Saturday, July 24, 2010

Worth 1,000 Words: JIMMY DURANTE & GENE AUTRY on the set

By Steve Crum

Republic Pictures chose to increase the budget on one of its GENE AUTRY movies, and hired a pretty bizarre cast for any western, JIMMY DURANTE and ANN MILLER among them. Released in 1940, MELODY RANCH became one of Gene's biggest box office successes. It was later considered culturally significant by the Library of Congress, and is now preserved in the United States Film Registry.

The plot has Gene Autry, portraying radio and movie cowboy star Gene Autry (a stretch), returning to his Arizona hometown (Gene was actually raised in Oklahoma, so this is a stretch) where he restores law and order while starring in his own radio show. Others in the cast include Barton MacLane, Barbara Jo Allen (better known as Vera Vague on the Bob Hope radio show), and Gabby Hayes, venerable sidekick to Roy Rogers as well as Gene. Durante's character is Cornelius J. Courtney. Inka Dinka Do.
The rare Republic publicity still (top) is unique in several ways. When in the history of Durante did you ever see him on horseback and sporting cowboy boots? (His horse doesn't look any too happy with him yelling and waving his hat. Notice the steed's ears are pointed back.) That is Gene Autry himself--at least his back--headin' toward his trailer on Champion, World's Wonder Horse. The caption pasted on the photo's backside explains: "At last, here I am at the peak of me power, ha-cha-cha!!" Jimmy "Schnozzle" Durante cheers as he successfully reaches the deck of the tamest horse in the Gene Autry stable. "What a man! What a cowboy! Where's me rope and gun!" Durante clanked a mean spur with Autry and Ann Miller in "MELODY RANCH" at Republic Pictures. In the background here is Autry heading into his stable trailer. [from Steve Crum's showbiz memorabilia collection]

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