Maurice Woodward Ritter came by his nickname honestly. Born and raised in the great state of Texas, he had as much right to the name “Tex” as anybody, and it turned out to be an especially good name for someone who would end up having a long career in the public eye. Along the way he would appear on Broadway, become a star in both country music and cowboy movies, and would even dabble in politics. He would also father a son who would have his own acting success.
As a young man in the late 1920s, Ritter wasn’t exactly headed for a music career — in fact, he was a law student at the University of Texas. But he was intrigued by thoughts of a career as an actor, and even left school to try his luck for a while in New York. Unfortunately he didn’t catch on and eventually returned to school. However, he also began honing his musical skills on regional radio, and by the time he returned to New York in 1931, he was armed with something other than his acting skills.
He began getting small acting parts in Broadway plays, but it was his singing and guitar playing between scenes that helped him gain notice. The parts got bigger and he also began appearing on radio, eventually hosting his own show, all of which put him in the spotlight when Hollywood came calling. The success of Gene Autry and others made singing cowboys all the rage, and Ritter was soon joining the ranks of movie stars. Over the next dozen years, he’d appear in more than 80 films, working alongside everyone from a young Rita Hayworth to music legend Bob Wills.
Ritter’s movie singing naturally led to singing on records too, and when his movie career inevitably began to wind down, his recording career exploded. During and after World War II, he used his deep, drawling singing voice to became one of the biggest country music stars around, generating hit after hit with songs like “I’m Wastin’ My Tears on You,” “Jealous Heart,” and “I Got Spurs (That Jingle, Jangle, Jingle).” He also began to master a certain kind of soundtrack music, as evidenced by his classic recording of the theme from High Noon, “Do Not Forsake Me.”
Ritter would go on to record many other memorable theme songs, along with timeless country tunes like “Blood On The Saddle” and “Hillbilly Heaven,” but by the close of the 1960s he was ready to try something else. In 1970 he ran for the U.S. Senate, but unfortunately his popularity didn’t translate to the ballot box. He died in 1974, but was able to see his son John successfully begin an acting career that would lead to several decades of success before his own untimely death in 2003.