Dear Visitor. This biography of Tex Fletcher is evolving as information from numerous sources is combined, verified and edited. Some of the information being distilled had been written by me previously, and is being corrected. The Wikipadeia page on Tex Fletcher was written by me many years ago and is now, in hindsight, not only quite incomplete, but also in ways that were unavoidable at the time, inaccurate. Wiki will be corrected and updated soon.It is my goal to make this the last word of Tex Fletcher's life and career. ~ George Fletcher
There are a number of facets to Tex Fletcher’s life and career. He was an early country and hillbilly music broadcast and recording artist, he appeared in a still known and circulated 1930s B-Western, played untold numbers of gigs. His legacy is secure long after many others of the old breed of singing cowboys stars have faded. Here are a few interesting highlights that may explain.
CF MARTIN D-42
One reason may be his Martin D-42 guitar. The D-42 has a fascinating history all its own and it (and by association, Tex Fletcher) is known to any serious fan of dreadnought guitars. Click here for more
SIX GUN RHYTHM
Another is his one and only starring roll in a Hollywood oater, “Six Gun Rhythm.”
In short, Grand National Pictures filed for bankruptcy just weeks after the movie’s release, severely limiting it’s distribution, so were it not for Tex Fletcher’s determination to make a go of it, it would have been relegated to the great cinematic dustbin.
Upon the company’s demise, which also short-sheeted Fletcher’s 6 picture deal to the one and only, Tex got busy making telephone calls and writing letters offering movie house chains not only “Six Gun Rhythm,” but a personal appearance with each showing. He booked a personal appearance tour from the summer of 1939 until his induction into the United States Army in 1941 from the eastern seaboard’s southern states through New England and into Canada, where he was known to music fans from his radio programs, sheet music and Decca recordings (reissued to the Canadian market on Melotone Records).
According to Billboard Magazine and newspaper articles, Tex did further PA tours periodically after the war right through 1949. The movie is held in high esteem among collectors and aficionados of the B-western genre. Click here for more
RADIO AND TELEVISION
Tex's broadcast career is said to have begun in South Dakota in 1928, but no hard proof or records have been found to confirm or deny its accuracy. In early 1932 his career begins on the record at WFAS in White Plains, NY, quickly jumping to WWOR later in the year to replace Tex Ritter, who had been starring in New York City's first broadcast western program, the Lone Star Rangers, where he sang and told tales of the old West. TV factored itself in more and more as the medium grew in popularity. From 1949 through 1955, Fletcher worked alongside actor Don Knotts on The Bobby Benson Show, including several later TV adaptations. Fletcher was also seen on WPIX, WNBc and WABC TV in the 1950s. In the mid-fifties he in radio and television in South Dakota. In all, he was on the air in one form or another for nearly 30 years. Click here for more
It is known fact that he replaced Tex Ritter at WOR in late 1932 and then at Grand National Pictures in 1938 when Ritter moved on to Monogram. It is even possible that Fletcher took on these roles at Ritter's recommendation. This is partially supported by the fact that Fletcher and Ritter were friends, likely from their early days in New York City. Ritter even put Fletcher up at his Hollywood apartment during filming of Six Gun Rhythm in late-1938/early-1939. The Fletcher family subsequently returned the favor in the mid-1950s by hosting the Ritter family at their South Dakota home. They stayed for more than a week and the time is remembered by the eldest sister as being "chaotic", due mostly to Ritter's son (future television star), John being on the "wild side." Future South Dakota Senator James Abourezk was the bartender the night Fletcher and Ritter performed a few tunes to aa surprised and appreciative crowd at Fletcher's Gay Lady Saloon, in Rockerville, SD. Accordionist Tony Fuscaldo, who worked with Fletcher through the 1930s clearly remembered socializing with Tex Ritter at Manhattan's Village Barn nightclub, a venue Tex Fletcher worked into the 1960s. He surmised this was because the handsome Fletcher attracted so many women to his shows.
