Orvon Grover Autry (September 29, 1907 – October 2, 1998), better known as Gene Autry, was an American performer who gained fame as The Singing Cowboy on the radio, in movies and on television for more than three decades beginning in the 1930s. Autry was also owner of the Los Angeles/California Angels Major League Baseball team from 1961 to 1997, a television station and several radio stations in Southern California.
Although his signature song was “Back in the Saddle Again,” Autry is best known today for his Christmas holiday songs, “Here Comes Santa Claus” (which he wrote), “Frosty the Snowman,” and his biggest hit, “Rudolph the Red-Nosed Reindeer.”
He is a member of both the Country Music and Nashville Songwriters halls of fame, and is the only person to be awarded stars in all five categories (Film, Television, Music, Radio, and Live Performance) on the Hollywood Walk of Fame.
Champion appeared with Gene Autry as his partner and sidekick throughout their legendary career in film, radio, and television.
There were three “official” Champions that performed in Autry films and several specialized Champions, such as Little Champ, Lindy Champion, Touring Champion, and Champion Three. Other horses, for which we have no documentation at this time, served as doubles for movie stunts and personal appearances. The Original Champion was sorrel-colored, had a blaze down his face and white stockings on all his legs except the right front. His first onscreen credit was for 1935’s Melody Trail. He died while Gene was in the service.
Gene’s second screen horse was Champion Jr., a lighter sorrel with four stockings and a narrow blaze, who appeared in films until 1950. While onscreen with Republic, Champion Jr. was billed as “Wonder Horse of the West,” and at Columbia, he was known as “World’s Wonder Horse.” The third screen horse, Television Champion, costarred in Gene’s last films and also appeared on television in The Gene Autry Show and The Adventures of Champion during the fifties. Also a light sorrel with four white stockings, he resembled Champion Jr. but had a thick blaze. In the late forties, Little Champ joined Gene’s stable. A well-trained trick pony, this blaze-faced sorrel with four stockings appeared in three of Gene’s films and made personal appearances.
Rushing from a movie set in Hollywood to his annual appearance at Madison Square Garden for the World’s Championship Rodeo in 1940, Lindy Champion made aviation history as the first horse to fly from California to New York. Gene used Lindy, a sorrel with four white stockings and an oval-topped blaze, for personal appearances.
Touring Champion and Champion Three were also personal appearance horses. A darker sorrel with four white stockings and a medium-wide blaze, Touring Champion appeared at rodeos and stage shows in the late forties and fifties and has his hoof prints next to Gene’s handprints at Grauman’s Chinese Theater in Hollywood. Champion Three appeared with Gene on the road from the late fifties until 1960, when the sorrel with four white stockings and a crooked blaze retired happily to Gene’s Melody Ranch in Newhall, California, where he died in 1990.
Collectively, the Champions performed the world’s largest repertory of horse tricks, including dancing the hula and the Charleston, jumping through a ring of fire, and playing dead. Greeting crowds from Brownwood, Texas, to Dublin, Ireland, Touring Champion even enjoyed a proper high tea at the Savoy in London.
Always popular, Champion received thousands of fan letters each month, proving that the World’s Wonder Horse was an important element in the Singing Cowboy’s success.
Throughout their careers, Gene Autry and Champion were featured in dime novels, children’s stories, and comic books. Champion even received equal billing with Gene above the leading ladies on movie posters and lobby cards promoting Autry films.
Story by Henry Walsh and Peter Steele.
Music composed and conducted by Carl Cottner.
Cast : Wally Maher, Pat McGeehan, Gil Stratton.