Woodward Maurice "Tex" Ritter (January 12, 1905 – January 2, 1974) was an American country music singer and actor popular from the mid-1930s into the 1960s, and the patriarch of the Ritter acting family (son John and grandsons Jason and Tyler). He is a member of the Country Music Hall of Fame.
Tex Ritter was born Woodward Maurice Ritter on January 12, 1905 in Murvaul, Texas, the son of Martha Elizabeth (née Matthews) and James Everett Ritter. He grew up on his family's farm in Panola County, Texas, and attended grade school in Carthage, Texas. He attended South Park High School in Beaumont, Texas. After graduating with honors, he entered the University of Texas at Austin in 1922 to study pre-law and major in government, political science, and economics. After traveling to Chicago with a musical troupe, he entered Northwestern Law School.
Radio and Broadway
An early pioneer of country music, Ritter soon became interested in show business. In 1928, he sang on KPRC-AM in Houston, Texas, a 30-minute program of mostly cowboy songs. That same year, he moved to New York City and landed a job in the men's chorus of the Broadway show The New Moon (1928). He appeared as cowboy Cord Elam in the Broadway production Green Grow the Lilacs (1931), the basis for the musical Oklahoma! He also played the part of Sagebrush Charlie in The Round Up (1932) and Mother Lode (1934).
In 1932, he starred in New York City's first broadcast Western, The Lone Star Rangers on WOR-AM, where he sang and told tales of the Old West. Ritter wrote and starred in Cowboy Tom's Roundup on WINS-AM in 1933, a daily children's cowboy program aired over two other East Coast stations for three years. He also performed on the radio show WHN Barndance and sang on NBC Radio shows; and appeared in several radio dramas, including CBS's Bobby Benson's Adventures.
Ritter began recording for American Record Company (Columbia Records) in 1933. His first release was "Goodbye Ole Paint". He also recorded "Rye Whiskey" for the label. In 1935, he signed with Decca Records, where he recorded his first original recordings, "Sam Hall" and "Whoopie Ti Yi Yo". He recorded 29 songs for Decca, the last in 1939 in Los Angeles as part of Tex Ritter and His Texans.
Ritter was also cast in guest-starring roles on the syndicated television series, Death Valley Days, and the ABC Western The Rebel, starring Nick Adams as a wandering former Confederate.
In 1936, Ritter moved to Los Angeles. His motion picture debut was in Song of the Gringo (1936) for Grand National Pictures. He starred in 12 B-movie Westerns for Grand National, including Headin' for the Rio Grande (1936), and Trouble in Texas (1937) co-starring Rita Hayworth (then known as Rita Cansino).
After starring in Utah Trail (1938), Ritter left financially troubled Grand National. Between 1938 and 1945, he starred in around forty "singing cowboy" movies. He made four movies with actress and future wife Dorothy Fay at Monogram Pictures: Song of the Buckaroo (1938), Sundown on the Prairie (1939), Rollin' Westward (1939) and Rainbow Over the Range (1940).
Ritter then moved to Universal Pictures and teamed with Johnny Mack Brown for films such as Deep in the Heart of Texas (1942), The Lone Star Trail (1943), Raiders of San Joaquin (1943), Cheyenne Roundup (1943) and The Old Chisholm Trail (1942). He was also the star of the films Arizona Trail (1943), Marshal of Gunsmoke (1944) and Oklahoma Raiders (1944).
When Universal developed financial difficulties, Ritter moved to Producers Releasing Corporation as "Texas Ranger Tex Haines" for eight features between 1944 and 1945. Ritter did not return to acting until 1950, playing mostly supporting roles or appearing as himself.
Ritter's recording career was his most successful period. He was the first artist signed with the newly formed Capitol Records as well as its first Western singer. His first recording session was on June 11, 1942.
In 1944, he scored a hit with "I'm Wastin' My Tears on You", which hit No. 1 on the country chart and 11 on the pop chart. 14 years later, an article in the trade publication Billboard noted that with that song, he "reached the style of rhythmic tune that would assure his musical stature".
"There's a New Moon Over My Shoulder" was a country chart No. 2 and pop chart No. 21. In 1945, he had the No. 1, 2, and 3 songs on Billboard's Most Played Jukebox Folk Records poll, a first in the industry. Between 1945 and 1946, he registered seven consecutive top five hits, including "You Two-Timed Me One Time Too Often" (No. 1) written by Jenny Lou Carson, which spent eleven weeks on the charts. In 1948, "Rye Whiskey" and his cover of "The Deck of Cards" both made the top ten and "Pecos Bill" reached No. 15. In 1950, "Daddy's Last Letter (Private First Class John H. McCormick)" also became a hit.
Ritter first toured Europe in 1952, where his appearances included a starring role in the Texas Western Spectacle at London's Harringay Arena. That same year, Ritter recorded the movie title track "High Noon (Do Not Forsake Me Oh My Darlin')", which became a hit. At the first televised Academy Awards ceremony in 1953, he sang "High Noon", which received an Oscar for Best Song that year.