What makes Tex Fletcher's story extraordinary is that he was really just an ordinary man gifted with an almost stubborn will. He overcame much adversity early on yet ultimately attained pretty much everything he set his sights on. And he did it all by himself. For better and for worse, he represented himself in all aspects of his career and only used lawyers or other professionals when needed for contractual issues, publishing and so on. Bookings and all promotion and career decisions never, left in no one else's hands. Otherwise, he wore all the hats, reaped all the benefits and suffered all the consequences. He made and stood by his decisions and we rarely heard him express much in the way of regrets.
He had a few strikes against him when he hit the trail seeking adventure in the mid-1920s. He was rough hewn, had a severe speech impediment, had little formal education (purportedly leaving school in 3rd grade to work with his brothers and stone mason father, Michael) and had been in a few scrapes with the law, likely truancy.
Tex Fletcher overcame adversity every step of the way and made something out of literally nothing, of his own design and unique function. This effort unfortunately leaves behind embellishments, historical inaccuracies and hokum of his own making, that those of us who knew and loved him can only scratch our heads and chuckle. But the 1930s, which is where the professional career began, was a simple time compared to the one we live in now and I suppose it was a time in which you could say you were descended from royalty, and it would be hard to disprove... at least quickly.
He claimed to be from South Dakota and then later Hell's Kitchen, neither of which are true. He made a few other claims at times in his career that come up as hard to verify. Unfortunately, misinformation remains on the record. Despite this flaw, he delivered the goods, and that's why he lasted 30-odd years in show business.
Then there are historical inaccuracies that exist simply due to duplication of human error over the years, such as an IMDB listing that places Tex Fletcher in a 1938 short musical film as a member of Emerson's Mountaineers, "Down on The Barn."
However, with regard to that group, we were lucky to literally stumble upon a very rare copy while researching something else (happens all the time!) and sadly, Tex was not in the movie nor was he listed in the credits. But this does lead us to wonder if he might have appeared in one of the other musical shorts filmed by the group, misidentified as another, because he WAS in the group. Until we can actually find these movies, we won't know. It was previously assumed that "Down on The Barn" was where he was noticed by Hollywood and eventually signed to his six-picture deal with Grand National. Now the belief is that he was either assisted by Tex Ritter, was approached independently or did it on his own on the strength of his popularity over the Mutual airwaves.
HARRISON, NY TO BUFFALO SD
This cowboy’s true grit can be traced back to his childhood. The 5th of 8 children of hard working Italian immigrants, Michael and Josephine Bisceglia, Geremino (Jerry) was raised in the small town of Harrison, NY. He left school during the 3rd grade and went to work with his older brothers for their stonemason father. He was saddled with a severe speech disorder which vanished when he sang, or spoke professionally in any way. It’s not clear just what his musical aspirations were as a child, but he learned guitar from another Harrisonite, Salvatore Figliola, a local musician and family friend. Being a lefty, he had no choice but to play the teacher’s righty guitar, but he did it left handed.
Around the age of 15 years old he ran away from home, but was rounded up and sent to a reform school, which in the 1920s were unregulated and violent places. When a bunkmate was severely injured by a guard’s billy club, Jerry escaped and found his way to Danbury, CT. where the Sells-Floto Circus, a rail-traveling spectacle had pitched its tent. He got a menial job with the circus which not only guaranteed three squares a day, but passage on the circus train which took him far from his home, traveling westward through northern US states and Canada. He jumped ship once reaching Oregon but within a year or so he landed in Buffalo South Dakota, where his other story begins.
He used to tell of being cold and hungry and finding his way into a Buffalo, SD pool hall to keep warm.
