Entertainment

Tex Ritter Left His Mark on Both Western Films and Country Music

Tex Ritter, country singer who is a radio, stage and screen performer, is shown on his birthday in New York City, Jan. 12, 1942. He was born Woodward Maurice Ritter in 1905. (AP Photo)

Tex Ritter's in rare company. He's one of three singing cowboys, alongside Roy Rogers and Gene Autry, with a strong enough run as a recording artist for a spot in the Country Music Hall of Fame.

Woodward Maurice "Tex" Ritter was born on January 12, 1905, in Murvaul, Texas (Panola County). He attended high school in Beaumont, Texas and attended the University of Texas in Austin.

By the 1920's, Ritter became a pioneer of country music and Western drama radio programs as a singer and voice actor. Notable work included a role on New York City's first broadcast Western, The Lone Star Rangers.

Early success on radio airwaves and Broadway stages landed Ritter an opportunity to record for Columbia Records. Cowboy songs he cut for Columbia included the classic "Rye Whiskey" as well as "Goodbye Old Paint." He also recorded 29 songs for Decca Records between 1935 and 1939, including original versions of "Sam Hall" and "Whoopie Ti Yi Yo."

Ritter relocated to Los Angeles in 1936, the year of his film debut, Grand National Pictures' Song of the Gringo. Other notable films from Ritter's run of b-Westerns for Grand National include Trouble in Texas (1937), so-starring Rita Hayworth.

After leaving financially troubled Grand National in 1938 for Monogram Pictures, Ritter began making singing cowboy films with fellow actor and future wife Dorothy Fay, including Song of the Buckaroo (1938) and Rainbow Over the Range (1940).

A run with Universal Pictures followed, teaming Ritter with Johnny Mack Brown in Cheyenne Roundup (1943) and other classics. Films featuring Ritter but not Brown include Marshal of Gunsmoke (1944) and Oklahoma Raiders (1944). Another '40's film of note, Take Me Back to Oklahoma, co-starred Ritter's fellow Texan and recording artist Bob Wills.

Around that same time, Ritter became one of Capitol Records' first country music stars after the chart-topping success of 1944's "I'm Wastin' My Tears on You."

Other tracks to impact the country charts include "There's a New Moon Over My Shoulder," "Jealous Heart," "You Two-Timed Me One Time Too Often," "The Deck of Cards" and "Daddy's Last Letter (Private First Class John H. McCormick)."

In one of Ritter's first great televised moments, he performed "High Noon (Do Not Forsake Me Oh My Darlin')," the Oscar-winning theme song of the 1952 Gary Cooper film High Noon, at the first televised Academy Awards ceremony.

Another hot streak for Ritter as a recording artist came in 1953 when he began hosting ABC's Ozark Jubilee. Hits that followed included "Remember the Alamo," "Just Beyond the Moon," "The Wayward Wind" and "I Dreamed of a Hill-Billy Heaven."

Ritter's most surreal addition to popular culture came as the voice of Big Al, one of the animatronic bears in the Walt Disney World Resort's Country Bear Jamboree attraction. As Big Al, he sang "Blood on the Saddle" in a show filled with songs by the Stoneman family.

Ritter even tossed his hat into the political arena, unsuccessfully running in Tennessee's 1970 Republican primary election for United States Senate, losing out to eventual general election winner Bill Brock.

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By his 1974 death from a heart attack, Ritter had earned numerous honors, from a Grand Ole Opry membership in Nashville to a star on the Hollywood Walk of Fame.

His son John Ritter starred in the TV series Three's Company and numerous films, while grandsons Jason and Tyler have also found success as actors.

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Tex Ritter Left His Mark on Both Western Films and Country Music