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Texas | Columns | "Charley Eckhardt's Texas"

The Best Singing Cowboy
in the Movies

Eddie Dean

by C. F. Eckhardt

According to both Roy Rogers and Gene Autry, the two most successful stars of the ‘singing cowboy’ era of Westerns, the best singing cowboy of all was Eddie Dean. Eddie Who?

He was born Edgar Dean Glosup in 1907 in Posey, Hopkins County, Texas. He had, once his voice developed, a rich, almost operatic-quality baritone. His father, a schoolteacher, urged him to pursue a career in music. After a stint with several gospel quartets on the Southern gospel circuit, Eddie and his brother Jimmie joined the National Barn Dance on WLS in Chicago, becoming the first ‘singing brothers’ act in country-music history. For a time the Glosup brothers had a show of their own on a station in Yankton, South Dakota.

Eventually the brothers drifted to California, ending up in Hollywood. There, for entertainment purposes, they dropped the Glosup name and became the Dean Brothers. Eddie, the more handsome of the two, began getting bit-parts in movies as early as 1935, though his brief career as a singing cowboy would not begin until considerably later.

Eddie Dean was a songwriter as well as a singing cowboy, and his songwriting career lasted much longer than his movie career. Among the Eddie Dean songs still heard on Country-Western radio today are One Has My Name (The Other Has My Heart) and Hillbilly Heaven, first recorded by Eddie in the 1950s and later a major hit for Tex Ritter. Each Eddie Dean singing cowboy movie included at least three songs. Eddie wrote eighty percent of them.

One of Eddie’s early sidekicks was another musician—and another Texan—Glen Strange. Though we best remember Glen Strange as Sam the Bartender on Gunsmoke, he was an accomplished musician, playing fiddle, guitar, and banjo, and a singer as well. He and Eddie collaborated on writing songs for the movies and became very close friends. When Strange died Eddie Dean sang at his funeral.

Another sidekick—a non-singer—was a fellow named Al LaRue, who came from Gretna, Louisiana. He played ‘The Cheyenne Kid,‘ who was supposed to be an expert with a bullwhip. According to Al LaRue himself, in an interview before his death, he had never before handled a bullwhip in his life, but he desperately wanted the part. “I nearly tore all the hide off my body,” he said, teaching himself to handle the whip. Apparently his skill impressed the casting director, because he got the part. After leaving as Eddie’s sidekick his bullwhip prowess earned him stardom on his own—as ‘Lash LaRue.’

Eddie also worked with Hollywood holster-make and fast-draw instructor Arvo Ojala. He was one of the first movie cowboys to use Ojala’s revolutionary metal-lined holsters on film. At one point he was considered the ‘fastest gun’ in Westerns.

Eddie Dean was perhaps the most innovative of the cowboy movie heroes, both singing and action. Instead of riding a single horse in all his films, as the other cowboy stars, both singing and action did, he had three different horses during his career—a paint, a sorrel, and a coal-black horse with a white flash on the animal’s face. When asked why he changed horses, he reportedly said “I don’t want to be upstaged by my own horse.” Trigger, Champion, White Flash, Koko, Silver, Tarzan and dozens of movie-cowboy horses were as popular as their riders, but Eddie avoided that by changing horses.

For a movie-cowboy hero to be seen to shed tears was an absolute no-no. A hero might show anger or sadness at the death of a friend, but never shed tears.. Eddie broke the mold. He was seen to shed tears on screen over the body of a dead friend.

Another taboo was shooting a woman. A hero might overpower a female criminal and haul her off to jail, but he could never shoot her. Eddie broke that taboo as well, in one of his last films. The bad girl in this case was none other than Jennifer Holt, action-cowboy hero Tim Holt’s sister. She’d played Eddie’s leading lady in several previous films, but in this one—her last film with Eddie and one of her own last films—she played a really mean, sneaky outlaw gang leader. She later stated playing that part was her favorite role in all the films she did. “I could be nasty to everybody if I wanted to,” she’s quoted as saying.

Eddie made eighteen Westerns, five in color, before ending his singing-cowboy career in 1945. He later appeared in a live-TV Western broadcast only on the West Coast. It was called The Marshal of Gunsight Pass, and lasted only one season. He later made rare guest appearances on television, most notably on Petticoat Junction, and continued his songwriting and recording career. Eddie Dean’s recordings, though, are difficult to find because he never recorded with a major label.

Eddie Dean
Eddie Dean

Unlike many Hollywood stars, Eddie had only one wife, Lorraine, whom he called ‘Dearest.’ The couple had two children, a son and a daughter, neither of which went into show business. When Eddie died in 1999 he and ‘Dearest’ had been married sixty-one years. When Lorraine followed him to the grave in 2002, under her name on the headstone—which is marked ‘Glosup,’ not ‘Dean’--was carved ‘Dearest.’

© C. F. Eckhardt January 11, 2014 column
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