not only for charities, but for old friends down on their luck, people who had helped him when he really needed it as a young, struggling performer -- and family members such as his ne'er-do-well father and brother.

He spent countless hundreds of hours over the years visiting children's hospitals to chat with, sing to, and encourage the smallest of his fans, many of them with terminal illnesses. He enlisted in the U.S. Army Air Force in World War II when his studio had promised to get him a deferment so he wouldn't have to serve at all. He took flying lessons on his own time so he could qualify to be co-pilot of supply planes going to combat zones, when he could have spent his service time simply entertaining the other troops. Gene Autry was a giver, an extraordinarily generous man, first, last and always.
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19 of 20 people found the following review helpful By Jerry Rojo on May 31, 2007
Format: Hardcover
Public Cowboy No.1: The Life And Times Of Gene Autry, by Holly George-Warren

A book review by Jerry Rojo, May, 2007

Gene Autry, An American Idol

Holly George-Warrne's biographic tome is a definitive must-read, not only for the worldwide legions of the American cowboy moviegoing public, young and old, but also, anyone interested in a prototypical American dreamer on a lifelong trek, as defined by the arts and entertainment industry's dream factories from Hollywood to Madison Avenue. George-Warren's impeccably researched Gene Autry story, interestingly, is somewhat reminiscent of Doris Kerns-Goodwin's recent Abraham Lincoln book, Team Of Rivals, that chronicles the president's rags-to-riches life in the political arena. Both authors masterfully use the biographic form to convey their respective visions, yet provide the reader scholarly researched stories to ponder any number of themes and ideas about their subject. Like Lincoln, Autry was dirt poor, grassroots, self-made and ambitious; carefully grooming his career with a lifelong, unrelenting, innate ability to charm colleagues, friends and the public at large. Lincoln, too, was a performer. He cherished the spoken/written word, and the theatre, to the chagrin of his aristocratic, snobbish cabinet. Ironically, he was assassinated by a Shakespearean actor. The Autry book, like Lincoln's, defines his respective context/time in America. The political-rodeo arena is a metaphor for our country's so-called "culture", epitomized by the American Idol phenomena, with its demigod-like celebrities from respective realms of, popular entertainment, sports, politics. religion and, now a days, big corporations, all of which defines the current American ethos.
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18 of 20 people found the following review helpful By J. R. P. Browne on May 10, 2007
Format: Hardcover
Whatever Holly George-Warren says in her new biography of Gene Autry; however much detail she covers; however many previously unpublished facts she unearths, she is never going to please everyone. Even a monumental biography such as this one, packed to bursting as it is with dates and names and stories, will never record everything that we, the readers, will want to see.

The problem is not Ms George-Warren's. When she says she could have written a book twice this size, I believe her.

No, the problem was created by Autry himself. He lived to a mighty age, and into that great expanse of time he packed enough life experiences to fuel any number of books and magazines and newspaper articles. One glance at George-Warren's footnotes and bibliography shows how the world has been flooded with Autry newsprint throughout a career - no, several careers - that spanned 70 years. And that doesn't take account of his austere childhood (a story in itself that George-Warren tells in remarkable detail), or the vast amount of Autry material that has appeared since his death in 1998: the DVDs, the CDs, the books, the websites - even the belated victory of his Angels team in the World Series. Look at any of the online auction sites any day of the week and you will get an idea of just how much stuff Autry left behind: the supply seems endless, and endlessly varied, and all of this is merely an illusion of the man's actual working life.

Autry was a workaholic, driven, it seems, to be always doing something. When his contemporaries Clark Gable and Spencer Tracy and Tyrone Power finished their day's work at the studio, they went home and put their feet up. Not Autry.
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