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The Big Show


Production Dates: mid-September to early October 1936

Release Date: 1936 11 16

Running time: 70 min. (8 reels)
Key book (production) number: 607
Location: Texas state fairgrounds






Plot Summary

Production and Publicity Stills


Glass Slides


Sheet Music

Photos taken of the Sons of the Pioneers at the Texas Centennial

        "The Big Show" was both reason and excuse for the Sons of the Pioneers' attendance at the Texas Centennial Celebrations in 1936. The whole country wanted to go but the Pioneers were sent there by Republic Studios and welcomed by the Vice President of the United States, "Cactus Jack" Garner, and Governor James Allred of Texas.

        According to the late Dale Evans, the Pioneers entertained all day every day in their own booth in the Gulf Oil Radio Studios.  Alvin G. Davis of Lubbock, Texas, just a little boy at the time, remembers seeing them. It is understood that they also recorded for Decca while they were in Dallas.

        The movie featured some very good stunt gags and a lot of slapstick comedy. The director appears as himself. The studio head in the film announces prophetically, "From now on, we're making nothing but musical westerns. A year from now, every studio in the business will be making them!"

        The Jones Boys' and the Light Crust Dough Boys' songs were cut when the movie was shortened for TV. The Sons of the Pioneers appear twice, in the first instance singing two songs,  "The Wild and Wooly West" and then backing Gene Autry in "Nobody's Darlin' but Mine". The second time we hear (and see) them in the back of a covered wagon singing "Roll, Wagons, Roll". (If you are familiar with the film, you will notice that for some reason they are trying very hard not to laugh.)

        This film is historically important to citizens of Texas today because of the footage of the actual Dallas Exposition, Cavalcade of Texas and parade.

        "The Big Show" is available on DVD. and you can also watch it on the Internet.




Sally Rand and the SMU marching band



Gene Autry as both himself and Tom Ford
Smiley Burnette as Frog

Kay Hughes as Marion Hill

Sally Payne as Toodles Brown

William Newell as Lee Wilson


Others in the Cast:

Charles Judels as Swartz, the studio head

Wedgewood Nowell, as himself, movie director

Harry Worth as Tony Rico

Rex King as Fred Collins, radio DJ

Mary Russell as Mary

Christine Maple as Miss van Every, Ford's fiancée



Max Terhune, ventriloquist

The Sons of the Pioneers

The Jones Boys

The Beverly Hill Billies

Light Crust Dough Boys


5. The Martins and the Coys (Ted Weems, A. Cameron)
1. The Wild and Woolly West (Ted Koehler-w / Sam Stept-m)
2. Nobody’s Darlin’ But Mine
(Jimmie Davis)
8. Mad About You (Ted Koehler-w / Sam Stept-m)
4. Ride, Ranger, Ride (Tim Spencer)
3. Roll, Wagon, Roll (Tim Spencer / Carl Winge)
9. Ole Faithful (Jimmy Kennedy / Michael Carr)

6. Happy Go Lucky Vagabonds sung by the Light Crust Doughboys
7. Lady Known as Lou, The (Ned Washington / Sam Stept-m) sung by the Jones Boys


Plot Summary: The Big Show is a modestly budgeted but elaborately turned out Gene Autry western. Autry plays "himself", a famous cowboy star, and his own stunt man. When Autry-the-star reneges on a agreement to make a personal appearance at Dallas' Texas Centennial (represented through newsreel shots), Autry-the-stunt man takes his boss' place. This causes confusion with the ladies, and with a gang of mobsters who were hoping to extort money from Autry-the-star. Ever protective of his own image, Gene Autry saw to it that both of his cinematic alter egos prove worthy of their salt in a climactic fistfight with the villains. Also appearing in The Big Show is a radio aggregation called the Sons of the Pioneers, featuring future Gene Autry rival Roy Rogers. (Unknown contributor)


        The story begins at the Mammoth Productions movie set with  Gene Autry and the Beverly Hill Billies singing "The Martins and the Coys".



        Frog joins in between snatches of sleep.



        Star of the film, Tom Ford, is grouchily and loudly objecting to redoing a scene. He blames Gene and the Hill Billies for all the noise they are making. Gene and the boys are asked to be quiet and the scene goes on with Tom Ford angrily jerking at Champion's bit, making the beautiful horse nervous.



            The love scene concludes acceptably and the director asks Autry to get ready for the chase stunt. Ford makes plans to go on a fishing trip.



                Autry looks like a  moustache-less Tom Ford but is obviously a nice fellow while Ford is an arrogant, miserable loud mouth who is difficult to work with.

                Ford walks over to Autry and bawls him out nastily before he storms off the set.



            Gene gets to work on his stunts.



