Maurice Ritterhis childhood nickname was ‘Woody’was born near Murvaul,
Panola County, in the piney woods of deep East
Texas in 1907. He grew up on a cotton farm near Beaumont
and graduated as Valedictorian of his high-school class. He enrolled at what was
then the only University of Texasthe one in Austinin
a pre-Law program.
About 1928 the show-business bug bit him. He was in
his high school’s glee club and also in UT’s, his deep baritone voice having distinguished
him as a singer. He went to New York and joined a theatrical troupe there. Unfortunately,
the troupe collapsed the next year, along with the national economy. He returned
to Texas and re-enrolled at UT.
In 1931 he
was brought back to New York to perform in Lynn Riggs’ stage play, Green Grow
The Lilacs, which was the basis for the highly successful Rogers & Hammerstein
musical, Oklahoma! While he wasn’t the star, his performance led to his
hosting NY area radio programs featuring country and ‘cowboy’ music. They included
Tex Ritter’s Campfire and Cowboy Tom’s Roundup. He played recordings
In 1935 he was hired by Art Satherly, a music producer, to record
four songs. As Tex would comment much later, “It was just me and a guitar, and
I ain’t no Chet Atkins on a guitar.” He was paid $100 for the session. There were
no residuals, no royaltiesjust the $100. In 1935 $100 was a lot of money.
recordings got him noticed by Edward Finney of Grand National Pictures. In 1934
Mascot Pictures hired a singer to perform in a Ken Maynard film called In Old
Santa Fe. The singer, who was at the time headlining the National Barn
Dance radio program out of Chicago, was a young Texan named Gene
proved a major success at Mascot and Finney was looking for a singing cowboy star
of his own.
Tex signed with Grand National. His first film, Song of
the Gringo, came out in 1936. He made a total of twelve films with Grand National,
including Trouble in Texas (1937), in which his co-star was a very young
Rita Hayworth. Unfortunately, in 1939 Grand National went bust.
immediately signed by Monogram, where he made twenty westerns, some of them co-starring
with Johnny Mack Brown. The stint at Monogram was followed by contracts at Columbia
and Universal. His last film was a Universal picture, The Texas Rangers,
in 1945. In his film career he starred or co-starred in eighty-five Westerns.
1942 Tex Ritter became the very first country-western singer signed by Capitol
Records. Between 1944 and 1950 he had seven chart-toppers‘I’m Wastin’ My
Tears Over You,’ ‘There’s a New Moon Over My Shoulder,’ ‘Jealous Heart,’ ‘You’ve
Two-Timed Me One Time Too Often,’ ‘You’ll Have To Pay,’ ‘Rock and Rye,’ and ‘Daddy’s
Last Letter,’ taken from a letter written by PFC John H. McCormick to his son
just before he was killed in action in Korea. In 1953 he returned to the top of
the charts with the haunting Dimitri Tiompkin song ‘Do Not Forsake Me,’ the theme
of the Gary Cooper/Grace Kelly film High Noon. That became one of Tex’s
most enduring hits. Eleven years later, in 1964, he returned to the top of the
charts with ‘Hillbilly Heaven,’ written by fellow Texan Edgar Dean Glosup, whoas
Eddie Deanwas a highly successful singing movie cowboy in the 1930s and
‘40s. Dean was a prolific songwriter who wrote over a hundred songsone of
his many songs, ‘One Has My Name, The Other Has My Heart,’ is still heard on C&W
radiohad an almost operatic-quality baritone voice. Both Roy Rogers and
agreed Eddie Dean was the best cowboy singer in the movies.
until 1961 Tex hosted Town Hall Party, a country and western music show
on TV, and also guest-starred in a number of TV Westerns, the most notable being
The Rebel, starring Nick Adams. From 1963 until 1965 he served as president
of the Country and Western Music Association. In 1965 he reached country music’s
pinnacle when he was made a member of the Grand Ole Opry in Nashville.