HomeEntertainmentJohn Wayne Once Said His Refusal To Sing in a Film Led to Gene Autry Landing His Big Break

John Wayne Once Said His Refusal To Sing in a Film Led to Gene Autry Landing His Big Break

by Joe Rutland
(Photo Courtesy Getty Images)

Leave it to John Wayne to help one of movie’s greatest stars catch his big break. “The Singing Cowboy” hit screens thanks to The Duke.

Well, according to Wayne, he appears in a movie where a lot of singing is demanded. The Duke wasn’t a singer and he knew it. It took being in a picture with too much singing to push John Wayne toward suggesting Gene Autry get a chance.

Wayne, who died in 1979, was asked by an audience member why he sang in his early films during a 1976 appearance on Phil Donahue’s “Donahue” talk show.

John Wayne Reaches Last Straw Upon Getting Four Songs To Sing in Film

“This is a question I raised to the producer,” Wayne said “They had a picture with the hero hum every time he got mad, was going to kill somebody. And then they put words to it. Then the Southern exhibitors liked it so they added another song.”

Wayne then mentions his costars, talking about one of them playing guitar on his left, and another one singing on his right. He finds himself having “this phony thing” on his lap.

“We’re all beginning to get a little irritated by this when I got up to four songs,” he said. John Wayne, in the movie, says he would be running around finding and getting a guitar.

He reached his last straw, though.

“Finally went to the boss and said, ‘I’ve had it. Kid’s now asking me to sing ‘Ol’ Silver-Haired Granddaddy’ when I get on stage and it’s not my racket,'” Wayne said to the “Donahue” audience. “He says, ‘Well, what’ll I do?” I said, ‘Go get the biggest hillbilly singer in the country and make a star out of him.’ He did. It was Gene Autry.”

Gene Autry Makes Film Debut In Uncredited Role With Smiley Burnette

Now Autry made his screen debut in 1934’s “In Old Santa Fe.” It was only an uncredited appearance with fellow country troubadour Smiley Burnette. Yet Autry did so well in the bit that it led to his first starring role in “The Phantom Empire” in 1935.

Movie fans know Autry from his “singing cowboy” roles. Music fans still hear Autry, who died on Oct. 2, 1988, every Christmas with his rendition of “Rudolph, the Red-Nosed Reindeer” and “Here Comes Santa Claus (Down Santa Claus Lane).” Sports fans might know Autry from being the first owner of the California Angels baseball team. They’re now known as the Anaheim Angels.

Gene Autry was quite an entrepreneur and businessman who turned his great movie success into great wealth. He, though, would not have been in movies without a little suggestion from John Wayne himself.