In 1953, he began performing on Town Hall Party on radio and television in Los Angeles. In 1957 he co-hosted Ranch Party, a syndicated version of the show. He made his national TV debut in 1955 on ABC-TV's Ozark Jubilee and was one of five rotating hosts for its 1961 NBC-TV spin-off, Five Star Jubilee.
He formed Vidor Publications, Inc., a music publishing firm, with Johnny Bond, in 1955. "Remember the Alamo" was the first song in the catalog. In 1957, he released his first album, Songs From the Western Screen. He was often featured in archival footage on the children's television program, The Gabby Hayes Show.
In 1961, he hit the charts with "I Dreamed of a Hill-Billy Heaven", which had actually been released six years earlier by Eddie Dean.
Even after the peak of his performing career, Ritter was recognized for his contributions to country music and artistic versatility. He became one of the founding members of the Country Music Association in Nashville, Tennessee and spearheaded the effort to build the Country Music Hall of Fame and Museum. Inducted in 1964, he became the fifth inductee and first singing cowboy to be honored by the Country Music Hall of Fame.
He moved to Nashville in 1965 and began working for WSM Radio and the Grand Ole Opry, earning a lifetime membership in the latter in 1970. His family remained in California temporarily so that son John could finish high school there. For a time, Dorothy was an official greeter at the Opry. During this period, Ritter co-hosted a late-night radio program with country disc jockey Ralph Emery. Ritter also played himself in the 1966 film Nashville Rebel, in which moviegoers were introduced to a little-known 29-year-old country singer named Waylon Jennings. Ritter's 1967 single "Just Beyond The Moon" with lyrics by Jeremy Slate hit No. 3 on the country chart.
In 1970, Ritter surprised many people by entering Tennessee's Republican primary election for United States Senate. Despite high name recognition, he lost overwhelmingly to United States Representative Bill Brock, who then defeated the incumbent Senator Albert Gore, Sr. in the general election.
Ritter was married to actress Dorothy Fay on June 14, 1941, until his death. The couple had two sons, Thomas Matthews "Tom" Ritter (b. January 8, 1947) and actor John Ritter (September 17, 1948 – September 11, 2003). Tex helped start United Cerebral Palsy after his son Thomas was found to have cerebral palsy. Ritter and his sons spent a great deal of time raising money and public awareness to help others with the illness. He is also the grandfather of actors, Jason and Tyler Ritter. In the early 70s Ritter often sang gospel music and spoke at a number of Southern churches.
In 1974, he had a heart attack and died in Nashville, Tennessee ten days before his 69th birthday. (His family now believes that he may actually have died from an aortic dissection like his son John Ritter did, as dissections often run in the family.)
His last hit record was a cover of Gordon Sinclair's famous editorial "The Americans (A Canadian's Opinion)". It reached No. 35 on the country chart shortly after his death. He is interred at Oak Bluff Memorial Park in Section 8 in Port Neches in Jefferson County, Texas. His son John is interred at Forest Lawn Memorial Park in Hollywood Hills, Los Angeles, California.
Tex Ritter Park is located in Nederland, Texas.
For his contribution to the recording industry, Ritter has a star on the Hollywood Walk of Fame at 6631 Hollywood Boulevard; he and John Ritter were the first father-and-son pair to be so honored in different categories. In 1980, he was inducted into the Western Performers Hall of Fame at the National Cowboy & Western Heritage Museum in Oklahoma City, Oklahoma. There is Museum named for him in Carthage, Panola County, Texas and he was a member of the charter group of inductees into the Texas Country Music Hall of Fame, also in Carthage, in 1998.
In 1986, Ritter was honored posthumously with a Golden Boot Award for his work in Western films.
Ritter can be heard as the voice of Big Al, an audio-animatronic bear at the Country Bear Jamboree attraction in the Magic Kingdom at the Walt Disney World Resort. His character sings "Blood on the Saddle" and continues through the finale as the rest of the cast attempts to drown him out.
Tex Ritter on IMDb
Tex Ritter at the Internet Broadway Database
Tex Ritter Museum - Carthage, Texas
The Old Corral, the ultimate reference guide for B-Westerns
Zwisohn, Laurence (1998). "Tex Ritter". In The Encyclopedia of Country Music. Paul Kingsbury, Editor. New York: Oxford University Press. pp. 447–448.
O'Neal, Bill (1998). Tex Ritter: America's Most Beloved Cowboy. Austin, Texas: Eakin Press.
Bond, Johnny (1976). The Tex Ritter Story. New York: Chappell Music Company.Tex Ritter at the Country Music Hall of Fame
Tex Ritter / Edward Finney Collection at the Autry National Center
"Tex Ritter". Find a Grave. Retrieved November 21, 2013.