The Roy Rogers TV series
ran from December 30th, 1951 to June 23rd, 1957 on NBC for 104, black
and White, 30 minute episodes.
Roy Rogers is know as
King of the Cowboys
and his wife Dale Evans,
Queen of the West.
Roy Rogers (born Leonard
Franklin Slye) (November 5th, 1911 July 6th, 1998), was a
singer and cowboy actor, as well as the namesake of the famous Roy
Rogers Restaurants chain. He and his second wife Dale Evans, his
golden palomino Trigger, and his German Shepherd Dog, Bullet, were
featured in over one hundred movies and The Roy Rogers Show. The show
ran on radio for nine years before moving to television from 1951
through 1957. His productions usually featured a sidekick, often
either Pat Brady, (who drove a jeep called "Nellybelle") or
the crotchety Gabby Hayes. Roy's nickname was "King of the
Cowboys". Dale's nickname was "Queen of the West." For
many Americans (and non-Americans), he was the embodiment of a
cowboy. They lived at the Double R Bar Ranch outside of Mineral City
in modern times. The show was mostly kid stuff and predates the so
called "adult" Westerns like Gunsmoke and Wagon Train and
Gene Autry was his main competitor. Rogers was one of the first to
see the potential of TV and zealously guarded the show to insure
success. He sued the network to prohibit exhibition of his movies in
competition with the TV show and won. And yes, he had Trigger stuffed.
Roy Rogers was born to
Andrew ("Andy") and Mattie (Womack) Slye in Cincinnati,
Ohio, where his family lived in a tenement building on 2nd Street.
(Riverfront Stadium was constructed at this location in 1970 and
Rogers would later joke that he had been born at second base.)
Dissatisfied with his job and city life, Andy Slye and his brother
Will built a 12-by-50-foot houseboat from salvage lumber, and, in
July 1912, the Slye family floated on the Ohio River towards
Portsmouth, Ohio. Desiring a more stable existence in Portsmouth, the
Slyes purchased land on which to build a home, but the flood of 1913
allowed them to move the houseboat to their property and continue
living in it on dry land.
1919 the Slyes purchased a farm about 12 miles north of Portsmouth,
at Duck Run, near Lucasville, Ohio. They there built a six-room home.
Leonard's father soon realized that the farm alone would provide
insufficient income for his family and he took a job at a shoe
factory in Portsmouth, living there during the week and returning
home on the weekends, bearing gifts for the family following paydays,
one of which was a horse on which Leonard learned the basics of horsemanship.
After completing the 8th
Grade, Leonard Slye (pictured left at age 15) attended high school at
McDermott, Ohio. When he was 17 his family returned to Cincinnati,
where his father began work at a shoe factory. He soon decided on the
necessity to help his family financially, so he quit high school,
joined his father at the shoe factory, and began attending night
school. After being ridiculed for falling asleep in class, however,
he quit school and never returned.
Leonard and his father felt
imprisoned by their factory jobs. In 1929, his older sister Mary was
living at Lawndale, California with her husband. Father and son
decided to quit their shoe factory jobs. The family packed their 1923
Dodge for a visit with Mary and stayed four months before returning
to Ohio. Almost immediately, Leonard had the opportunity to travel to
California with Mary's father-in-law, and the rest of the family
followed in the spring of 1930.
The Slyes rented a small
house near Mary. Leonard and his father immediately found employment
as truck drivers for a highway construction project. They reported to
work one morning, however, to learn their employer had gone bankrupt.
The economic hardship of the Great Depression had followed them west,
and the Slyes soon found themselves among the economic refugees
traveling from job to job picking fruit and living in worker
campsites. (He would later read John Steinbeck's The Grapes of Wrath
and marvel at its accuracy.) One day Andy Slye heard of a shoe
factory hiring in Los Angeles and asked Leonard to join him in
applying there for work. Leonard, having seen the joy that his guitar
and singing had brought to the destitute around the campfires,
hesitantly told his father that he was going to pursue a living in
music. With his father's blessing, he and cousin Stanley Slye went to
Los Angeles and sought musical engagements as The Slye Brothers.
Slye moved to California at 18 to become a singer. After four years
of little success, he formed Sons of the Pioneers, a western cowboy
music group, in 1934. The group hit it big with songs like
"Tumbling Tumbleweeds" and "Cool Water".
