Woodward Maurice Ritter (January 12, 1905 – January 2, 1974), better known as Tex Ritter, was an American country music singer and movie actor popular from the mid-1930s into the 1960s, and the patriarch of the Ritter family in acting (son John and grandson Jason). He is a member of theCountry Music Hall of Fame.
Ritter was born in Murvaul, Texas, the son of Martha Elizabeth (née Matthews) and German American James Everett Ritter. He grew up on his family's farm in Panola County and attended grade school in Carthage. He attended South Park High School in Beaumont, Texas. After graduating with honors, he entered the University of Texas at Austin; he studied pre-law and majored in government, political science, and economics.
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, 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 onNBC Radio shows; and appeared in several radio dramas, including CBS's Bobby Benson's Adventures.
Ritter was also cast in guest-starring role on the syndicated television series, Death Valley Days, and the ABC western series, The Rebel, starring Nick Adams as a wandering formerConfederate.
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 "Get Along Little Dogie". He recorded 29 songs for Decca, the last in 1939 in Los Angeles as part of Tex Ritter and His Texans.
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 twelve B-movie Westerns for Grand National, includingHeadin' 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 actressDorothy 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 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 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 eleven on the pop chart. "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 song "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. 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. 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. His 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 Ritter and actor John Ritter (father of Jason who was born in 1980). Tex helped start United Cerebral Palsy after Thomas was found to have the affliction. Ritter and his sons spent a great deal of time raising money and public awareness to help others with the illness.
Ritter's grave marker inPort Neches
Ritter had his last recording session for Capitol Records in 1973. In 1974, he had a heart attack and died in Nashville, ten days before his 69th birthday.
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 Port Neches in Jefferson County, Texas. Son John is interred at Forest Lawn Memorial Park in Hollywood Hills, California.