Stranger Than Fiction: Gene Autry’s Christmas Classic

Gene Autry

Gene Autry

In the summer of 1949, Gene Autry, the singing cowboy, was sitting in his office leafing through dozens of songs that had been submitted to him by aspiring songwriters. Autry was selecting songs for his upcoming Christmas album that had to be recorded within days to be make his deadline. He needed six songs but had released only five.

One that he particularly liked was a catchy song entitled “Santa, Santa, Santa.” He not only believed it would be a hit but that it would become a holiday classic. The singing cowboy needed one more song to complete his album. His wife handed him a song she particularly liked that was entitled “Rudolph the Red-Nosed Reindeer.” Autry grimaced when he read the lyrics.

“There’s only eight reindeer,” he told her. “Nobody will like this.”

Fortunately, she persisted and Autry agreed to record the song. He booked a studio and on the day of the recording he and his band recorded the first five tracks. Autry looked up at the clock and realized he had ten minutes left in his session and he had not yet recorded “Rudolph the Red-Nosed Reindeer.” To further complicate matters, another artist was waiting in the hall to record his Christmas album. He and his band had time for one take. They quickly recorded the song and as soon as the last note was sung, the reels were rewound and Autry listened to the tune. His initial apprehensions were quickly put to rest. He liked what he heard.

Rudolph The_Red-Nosed_Reindeer_Marion_BooksAutry left the studio with a smile on his face. While stepping into the hall he ran into the next performer, his old friend Bing Crosby. The two singers exchanged idle conversation for a few moments when Crosby said “I hear you recorded a song about a reindeer. I hear you’ve got a hit on your hands.”

“Yeah,” Autry responded. “It’s called ‘Rudolph the Red-Nosed Reindeer.’ I was a little reluctant at first, but I think it’s going to be a hit. I heard it was offered to someone else at first but that knucklehead turned it down.”

Crosby grinned and replied “Gene, you’re looking at that knucklehead.”

Autry’s mouth dropped open. Few remember his song “Santa, Santa, Santa,” but virtually everyone can sing along with Rudolph. Although Crosby missed out on the chance to record “Rudolph,” he had the distinct honor of recording a holiday classic of his own—Irving Berlin’s “White Christmas.”

In the coming years both “Rudolph the Red-Nosed Reindeer” and “White Christmas” have sold millions of records and have been recorded by countless other singers. None of the performers have approached the success that Autry and Crosby brought to the timeless classics.

Berlin loved Crosby’s interpretation of his song, but there was one performer whose version he considered to be obscene.

Berlin was driving down the street one afternoon when he heard someone singing “White Christmas” on the radio. The more he listened the angrier he became. In his opinion, the artist’s version was offensive. Berlin was fuming by the time he arrived home. He called his attorney and demanded he take legal action to prevent singer from ever singing his song again.

In the months to come a steady stream of royalty checks began to arrive at Berlin’s home courtesy of the offensive entertainer. Each check was larger than the previous one and Berlin’s anger soon abated. Eventually, he began to feel that Elvis Presley’s version of his holiday classic wasn’t quite as offensive as he had previously thought.

Michael Williams is the author of a book entitled “Stranger than Fiction: The Lincoln Curse.” The book is a collection of 50 strange and unusual but true stories. The stories will leave the reader convinced that perhaps Mark Twain was right when he said “truth is stranger than fiction.”

He has written for more than 30 newspapers and magazines including the Civil War Times Illustrated, The Civil War Courier, the Associated Press and the Knoxville Journal.

The book is 187 pages in a softbound edition with numerous photos. The book can be purchased from for $19.95 plus shipping and handling or you can save shipping cost and save $2 on the purchase price by ordering a signed copy directly from the author. Send $17.95 to P.O. Box 6421 Sevierville, TN. 37864.

The book is available in Kindle on for $3.99. For more information visit the website

Source: Michael Williams, Author of Stranger Than Fiction