Richard Schickel in LA Times:
Public Cowboy No. 1: The Life and Times of Gene Autry
By Holly George-Warren.
Autry deserves to be regarded as an important American figure — certainly a significant one in the history of Los Angeles — though no one but the rubes paid him more than the slightest heed. The writers and thinkers who set our cultural agenda never wrote even a discouraging word about him.
This is perhaps understandable. Born to a shiftless father and a sickly mother near Tioga, Texas, Autry received a primitive education and became a telegrapher for the St. Louis-San Francisco railroad. It was a job he clung to even as he began warbling and wandering as the “Oklahoma Yodeling Cowboy.” Entirely self-taught as a singer and guitar picker, Autry had a pleasant, unpretentious voice and manner, and his records and radio work brought him to the modest hinterlands of fame. The movie business called in 1934, when he made the first of his 92 B-movie westerns. Soon thereafter, he had a network radio show and a relentless schedule of public appearances, mostly with rodeos that he owned.
Here, a certain mystery — which is not entirely solved by Holly George-Warren in her devoted but not very venturesome biography, “Public Cowboy No. 1” — enters our story. Put simply, it is: How in the world did Gene Autry become the richest cowboy in human history?