From his first film
appearance in 1935, he worked steadily in western films, including a
large supporting role as a singing cowboy while still billed as
"Leonard Slye" in a Gene Autry movie. In 1938 when Autry
temporarily walked out on his movie contract, Slye was immediately
rechristened "Roy Rogers" and assigned the lead in Under
Western Stars. Rogers became a matinee idol and American legend. A
competitor for Gene Autry as the nation's favorite singing cowboy was
suddenly born. In addition to his own movies, Rogers played a
supporting role in the John Wayne classic Dark Command (1940). Rogers
became a major box office attraction, and future wife Dale Evans was
cast in a movie with him in 1945.
Leonard had married Grace
Arline Wilkins (below) in 1936. In 1941 the couple adopted a girl,
Cheryl Darlene. In 1942, they legally changed their names to Roy and
Grace Arline Rogers. The following year, Arline bore a daughter,
Linda Lou. A son, Roy Jr. ("Dusty"), followed in 1946, but
Arline died of complications from the birth a few days afterward.
Rogers met Dale Evans
(below) in 1944 when they were cast in a film together, they fell in
love soon after Grace's death and Roy proposed to her during a rodeo
at Chicago Stadium. They married on New Year's Eve in 1947 at the
Flying L Ranch in Davis, Oklahoma, where a few months earlier they
had filmed Home In Oklahoma. Roy and Dale remained married until
Roy's death in 1998.
was an idol for many children through his films and television
shows. Most of his postwar films were in Trucolor in an era when
almost all other B-movies were black-and-white. Some of his movies
would segue into animal adventures, in which Roy's horse Trigger
would go off on his own for a while, with the camera following him.
With money from not only
Rogers' films but his own public appearances going to Republic
Pictures, Rogers brought a clause into a 1940 contract with the
studio where he would have the right to his likeness, voice and name
for merchandising. There were Roy Rogers action figures, cowboy
adventure novels, a comic strip, playsets, a long-lived Dell Comics
comic book series (Roy Rogers Comics) written by Gaylord Du Bois, and
a variety of marketing successes. Roy Rogers was only second to Walt
Disney in the amount of items featuring his name.
The Sons of the Pioneers
continued their popularity through the 1950s. Although Rogers was no
longer a member, they often appeared as Rogers' backup group in
films, radio, and television.
In August 1950, Dale and
Roy had a daughter, Robin Elizabeth, who died of complications of
Down Syndrome shortly before her second birthday. Evans wrote about
losing their daughter in her book Angel Unaware.
and Evans were also well known as advocates for adoption and as
founders and operators of children's charities. They adopted several
children. Both were outspoken Christians. In Apple Valley,
California, where they made their home, numerous streets and highways
as well as civic buildings have been named after them in recognition
of their efforts on behalf of homeless and handicapped children. Roy
was an active Freemason and a Shriner, and was noted for his support
of their charities.
Roy and Dale's famous theme
song, which Dale wrote and they sang as a duet to sign off their
television show, was "Happy trails to you, Until we meet again..."
In the fall of 1962, the
couple co-hosted a comedy-western-variety program, The Roy Rogers and
Dale Evans Show, aired on ABC. It was cancelled after three months,
losing in the ratings to The Jackie Gleason Show on CBS.
Rogers also owned a
Hollywood production company which handled his own series. It also
filmed other undertakings, including the 1955-1956 CBS western series
Brave Eagle starring Keith Larsen as a young peaceful Cheyenne chief,
Kim Winona as Morning Star, his romantic interest, and the Hopi
Indian Anthony Numkena as Keena, Brave Eagle's foster son, Keena.
For his contribution to the
motion picture industry, Roy Rogers has a star on the Hollywood Walk
of Fame at 1752 Vine Street, a second star at 1733 Vine Street for
his contribution to radio, and a third star at 1620 Vine Street for
his contribution to the television industry.
Roy and Dale were inducted
into the Western Performers Hall of Fame at the National Cowboy &
Western Heritage Museum in Oklahoma City, Oklahoma, in 1976 and Roy
was inducted again as a member of the Sons of the Pioneers in 1995.
Roy was also twice elected to the Country Music Hall of Fame, first
as a member of The Sons of the Pioneers in 1980 and as a soloist in 1988.
Rogers also owned a
Thoroughbred racehorse named Triggairo who won 13 career races
including the 1975 El Encino Stakes at Santa Anita Park.
Rogers died of congestive
heart failure on July 6th, 1998. Rogers was residing in Apple Valley,
California at the time of his death. Rogers was buried at Sunset
Hills cemetery in Apple Valley. Evans died of congestive heart
failure, two and a half years after the death of her husband Roy.