Linda Barry, Southern Perspective
Published 7:00 a.m. CT Nov. 30, 2019
The holly and the jolly are upon us! It’s time to make merry with our family and friends in celebration of the season. Music is a fun way to do it, and we all have our favorite song characters like Frosty and Rudolph. Who doesn’t love them? Well, there are always humbugs, but they’re not reading this column today anyway. I’m sure the obnoxious cheer ran them off.
As a piece of holiday trivia, the same “Singing Cowboy” made both Frosty and Rudolph famous. You remember Gene Autry. He rode the dusty range atop his trusty steed, Champion, for 93 movies. Autry was active in other media, too. He’s the only entertainer to have a star in each of the Hollywood Walk of Fame’s five categories — film, television, radio, music and live performance.
In the mid-1940s, Autry was almost as famous as he could be in America. Then, in a twist of magical marketing fate, he cinched it by becoming known as the “Christmas Cowboy.” To that end, he was riding Champion in a Los Angeles Christmas parade when he saw children looking past him and shouting, “Here comes Santa Claus!” Then boom! The idea for “Here Comes Santa Claus” was born right there on Santa Claus Lane. It was actually Hollywood Boulevard, but what-the-jingle-jangle-ever.
More Southern Perspective:
Autry later brought us the iconic story song of a red-nosed reindeer who saved Santa’s ride and won the hearts of his hoofed, jerk brethren. As a kid, the beginning was hard to hear, even though I knew the end was all good. And don’t even get me started on that television special which still airs today. At least in the song, we can get to the “Yay for Rudolph!” part sooner.
Now, I knew “Rudolph, the Red-Nosed Reindeer” was Autry’s song, but I had no idea that “Frosty the Snowman” was his, too. I grew up hearing the Jimmy Durante cover of it. Autry had released this seasonal song hoping for another holiday hit, but Durante quickly made it his own. He even re-recorded the song for the television special, he liked it so much.
The interesting thing about “Frosty the Snowman” is that it never mentions Christmas, yet it has become synonymous with the holiday season. This is probably because the lyrics were changed for the television show. Frosty really says, “I’ll be back again some day,” but in the animated special, he says, “I’ll be back on Christmas Day.” As Professor Hinkle might say, “Sneaky, sneaky sneaky!”
For all of Autry’s accomplishments, his most enduring individual works are his Christmas songs. They aren’t to be denied their place in American Christmas culture, nor is Autry to be denied his place in our hearts. We could even say he’ll go down in history.
Linda Barry is a Southern gal and a columnist for the News Journal.
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