Question: Are Gene Autry and Alan Autry of the TV series In the Heat of the Night related? — Bennie

Flickchick: No. Singing cowboy Gene Autry (1907-1998) was married twice — to Ina Mae Spivey, his wife of nearly 50 years, and then to Jacqueline Ellam, whom he married in 1981 — but he had no children. Autry was born on a ranch near Tioga, Tex. His father was a tenant farmer, and the family moved frequently. Autry was discovered by Will Rogers; the younger man was working as a telegraph operator in Oklahoma, but Rogers heard him sing and encouraged him to try singing for radio. Autry was a prolific songwriter, whose popular tunes include "That Silver-Haired Daddy of Mine," "Old November Moon," "Silver Spurs on the Golden Stairs," "You're the Only Star (In My Blue Heaven)" and Christmas classic "Here Comes Santa Claus," but not his signature song, "Back in the Saddle Again." That was penned by Ray Whitley (1901-1979), a supporting actor in numerous Westerns. Autry starred in dozens of films, mostly forgettable; penned the "Cowboy Code," a collection of practical homespun virtues by which many '50s children aspired to live; and founded baseball's California/Anaheim Angels franchise, which he owned for more than 30 years. Autry died a mere three months after Roy Rogers, who replaced Autry as Hollywood's top cowboy after Autry enlisted during World War II. Autry was survived by his widow and his sister Veda.

Alan Autry was born in Shreveport, La., in 1952, and raised in Riverdale, Calif. His parents were Carl and Verna Autry; his parents divorced when he was a baby and he was given his grandfather's surname, Brown, and renamed Carlos. His mother later remarried, to a farmworker named Joe Duty. Autry didn't resume using his real name until the '80s. An athletic child, Autry played college football and was recruited by the Green Bay Packers after graduation. A chance meeting with director Robert Altman (his second mention in this column!) led to his career in acting, and Autry later formed his own production company, Dirt Road Productions. In 2000, he ran for the office of mayor of Fresno, Calif., and was elected. Autry began serving in January 2001.