Starring Gene Autry, 1936's "The Big Show" is an amusing feature that abounds with action sequences, slapstick humor, and performances showcasing why Autry was known as "the singing cowboy." In the film Gene Autry performs two roles: the movie star Tom Ford and Ford's cleverly named stunt double Gene Autry. When Ford goes off on a fishing trip Autry is begged to fill in for Ford at the Texas Centennial celebration held in Dallas. Reluctantly Autry agrees, but soon finds himself mixed up in all manners of trouble as gangsters Ford owes money to come after him and as his singing on the radio makes him a crooning sensation – though Ford cannot sing. Foolish sidekicks, inept movie studio officials, stirring chase sequences, plenty of singing, and Autry's struggle to tell his love interest who he really is all make this film truly a big show. Though the film features numerous exemplary images of cowboys, it also presents excellent imagery of the times and provides a glimpse into the process of movie making. Particularly interesting to Texas history are the sequences at the Texas Centennial, which were shot on location at the Centennial in Dallas and features the presentation of "Texas Under Six Flags," as well as sequences featuring the Texas Rangers led by Captain Leonard Pack with his horse "Texas", the Southern Methodist University band is also present in the parade. In addition to Autry's singing this film also features performances by several musical groups, one of these groups – The Sons of the Pioneers – includes a young guitar player named Leonard Slye who would go on to become better known by his stage name: Roy Rogers.
Orvon Grover Autry, better known as Gene Autry, was born in Tioga, Texas on September 29, 1907. He rose to fame as "The Singing Cowboy" in radio, television, and film. Autry started his recording career in 1929 when he signed with Columbia Records, ultimately releasing several hits including his signature song "Back in the Saddle Again," as well as numerous Christmas songs, such as "Here Comes Santa Claus" and "Rudolph the Red-Nosed Reindeer." In 1934, Autry was discovered by film producer Nat Levine, after which he made numerous B-movie Westerns through the 1950s. From 1940 to 1956, Autry also had his own CBS radio show called "Gene Autry's Melody Ranch." Beginning in 1950, Autry produced and starred in his own television show on CBS, "The Gene Autry Show," which aired 91 episodes. Autry retired from show business in 1964, having made almost 100 films and over 600 records. He was elected to the Country Music Hall of Fame and the Nashville Songwriters Hall of Fame in 1969 and 1970, respectively. Autry is also the only person to have five stars on the Hollywood Walk of Fame, one in each of the five categories: motion pictures, radio, recording, television, and live theater. Autry died of lymphoma on October 2, 1988, aged 91, in Studio City, California.
The Texas Centennial was a year-long celebration of the 100th anniversary of Texas independence from Mexico. Events all over the state commemorated the milestone, such as the Texas Frontier Centennial in Fort Worth and Galveston's Mardi Gras. Several existing buildings were commissioned for the centennial, including the Texas Memorial Museum, The Sam Houston Memorial Museum, The Panhandle-Plains Memorial Museum, and the Alamo Museum, among others. Dallas, Houston, and San Antonio all vied for the chance to host the main exposition, but Dallas won due to its financial commitment.
The Centennial Exposition in Dallas was heralded as the first World's Fair held in the Southwest. It ran from June 6 to November 29, 1936, and again from June 12 to October 31, 1937. The festival's most visited attraction was the "Cavalcade of Texas," a pageant of Texas history. Another draw was the Hall of Negro Life, which was the first acknowledgement of black culture at any World's Fair. In the midst of moralistic and educational efforts, the midway also served as a space for drinking, gambling, and strippers, a sure way to make money at the height of the Great Depression. One of the most appealing parts of the exposition was the nightly lightshow where 24 multicolored searchlights that could be seen from miles away.
Famous visitors included President Franklin D. Roosevelt and Gene Autry. The exposition served as a filming location for The Big Show, a 1936 western in which Gene Autry played himself. Over 6 million people attended the fair, and while that was below the projected figures, organizers were ultimately pleased with the boost to the economy and the recognition it brought Dallas.