In this story from September 1949, legendary singer, actor and businessman Gene Autry reveals how the faith others showed in him led to his success.
Posted in , Apr 30, 2013
While thinking about the word “faith” as it applied to my way of life, it occurred to me that I’d better look it up to make sure that it means all I think it means. “A firm belief without need of proof,” says the dictionary.
Faith to me means “belief,” “trust” and “loyalty"; good solid words which I, as a little tike in Oklahoma, was brought up to recognize and try to live by. My folks were good, church-going people.
My granddaddy was a sort of preacher back in Texas, where I learned to sing by being taught the old-time hymns in a country church, but my idea of faith isn’t completely wrapped up in religion or formal dogma. I think the Lord meant a man should have faith in himself and in his loved ones as well as in Him.
If somebody else has faith in you, it will go a long way toward making you a success. This has been proven to me in my own life. The first round-up that’s necessary is the people who have faith in you. Listen to them. At least three persons showed belief in me when I wasn’t sure about myself.
I left my father’s Oklahoma ranch to work for the Frisco Railroad as telegrapher at a whistle-stop station, Chelsea, near Claremore. I was playing my guitar and singing one quiet night in that little station when an inconspicuous man entered.
He wore a soft felt hat pulled down over his eyes. I didn’t observe him closely. While he was writing, I went on singing.
“Say,” he said suddenly, “you don’t sing so bad. Why don’t you go into show business?”
I laughed, I had seen very few shows, and never gave much thought to the theatre.
This fellow smiled, and drawled, “I think you have talent, son. You keep on singing and playing that ‘gittar,’ and have faith in yourself, and you’ll be a real entertainer one of these days.”
He left the station, and the minute he had gone I knew there was something familiar about him. I looked at his message, and it was signed “Will Rogers.”
Have faith in myself, he had told me. I thought about that in the next few months. What was having faith in oneself? Was it cockiness or egotism? I decided that, for me at least, faith meant that I should realize the Lord gave me health, fair intelligence, a liking for singing songs, and a capacity for hard work.
If I combined all four I might get somewhere besides a telegrapher’s job in a little Oklahoma town. I liked the idea of singing for my supper. If people wanted to listen, so much the better.
I started out as “Oklahoma’s Yodelling Cowboy.” It was tough. Sometimes I sang, but didn’t get my supper. The depression had started.
I still had faith, otherwise I would have been completely discouraged. I wanted to make phonograph records, so I went to New York, an ignorant, country kid, because I thought that was where you started in the recording business. I got the brush-off for sure when I struck Manhattan.
I don’t blame them now, those busy executives whose offices I stormed. I wore my “store” clothes, tried to seem like another Rudy Vallee, and it just didn’t go over.
A kindly gentleman finally listened to me. He was Arthur Satherly, who was, and still is, in charge of “Country Music” for Columbia Records. He’s a sort of talent scout for the hill and prairie belt.
He told me that I should stick to the songs I knew best, and if I did so, he believed I could become a successful exponent of Western tunes.
I didn’t think much of that idea, but I recognized he had faith in my field. I returned to Tulsa and eventually, as he had advised, landed a sustaining spot on a local radio station. I specialized in the songs of my childhood. Soon I was making records.
The culmination of Art Satherly’s faith in me occurred just a few months ago. In behalf of his company, he presented me with a gold phonograph record of one of my early songs, mounted on a plaque, it was a proud moment, to stand beside Art, shake his hand and thank him for believing in me those long ago days.
When I got my own sponsored radio program in Chicago, I married Ina Mac Spivey, a girl from back home. We went housekeeping in Chicago. I didn’t make a lot of money, though it seemed a great deal to me.
One day an executive of a new Hollywood film company offered me a chance to make a “musical Western” movie.
Now, I wasn’t and still am not an actor in the artistic sense of the word. I was never trained in speech or stage business. I liked the Hollywood proposition, but I was scared to pull stakes and go out to California. I discussed it with Ina. She’s a forthright person with a world of faith.
She said, “Honey, of course we’ll go to California, and you’ll be a success.”
So we went. I shall never forget the rushes of that first movie I made. They were terrible. I sat in the comforting darkness of the studio projection room, holding Ina’s hand for dear life and wishing I’d disappear into the floor. For once it seemed that you could carry this faith in yourself too far.
I whispered to Ina, “Let’s go back to Chicago. I’ll never make a go of this.” And she whispered back, “Let’s not. Let’s stay. You WILL be a success. I believe in you.”
Her faith fanned mine when it was at low ebb, and helped me over the biggest hurdle—my own lack of self-confidence.
In the long run faith is a rule or creed which a man adopts for himself. It has bolstered me all my life, especially when I’ve had to make decisions, or have been mixed up and confused, like in the war when we went overseas, or when faced with a business crisis, or the hundreds of tough situations that arise each day.
Faith in what you know you want to do can take you a long way, but I think there are a lot of others besides myself who would have bogged down along the way if it hadn’t been for those who believed and had faith in us.
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