- Douglas B. Green
A phenomenon of the 1930s and 40s that wedded the unlikely combination of sweet music with rugged outdoor action. Cowboys had often been linked with music in the public imagination, and when sound came to motion pictures in 1929 it was only logical that a cowboy might sing as well as use his fists and guns. The first talking western, In Old Arizona (1929), starred Warner Baxter who not only sang, but won an Academy Award for Best Actor. Singing in westerns was an off-and-on affair until 1934, when Mascot Pictures hired an extremely popular country radio singer, Gene Autry, to appear in small roles in Ken Maynard’s pictures. Some in the film industry initially scoffed at the notion of the singing cowboy, but quickly lined up their own singing cowboy series following Autry’s sudden, overwhelming, and nationwide success. Soon nearly every studio had a singing cowboy series; even action-oriented films often paused while some singer or group such as the Sons of the Pioneers sang while at chores or around the campfire....