        Frog, dozing on the back of the camera truck, falls off and is left behind. Gene is complimented on his work and it is plain to see that everyone loves him.



        Back at Mammoth Studios, the cast and crew drives in to be met by Lee Wilson who is frantically looking for Tom Ford. He had forgotten to tell Ford that three days ago he was booked into the Texas Centennial. Lee is at his wit's end because it means he will lose his job unless he thinks of something - fast.



        Just then, Tom Ford's truck drives up. Relieved, Wilson begins to tell Ford about the Texas Stampede when Frog reaches across and removes the mustache to reveal Gene Autry!



            Swartz's two secretaries, ears to the door, listen to him rant at the hapless Lee Wilson. Lee is informed that he will be fired unless he finds Ford and gets him to Dallas.



        Frog lets Autry in on his dreams - he would like to be a stuntman, too. Autry asks him if he can do a crupper mount. Frog tries but lands in the dirt behind a patient Champion.



        Frog gets ready to try again when Wilson tears around the corner on his bicycle and runs into him.



        Wilson tries to talk Autry into appearing at the Texas Centennial as Tom Ford to fool Swartz into thinking he's found him. He promises he'll have found Ford by then and Gene will be able to go home.



        Gene, worried about pretending to be Ford, narrowly misses a head on collision with a cattle truck. The cows scatter.



            An attractive but irate young woman pulls up right behind her truck and tears a strip off Gene.



        Right then, Frog arrives in Tom Ford's truck and trailer. He saddles Champion and Gene heads off to round up the cattle. It isn't until then that the lady notices the inscription on Gene's outfit and asks if this is really Tom Ford. Of course, Wilson tells her it is.



        Gene rounds up the cattle but one longhorn takes off after Frog. Gene ropes the steer, takes his dallies and the steer pulls the saddle - and Gene - off into the dust.



            Gene now must bulldog the steer. The lady begins to feel she owes Gene an apology.



        In a hotel room, four gangsters are playing cards and drinking. One of them turns the radio on and hears a description of the parade at the Texas Centennial. Tony Rico, the boss, snarls something about Tom Ford trying to get something over on him. It seems Ford owes Rico a gambling debt of $10,000. Get the car, he says, we're going to Dallas.



        The next scene opens on the parade at the Texas Centennial. Wilson, Frog and the lady with the cattle, Marion Hill, are among the spectators.



        Gene, vastly uncomfortable in his role as Tom Ford's double, rides in the parade to the tune of Ride Ranger Ride and is welcomed by the personal representative of the Governor of Texas who couldn't be there. He is presented with an honorary membership in the Texas Rangers and responds with a short speech. He is then introduced to the head of the Texas Rangers, Captain Leonard Pack and his famous horse, Texas.



        As Gene remounts to join the parade, a mob of young women surround him, pull him from his horse and steal his clothes.



        An angry Autry packing up, ready to leave. Wilson is trying to persuade him to stay until they find Tom Ford. Frog brings the news that Marion's steers have been rejected because she was late and Gene  decides to stay. As Tom Ford, he has pull and intends to use it for her sake.



        In the barn, the Sons of the Pioneers are entertaining and Frog is dancing with Toodles Brown. Marion is visiting Champion and flirting with Gene but they are interrupted by Toodles and they join the fun.



        Gene and Frog sing, backed by the Sons of the Pioneers. Max Terhune and his puppet have a part, too, and then the Pioneers.



        Wilson and Collins appear and Collins is impressed. Wilson is dismayed because the radio announcer has introduced Gene as Tom Ford, of course, and Tom Ford can't sing. Collins offers them all a place on a radio show. Wilson sees nothing but trouble ahead for himself.



        Collins, instead of interviewing "Tom Ford", announces that he can sing. Gene sings Nobody's Darling But Mine with his eyes on Marion. 



        Outside the building, the crowd clamors for more.



        Tom Ford, up in the mountains, hears Autry on his radio. He angrily knocks it over, kicks the table to pieces and packs up to go home. The gangsters, on their way to Dallas, hear Gene's singing, too.



        Studio head, Swartz, hears the program and has his secretary get Wilson on the phone. "From now on, we're making nothing but musical westerns. A year from now, every studio in the business will be making them!"



         During the following days Gene sings Mad About You. The newspapers pick up the story and embellish it - they announce an engagement between Gene and Marion where no engagement exists.



        The first one to read of the so-called engagement it is Tom Ford's fiancée who packs up and leaves for the Dallas Centennial.



        An enraged and frustrated Gene Autry tries to blame Wilson who tries to lay the blame on Gene for singing. Just as they think nothing worse could happen, the gangsters walk in unannounced, ready to take the $10,000 out of Tom Ford's hide.



