Smiley Burnette (born March 18, 1911 in Summum, Illinois; died February 16, 1967 in Encino, California) was an American singer and songwriter who could play as many as 100 different musical instruments as well as a highly successful comedic actor in western-style films.
Born Lester Alvin Burnette in Summum, Illinois, Burnette began singing in childhood and learned to play a variety of instruments while still a boy. In his teens, he worked on a local radio station and on stage doing vaudeville. His big break came when he was hired to perform on the "National Barn Dance" on Chicago's WLS radio station where the young singer Gene Autry was the show's major star.
At a time when Hollywood was searching for talent for western films, Burnette and Autry got their first small role in the 1934 Ken Maynard film, In Old Santa Fe. Burnette appeared in several bit parts until the following year's release of the Rin Tin Tin hit film, The Adventures of Rex and Rinty in which he had a secondary but more prominent role. By then, the handsome Gene Autry was already being cast in a lead role and the rotund Burnette would team up with him as a loveable comedy sidekick named "Frog Millhouse" (or plain "Frog" and sometimes as "Smiley"). Their association would produce more than 60 feature length musical western films. The popularity of Burnette's "Frog Millhouse" character, with his trademark his floppy black hat, was such that at the same time he would also be cast in nine other films next to another cowboy star, Roy Rogers.
During all this time working in film, Smiley Burnette also wrote over 400 songs and sang a significant number of them on screen. His compositions have been recorded by numerous popular singers including such diverse ones as Bing Crosby and Ferlin Husky. He made guest appearances on country music shows such as the Louisiana Hayride, the Grand Ole Opry and the Ozark Jubilee. He produced his ownb 15 minute radio show "The Smiley Burnette Show" in the 1940s through his RadiOzark productions. In 1971, he was inducted posthumously into the Nashville Songwriters Hall of Fame.
When the cowboy film genre waned, Burnette was able to retire but entertained occasionally at rodeo events for children and in the mid-1960s he made several appearances on the popular television series Petticoat Junction and Green Acres as railway engineer "Charley Pratt."
Smiley Burnette died in 1967 in Encino, California from leukemia and was interred in the Forest Lawn Memorial Park at Hollywood Hills in Los Angeles, California.
For his contribution to the motion picture industry, Smiley Burnette has a star on the Hollywood Walk of Fame at 6125 Hollywood Blvd.