Monte Hale dies at 89; cowboy actor helped found Autry museum in L.A.
Monte Hale, one of the last of Hollywood’s celluloid “singing cowboys” and a founder of what is now the Autry National Center of the American West, has died. He was 89.
Hale had been in failing health and died Sunday of age-related causes at his home in Studio City, according to a statement from the Autry National Center.
In the 1940s, Hale was a top B-western box office draw, right along with Roy Rogers, Eddie Dean and Hale’s friend Gene Autry. Hale made nearly three dozen films for Republic Pictures, including 19 action- and song-packed films as the hero Monte Hale. Later, he had a small but memorable role as Rock Hudson’s lawyer Bale Clinch in the 1956 epic “Giant.”
Hale made his debut in the small role of a singer in 1944’s “The Big Bonanza.” He had similar bit parts as a cowboy or a ranch foreman in several more westerns before he was given his own series for Republic in 1946.
First came “Home on the Range,” followed rapidly by “Sun Valley Cyclone,” “Out California Way,” “The Man From Rainbow Valley,” “California Gold Rush” and more.
FOR THE RECORD:
Monte Hale: The obituary of singing cowboy Monte Hale in Section A on March 31 said he was born in San Angelo, Texas. According to his widow, he was born in Ada, Okla. The obituary also failed to name a surviving brother, Bob Ely. It also said a surviving brother named Bill was named Dick.—
Hale’s westerns featured more action scenes and fewer musical production numbers than those of Autry or Rogers, meaning he usually sang fewer songs per film.
Because he was also less aggressive in pursuing recording contracts, Hale’s singing is less known today than that of Autry, Rogers, Dean, Rex Allen or Tex Ritter.
But that’s no reflection on Hale’s talent.
According to “The Ultimate Encyclopedia of Country Music and Its Performers,” while he “sang somewhat less than the others, he did sing as well and in a natural, appealing, down-home style.”
Among Hale’s better-known songs are “In My Stable There’s an Empty Stall” and “Statue in the Bay.”
Hale made a significant splash too in the lucrative international comic book market of the era. Six Monte Hale series of the dime picture books were published in 27 languages.
Off the screen, his most lasting contribution was helping to establish the Autry museum.
Over the years, Autry -- an astute businessman who had become a wealthy media entrepreneur as well as the original owner of the Los Angeles Angels baseball team -- had expressed an interest in starting a museum dedicated to the American West.
Dining one night in the early 1980s with their wives at the Gene Autry Hotel in Palm Springs, Hale asked Autry: “When are you going to build the museum you wanted to start?”
Jackie Autry and Joanne Hale, both successful businesswomen, were the driving forces. Joanne Hale held the post of executive director from the initial planning stages until her retirement in 1999. Monte Hale served on the board from the outset and remained active until his death.
Hale made other contributions to the museum after its 1988 opening by greeting guests and enabling them to chat with a real, live singing cowboy.
He also started cajoling fellow cowboy stars to contribute their signature memorabilia for permanent display in the museum’s movie gallery.
He donated his own white hat, guns, gun belt and other prized treasures -- then rounded up more contributions, including Chuck Connors’ shirt from “The Rifleman” TV series, Buffalo Bill’s saddle and a Lone Ranger outfit.
The Griffith Park museum took its current name -- the Autry National Center of the American West -- in 2003 after the merger of the Southwest Museum of the American Indian, the Women of the West Museum and the original components of the Gene Autry Museum.
Born Samuel Buren Ely in San Angelo, Texas, June 8, 1919, Hale grew up loving music and trying to emulate his screen hero, Ken Maynard. With money he saved from a childhood job picking cotton and pecans, he paid $8.50 for his first guitar. By age 13 he was singing in local clubs.
He worked county fairs and radio stations until World War II, when he joined the Stars Over Texas Bond Drive as a singer. Its chairman, theater owner Phil Isley, father of actress Jennifer Jones, later recommended Hale to Herb Yates, the head of Republic Pictures. He got a seven-year contract.
By 1950, Monte Hale had gone back to singing in clubs around the country, often with Ray Whitley, and appearing occasionally in guest roles on television westerns.
There were also spots in the films “Yukon Vengeance” in 1954 and “The Chase” in 1966 with Robert Redford as a Texas prison escapee and Marlon Brando as the sheriff. Hale’s final film was “Guns of a Stranger” in 1973, with Marty Robbins as a singing cowboy.
In 2004, Hale was honored with a star on the Hollywood Walk of Fame.
In addition to his wife of 31 years, he is survived by a brother, Dick Hale.
Services will be private.
Instead of flowers, his widow suggests that donations be made to the Autry National Center of the American West.
Oliver is a former Times staff writer. Staff writer Jon Thurber contributed to this report.
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