Stuart Hamblen was a singing cowboy star in an era when there were but a few of them riding the range.
Hamblen was a recovered alcoholic who abandoned booze but not broadcasting after a tent-show conversion by evangelist Billy Graham.
Hamblen has arguably been credited with being radio's first singing cowboy. But if he wasn't its first, he certainly was its most colorful.
He was as well known for his tall stories as he was his songs ("This Old House," "It Is No Secret What God Can Do" and "Remember Me, I'm the One Who Loves You").
He also was credited with being one of the West's best teller of tales since Will Rogers, although a friend noted quietly that "Stuart has never been guilty of understatement in his life. He's the man who sold ice to the man who sold ice to the Eskimos."
The son of a Methodist minister, Hamblen was born in Kellyville, Texas, on Oct. 26, 1908. He began his career when he was 18 after winning a talent contest in Dallas. With the $50 prize, he headed for Camden, N.J., where he recorded for the forerunner of RCA Victor Recording.
He arrived in Hollywood in 1928 and for the next 22 years was at the top of the country-western field, first as Cowboy Joe, then as a member of the original Beverly Hillbillies, radio's first western singing group, and later as host of such programs as "Covered Wagon Jubilee," "King Cowboy and his Woolly West Review" and "Stuart Hamblen and His Lucky Stars."
Hamblen was a prolific songwriter, often turning out a tune in a few minutes.
During the 1930s and 1940s, Hamblen appeared in a number of low-budget Westerns, usually as the villain, with John Wayne, Gene Autry, Roy Rogers, Bob Steele and other cowboy stars.
Newspaper clippings also reflect other "credits": arrests for speeding, resisting arrest, ignoring traffic tickets—even pleading no contest to drunk driving in 1965, 13 years after he ran as a Prohibition Party candidate for president. (He lost, of course, to Dwight D. Eisenhower, but later couldn't resist noting that he had been defeated by "a mere 25 million votes. But I sure got more votes than Jerry Brown"—when the California governor ran for president in 1976 and 1980.)
He had first tried to put all the mischief of his early years behind him when he attended a Billy Graham revival in 1949.
In 1971, Hamblen who had retired from radio and films two years after his conversion, returned to radio with his nationally syndicated "Cowboy Church of the Air."