An older gentleman approached the skinny teenager huddled in a corner and asked when the last time he had eaten, to which young Jerry replied he hadn’t for a couple of days. The gentleman, pool hall owner Frank Clark Sr. squeezed a silver half-dollar into Jerry’s hand and said, “Go get yourself something to eat.” Encouraged by this good sign, Jerry stuck around Buffalo, doing odd jobs and eventually finding work as a ranch hand which began his life as a cowboy. But the story of a kind man and the hungry kid doesn’t end there. Mr. Clark was a fairly prominent businessman in and around Buffalo, SD then (and today still) a very a small town, so Jerry stayed in touch with him and they became friends. Some years later, after having found success in show business, Tex as he was now known coast to coast would visit Buffalo on occasion.
With each visit to Buffalo he would seek out the man who reached out to him years before, and upon greeting him, would squeeze a silver half-dollar into the man’s hand. Tex repeated the ritual time and again having never forgotten the safety net that was thrown to him during his first days in Buffalo.
Tex was able to repay the kindness, squeezing a “fifty-cent piece” one final time when the man was in his dying days. He told me this story more than a few times over the years and it never changed. Our dad could spin a tall tale with the best - and worst - of them, but this was no tale. Unknown to the Fletcher family, this story had been published in the official Harding County SD History book some years ago, leaving no doubt as to its authenticity.
It’s difficult to say if the young man had any particular love of cowboy music early on, but he was clearly influenced by his family and the other immigrant families in Harrison, NY where homemade music was the norm and everybody sang and/or played traditional instruments such as the mandolin, violin and accordion.
Was he inspired by the silver screen cowboys of his youth such as Tom Mix, or was it simply because of the direction in which the circus train was headed? His Buffalo SD “internship” afforded him to learn the ways of the cowboy, quite unchanged from the settler’s times. He learned to ride and rope, he also picked up on western lore and cowboy songs and in essence, became a real cowboy himself.
During these formative years, friendships were forged that lasted his lifetime. Over the years since our dad's passing in 1987, I have found and been found by numerous people who knew him or hisSouth Dakota history well enough to provide me with recollections, newspaper clippings and even a hard-to-find copy of a 1956 television pilot he produced and starred in, “Frontier Diary” that had been filmed with much fanfare in Harding County, SD. Buffalo, SD became as much Tex Fletcher’s home as Harrison, NY.
His sincere love of the state was immortalized in quite a few songs, including “Harding County Home,” “Tipperary (The Great Outlaw Horse),” “The Grand River Hymn,” "The Black Hills Round Up" and “The Grand River Waltz.”
HOME ON THE RANGE
He returned to South Dakota in the mid-1950s, this time to Rapid City, where I was born. He opened a restaurant, The Gay Lady Saloon in rural Rockerville, not far from Rapid City, where he would greet visitors daily, regale them with stories of his career, feature poular local bands of the day, perform his cowboy songs from time to time, once surprising a full house of patrons with an impromptu performance with his old Hollywood buddy, Tex Ritter.
According to former South Dakota state senator James Abourezk, who as a college student tended the Gay Lady’s bar at night, Tex's acting chops were in good form on the night an unruly bar patron kept challenging him. Tex demanded Abourezk toss him his holstered Colt .45s which hung behind the bar, but as the story goes, the holster never made it as far as Tex because the bad guyhad a change of constitution and cleared outta town!
TO BE CONTINUED
Honorary Constable, Harrison, NY
Honorary Sheriff, Harding County, SD
Honorary Marshall, Tombstone, AZ
During the Days of ’76 Rodeo in 1954, SD Governor Sigurd Andersen issued an official proclamation declaring Tex Fletcher, South Dakota’s Official Singing Cowboy.
In 2016, SD Governor Dennis DauGaard issued a proclamation declaring, Saturday, June 25, 2016 the Tex Fletcher Family Day of Memories as the family gathered for a family reunion in South Dakota at the site of the Gay Lady, now known as the Gaslight.
New York Country Music Hall of Fame’s Hall of Honors in 2006.
Honored by the Harding County Historical Society
Honored by the George B. German Music Archives in Sioux Falls, SD
Buffalo’s tourism board immortalized Tex with a Historical Marker. Click here to view