Celebrities Then and Now

For the Week of November 30, 2015
by Rubel Shelly

Gene Autry is a name hardly known to anyone under 30. People from the next couple of decades might recognize him as the owner of the Anaheim Angels of Major League Baseball. But it takes people from two or three additional decades to recall him as the “Singing Cowboy” of radio, movies, and television.

Autry survives in the experience of the youngest of children, however, through the Christmas songs he recorded – “Rudolph the Red-Nosed Reindeer” and “Frosty the Snowman.” He both wrote and recorded “Here Comes Santa Claus.”

At the height of his career, he took his responsibility as a role model seriously enough that he formulated and promoted “The Cowboy Code” to his young fans.
1. The Cowboy must never shoot first, hit a smaller man, or take unfair advantage.
2. He must never go back on his word, or a trust confided in him.
3. He must always tell the truth.
4. He must be gentle with children, the elderly, and animals.
5. He must not advocate or possess racially or religiously intolerant ideas.
6. He must help people in distress.
7. He must be a good worker.
8. He must keep himself clean in thought, speech, action, and personal habits.
9. He must respect women, parents, and his nation’s laws.
10. The Cowboy is a patriot.
Reared in a Baptist home, he chose a non-orthodox direction in his adult life as a Christian Scientist. But it is obvious that his childhood training went with him throughout life. He volunteered for the Army Air Corps in 1942, for example, and served his country as the pilot of a transport plane during World War II.

My daughter found the Cowboy Code recently and showed it to me. My first-blush reaction was to think how different Autry’s sense of duty to young fans was from that of today’s superstars – whether athletes, musicians, or actors. Without being too cynical, today’s celebrities are better known for defying any code resembling the one above, then mocking anyone who might do otherwise.

Have times changed? Yes. The modern cult of personality is all about the object of admiration. A person with talent is idol-ized – and too often comes to worship at his or her own shrine. Have times changed? No. Right and wrong are still knowable. And celebrities exert tremendous influence on their followers.

“Better to be poor and walk in integrity than to be crooked in one’s ways even though rich” says Proverbs 28:6. Or, with ever-so-slight alteration: “Better to be an unknown and walk in integrity than to be crooked in one’s ways even though numbered among the rich and famous.”