It’s Father’s Day. Not surprisingly there are a lot fewer songs about fathers than mothers—and some of them don’t exactly paint a flattering picture of pater familias. Think Papa Was a Rolling Stone or Madonna’s Papa Don’t Preach. There is the schmaltzy O, Mine Papa from the turn of the 20th Century Yiddish theater, which Eddie Fisher turned into a surprise hit in the early 1960’s. But today’s pick is an equally sentimental ditty—That Silver Haired Daddy of Mine.
In 1931 railroad telegrapher Gene Autry was struggling to emulate his hero Jimmie Rodgers as a recording artist. One of his best pals and mentors was another Oklahoma railroader, Jimmy Long. Together they wrote and recorded That Silver Haired Daddy of Mine as a duet. It turned out to be Autry’s first hit. Four years later after establishing himself as hillbilly radio star he reordered it again as a solo on the Vocalian label selling more than 5 million copies in the middle of the Depression when record sales were generally way off. It made Autry a major star.
|The poster for Tumbling Tumbleweeds, Gene Autry's first starring role for Republic Pictures.|
Republic Pictures, a B-movie mill quickly snatched Autry up and transformed him into a singing cowboy. After briefly appearing as a musical specialty act in the studio’s two-reelers, he was featured in his first staring roll in 1935’s Tumbling Tumbleweeds. Gene played a singing cowboy in a medicine show who came home after 5 years to find his father had been murdered and his best friend charged with the crime. Naturally, he had to ferret out the real bad guys. The film also featured Smiley Burnette who became Autry’s first regular side-kick and chaste love interest Lucile Browne and Black comedian Eugene Jackson as Eightball, an embarrassingly stereotyped third banana. The film was a huge hit and Autry reigned as Republic’s biggest star until he interrupted his career to serve as an Army Air Corps pilot flying C-47 cargo planes over the Hump from India to Burma and China.