        Gene tries to tell them who he really is without success. He signs a cheque for the full amount at gunpoint. As the Tony backs toward the door, he tells Gene he likes his voice and asks him when he'll sing again. Gene asks him what time it is and when Tony looks toward his watch, Gene punches him.



        The fight is on! Gene wins, of course, retrieves the cheque and tears it up. He wants to turn the hoodlums over to the Rangers but that would mean betraying the secret. He is determined, though, to tell Marion. This leaves Wilson alone with the gangsters who sweet talk him out of the gun. Tony tells him to have $25,000 hear by 4 o'clock in the afternoon or he spills the beans about Tom Ford being Gene Autry.



        Wilson sends a telegram to Swartz who replies by telephone, the real Tom Ford by his side. He agrees to send the money but Wilson will have to work for him for nothing for the rest of his life.



        The Sons of the Pioneers in a covered wagon sing Roll, Wagon, Roll in the Cavalcade of Texas.



          Between his appearances in the Cavalcade of Texas Gene tried to find Marion so he could talk to her.



        When he did finally find her, he was unfortunately interrupted by Tom Ford's fiancée who, mistaking him for Tom, kissed him thoroughly. Marion turned and left, still without knowing his identity.



        Gene had to on and perform his part, finishing with singing "Ole Faithful" to a "dying" Champion.



        Once his performance was over, he set out once more to find Marion.



He bumped into Toodles who bawled him out for being engaged to two girls at once and he got from her the information that Marion was leaving the grounds. Toodles didn't know which gate she was leaving from so Gene galloped to the centre of the arena, grabbed the mike and confessed to being Gene Autry. He explained the whole thing to Marion, listening on her car radio, and to the whole exposition who cheered him heartily and said they wanted him, no matter who he was. Marion turned her car around and came back.



        Poor Lee Wilson was having his own problems. When Gene made his confession, the gangsters were counting the $25,000 in his room. He tried to reclaim the money from them but Tony knocked him unconscious. When he regained consciousness, Lee ran to the Gulf Radio Studio, grabbed the mike, described the robbers and told the Texas Rangers to be on the lookout for the gangsters.



        The gangsters ducked into the wardrobe department and came out dressed like cowboys not knowing they were watched by Toodles.



        They placed the satchel containing the money in the boot of a stagecoach and walked behind it nonchalantly.



         Gene completed his part of the Cavalcade of Texas and rejoined Marion.



            Toodles pointed out the robbers to Gene and the Texas Rangers. The gangsters hijacked the stagecoach, holding a gun on the driver and took off.



        Gene did a quick crupper mount and followed. Toodles alerted the Rangers and then jumped into a rickshaw pulled by Frog. Gene stopped the stagecoach and Toodles lost the money in the lagoon but all ended happily ever after.



        The last scene shows a happy studio owner and Gene Autry and Marion as the stars of the next production. Tom Ford is now the stuntman and Frog masters the crupper mount at last!



Production and Publicity Stills:



Courtesy of Fred Sopher








Courtesy of Buddy Bryant


Courtesy of Buddy Bryant


Courtesy of Buddy Bryant


Courtesy of Buddy Bryant



Courtesy of Buddy Bryant


Courtesy of Les Adams


Courtesy of Buddy Bryant


Courtesy of Buddy Bryant


Courtesy of Buddy Bryant


Courtesy of Buddy Bryant


Courtesy of Buddy Bryant


Courtesy of Buddy Bryant


Courtesy of Buddy Bryant


Courtesy of Buddy Bryant


Courtesy of Buddy Bryant


Courtesy of Buddy Bryant


Courtesy of Buddy Bryant


Courtesy of Buddy Bryant








Glass Slides:






Newspaper clipping from the Hollywood Citizen-News, 1936

(The Calin Coburn Collections ©2004)


Left to right: Bob Nolan, Hugh Farr, Tim Spencer, "Cactus Jack" Garner, vice president of the United States, Leonard Slye and Leo Spencer. Caption reads:


“’CACTUS JACK’ AND COWBOY CROONERS – Vice-President Garner flatly refused to pose for ‘gag’ pictures at the Texas Centennial Exposition. Rangerettes, fishing in the world’s fair lagoon, and a dozen other stunts were spurned but – well, cowboys are different and so he put on his ten-gallon hat for the photographer.”


Pittsburgh Sun, Dec. 26, 1936


Sheet Music



Photos taken of the Sons of the Pioneers at the Texas Centennial



        Sons of the Pioneers with famed Robert Wadlow, the tallest man in recorded history. (He was 8'11" when he died in 1940 at the age of 22).


(Courtesy of John Fullerton)


(Karl E. Farr Collection)