The Odeon Theatre in Harlesden, London, August 1939. Gene's onstage, and seventeen-year-old Alex is in the sixth row on the aisle (clapping).
Alex's hands and fingers had a long and illustrious career upon the smooth, round keys of his trusty typewriter. This is a nostalgic article that he wrote after Gene's passing. And, as an added insight, we are presenting actual images of the original typewritten pages.
Gene telling me how in 1939 when he appeared at London's Paramount Theatre on stage with the premiere of 'Colorado Sunset' and afterwards tried to get out, he and Republic Pictures executive Bill Saal worked their way to the outside of the theatre and Saal tried to get to the sidewalk by jumping on a parked car, with the result that the car caved in and Gene had to rescue Saal from the collapsed vehicle.
During that same tour when Gene appeared on stage at the Harlesden Odeon Theatre, he asked what we had just seen on screen and when we replied 'Boots and Saddles', Gene sang that song followed by 'Mexicali Rose'. When a baby behind me started to 'sing' along with him, I felt like choking the kid so he'd shut up. I still have a photo of myself sitting there with Gene on stage but don't remember who took it—probably the manager or someone from the news media. I still remember how bright blue Gene's eyes were when I was next to him and how comfortable he was chatting with the kids.
My favorite moments on the tours of the 50's were when I picked up Gene at the airports of some of the up to 85 cities of the spring and autumn tours. Sometimes it was just Gene and me and a chauffeur riding back to the hotel—often it was the Mayor of the city or even the Governor or the local promoter of the Gene Autry Hit Show that year. Gene would sit in front of the vehicle and I would sit right behind him and there wasn't a time when I didn't have to pinch myself to make sure I was sitting there chatting with Gene.
In the sixty years that I was privileged to know Gene in person—from 1939 to 1998—there were only three times when I felt terrible—twice when Gene got mad and the third time my own embarrassment without him knowing—those two times were the only times I EVER saw Gene get mad!
Gene was the most patient man in the world and never criticized or bawled out a member of the film crew or whatever—but when in Philadelphia the head of the Musician's Union refused to allow Gene's band—Carl Cotner and the Gene Autry Show Orchestra, all members of the Union—to play and insisted on the use of local muscians—part-timers who were butchers, barbers or whatever in their regular jobs—Gene blew up and called Petrillo, the Union boss in New York. When Pertillo upheld his local man, Gene said if the locals insisted on being there they could sit in the pit but not play. We had no other problem in other cities because Cotner and his crew were union members.
Gene was always punctual for appointments and insisted all cast members in England be at the Earls Court Arena for the matinee and evening performances one hour before the start of the show. One day the publicity department had me take Gail Davis to several London landmarks for publicity photos—the London Zoo, the Changing of the Royal Horse Guards at Buckingham Palace, and so on, and all this took longer than expected so that Gail and I arrived back at the Arena fifteen minutes later than the stipulated time of one hour ahead of the show. Gene was mad and told us all, without addressing himself to me or Gail, that we must adhere to his rule and he expected us to follow it. A moment later, that was it, and all was forgotten.
The third incident was solely my embarrassment and Gene never knew about it. We were all invited by the big shots at the Arena to a fancy dinner restaurant in London's fashionable West End district—Gene and Ina Autry, Gail Davis and I, Herb Green and his wife, and the big shots and their wives. About twelve in all. Oysters were ordered as an appetizer all around for everyone. The trouble was that I hated oysters and couldn't eat them—I was allergic to them. I felt I couldn't just leave them on my plate so I tried one but had to take it out of my mouth and I put it in the side pocket of my jacket.
I moved the others around with my fork and put two more in my side pockets. The others had finished theirs and decided to get up and dance. Gene took Ina and everyone moved to the dance floor, leaving Gail and me alone at the table. Gail said: Don't you want to dance? Imagine my embarrassment when I had to tell her that I don't dance. Five years in the British Army during World War II hadn't left me much time to learn the social niceties. Gail said it's easy and she'd show me, so up we went and started to move around. By that time the oysters in my jacket pocket were making their presence felt and I fervently hoped Gail wouldn't notice. When the music stopped I breathed a sigh of relief. To this day I don't know if Gail was aware of my problem.
Sioux City and Omaha were my first dates as publicity man on the tours of the Fifties. The Warrior Hotel and the Fontenelle were my base. Snow and ice were all around me and I hadn't seen that kind of weather since New York and London. Gene and I often talked about Sioux City, one of his favorite dates. Burned forever in my memory is the last time I saw him and Gene said he'd love to do just one more tour. 'I'm ready anytime', I told him, and added: 'I'll see you in Sioux City'. Gene was sitting in his car ready to leave and he smiled. 'I'll see you in Sioux City', he said. Those were his last words to me.