by Bartee Haile

Gene Austin, the original crooner whose recordings sold 86 million copies in the Twenties and Thirties, lost his battle with lung cancer on Jan. 24, 1972. The popular singer and prolific songwriter was born Lemeul Eugene Lucas in 1900 in the north Texas town of Gainesville. He did most of his growing up near Shreveport, where his mother moved with her second husband after the death of Gene's father. Back in those days, restless boys really did run away to join the circus, and the 15 year old was among them. Finding life under the big top not all it was cracked up to be, Gene went back home but left for good a few months later. The teen talked his way into uniform by tricking a recruiter into believing he was older than he looked. He kept up the masquerade long along to take part in Gen. Pershing's pointless pursuit of Pancho Villa before getting kicked out of the army for being underage.

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