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Biography: Tex Ritter

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Not only was this man the first Western recording artist for Capitol Records, he graced the silver screen and was a founding member of the Country Music Association. Who was he?  The late and great Tex Ritter!

 

Ritter appeared in dozens of western films as a "singing cowboy" only to go on to be a hugely successful country and western recording artist and producer.

 

Woodward Maurice "Tex" Ritter was born in Panola County, TX, all the way back in 1905.  He came by his cowboy persona honestly, growing up on his family's farm.  After graduating from high school in Beaumont, he started a pre-law degree at the University of Texas in Austin.  While he took classes on government and political science, his real passions were debating and singing with the University Glee Club.  In 1928, the 23-year-old Ritter left school to pursue acting in New York City after a brief stint singing cowboy and folk songs on a radio station in Houston.  Although he reportedly landed a job on the men's chorus for a production of a Broadway show called The New Moon, he left to Chicago to work more on his law degree.  However, without any financial backing he quickly ditched that idea and returned to the stage.  In 1930, he got the part of Cord Elam in a production of Green Grow the Lilacs (better known in a later incarnation as Oklahoma!) and the success of the play landed him parts in other plays like The Round Up in 1932 and Motherlode in 1934.  Meanwhile, he returned to radio and hosted programs like Tex Ritter's Campfire and Cowboy Tom's Roundup and appeared in many, many more.  In 1933, he also got the attention of music producer Art Satherley and by the end of the year several singles had been produced, although only a few songs like "Rye Whiskey" would be released.

 

An iconic duo: Tex Ritter and his faithful companion, White Flash.

 

By 1935, Ritter had signed with Decca Records and recorded two songs, "Get Along Little Doggie" and "Sam Hall".  Over two dozen more would be produced by Decca by the end of the decade.  In 1936 he was picked up by Hollywood producer Edward Finney and Grand National Pictures to star in a series of western b-films in an attempt to mimic the success of Republic Pictures Corp. and their own singing cowboy, Gene Autry.  His first film was called Song of the Gringo and by the time he left National in 1938 he had starred in twelve films for them (some of them alongside the legendary Rita Hayworth).  After three years and twenty or so films with Monogram Pictures (with four of those movies alongside actress Dorothy Fay and one with the great Bob Wills), Ritter moved over to Columbia Pictures and then Universal Pictures.  In this time, he starred aside men like Bill Elliot and Johnny Mack Brown.  Some of these movies, like The Oklahoma Raiders, are considered his best work on the screen.  Universal, suffering financial issues in 1944, dropped Ritter who then went to work for Producers Releasing Corporation for eight more films.  In 1945, after the release of Flaming Bullets, he took a long hiatus from acting to focus on his music career.

 

Ritter married his former co-star Dorothy Fay in 1941.  They had two sons, Thomas and John, and remained together until Ritter's passing.

 

While busy making movies at Columbia and Universal, Ritter had been picked up at the brand new Columbia Records in 1942 to be their first Western singer.  He had some success with his version of "Jingle, Jangle, Jingle" in 1942, but in 1944 he hit the top of the charts with "I'm Wastin' My Tears On You" at #1 and it's b-side "There's a New Moon Over My Shoulder" at #2.  The next five years saw hit after hit with songs like "Jealous Heart" (#2), "You Two-Timed Me One Time Too Often" (#1), "You Will Have to Pay" (#1), "Christmas Carols by the Old Corral" (#2), "Have I Told You Lately that I Love You?" (#3), and "The Deck of Cards" (#10).  He also re-released "Rye Whiskey" which this time charted at #9 and wrote the theme song for High Noon, "High Noon (Do Not Forsake Me Oh My Darling)", which earned him an Oscar for Best Song in 1953.

 

After spearheading the movement to build the Country Music Hall of Fame and Museum, Ritter was inducted as its fifth honoree - the first singing cowboy to have the privilege.

 

After charting at #6 with "Daddy's Last Letter (Private First Class John H. McCormick)" in 1950, Ritter decided to move into the television industry and by 1953 he was the MC for the Town Hall Party show that played locally in Los Angeles.  Although he stayed there until 1960, he found time to be in other programs like Ozark Jubilee and its nationally syndicated version called Five Star Jubilee.  In 1961, he had one more Top Ten hit with "I Dreamed of Hillbilly Heaven" at #5.  During this time, he wrote and sang the themes for several famous movies and television series, including The Searchers and Gunsmoke.  In 1963, he was one of the founders of the Country Music Association and was inducted into the Country Music Hall of Fame the following year.  He was also given a lifetime membership to the Grand Ole Opry in 1964.

 

John and Tex Ritter were the first father-son duo to be honored with stars on the Hollywood Walk of Fame in different categories.

 

Ritter, even as he approached old age, remained in high demand and he was determined to keep up the pace he had kept for so many years.  In 1970, he even had an unsuccessful run for the senator-ship of Tennessee.  Regardless, he toured in both North America and Europe all the way up until his death.  In 1974, he was in a Nashville jail arranging bail for a band mate when he suffered a massive heart attack which killed him within minutes.  He was 10 days short of his 69th birthday.  Tex Ritter is remember fondly as far more than just a singing cowboy - he is remembered as a country and western giant and the originator of a highly successful acting clan which included his son John Ritter and grandson Jason Ritter.  His professionalism and hard work set the standard for the industry in many ways that are felt even today.  To learn more about this great Texan, check out the homepage for the Tex Ritter Museum.

 

Discography (singles only):

"A Funny Thing Happened (On the Way to Miami)" - #53

"A Working Man's Prayer" - #59

"Christmas Carols by the Old Corral" - #2

"Comin' After Jinny" - #67

"Daddy's Last Letter" - #6

"Fall Away" - #67

"Green Green Valley" - #57

"Growin' Up" - #39

"Have I Told You Lately That I Love You?" - #3

"I Dreamed of a Hill-Billy Heaven" - #5

"I'm Wastin' My Tears on You" - #1

"Jealous Heart" - #2

"Just Beyond the Moon" - #13

"Long Time Gone" - #5

"Pecos Bill" (with Andy Parker & The Plainsmen) - #15

"Rock and Rye" - #5

"Rye Whiskey" - #9

"Texas" - #69

"The Americans (A Canadian's Opinion)" - #35

"The Deck of Cards" - #10

"The Men in My Little Girl's Life" - #50

"The Wayward Wind"

"There's a New Moon Over My Shoulder" - #2

"When You Leave Don't Slam the Door" - #3

"You Two-Timed Me One Time Too Often" - #1

"You Will Have to Pay" - #1

 

Songs on KBEC 1390:

"I Dreamed of a Hill-Billy Heaven" - #5