My family owns (basically worthless) land in the high desert near Victorville, CA, so I have been to the Roy Rogers and Dale Evans Museum out there. My grandfather was a cowboy and Western buff, and he took me to meet Roy when I was a wee lad – I have had a soft spot for the King of the Cowboys ever since.
I don’t remember a whole lot about the museum – it’s been a while – except for good ol’ Trigger, stuffed, awaiting a mount that will never come, right there in the lobby. Pretty creepy, actually.
Anyway, the Roy and Dale Museum is moving to middle-America’s entertainment mecca, Branson, MO:
- The museum, which closed its doors Sunday, hopes to open in Branson for the Memorial Day weekend.
Rogers – known to Western movie fans as the “King of the Cowboys” – died in 1998 at age 86. Evans, who wrote the couple’s theme song, “Happy Trails to You,” died in 2001 at 88.
“We’ve been here 36 years in the high desert, so it’s a little bit rough,” said son Dusty Rogers.
He added: “We took mom to Branson about six years ago and she just loved it. Basically we’re fulfilling what she wanted to do.” [AP]
Roy was something, as his bio attests:
- Even though he was the ‘King of the Cowboys,’ Roy never forgot his humble beginnings in Duck Run, Ohio, as Leonard Slye. A farm boy, active in 4-H, he originally wanted to be a Dentist or Physician, so he could help people and “fix” their physical problems. But that was not meant to be. He dropped out of high school after two years, to go to work in a shoe factory beside his dad, to help bolster the family income.
The family made a trip to California in 1930 to visit Roy’s older sister. After returning to Ohio, he got to the point where he couldn’t stand the inside of the shoe factory so he returned to California and took jobs driving dump trucks and picking peaches. The one bright spot in his life was always music. Roy had an excellent singing voice and his films featured some of the most popular songs of all time and his movies only made them more popular.
He began singing with various country and western groups, eventually forming the Pioneer Trio with Bob Nolan and Tim Spencer. They developed a unique style of close harmony with a distinctive sound and soon became very popular on the radio and in concerts in Southern California. With the addition of fiddle player Hugh Farr, they became known as the Sons of the Pioneers, when a radio announcer thought they looked too young to be Pioneers.
As their popularity increased, they received offers to appear in movies with Gene Autry, Dick Foran, Bing Crosby, and Charles Starrett. Roy auditioned for the role of a singing cowboy at Universal but lost out to a young man named Leland Weed, who starred briefly in B-Westerns as Bob Baker. Later, he heard that Republic was searching for a new singing cowboy star, to give their own Gene Autry some competition. Roy sneaked into the studio and ran into Sol Siegel, who remembered him from his appearances in the Autry films. Siegel arranged an audition and young Slye, then 26, was soon signed to a contract for $75.00 per week. Roy never had an acting or singing lesson, but he worked hard at becoming the best singing cowboy he could possibly be. He rented a horse and spent many hours in the saddle, learning how to make himself look like he was born on the range. He got a pair of six-shooters and practiced everything there was to know about handling a gun – twirling, spinning, shooting, and practicing his fast draw.
Roy’s first starring film was released in 1938, Under Western Stars, which became an instant hit. From 1943 through 1954, (the last year the survey was made,) Roy was the number one ranked Cowboy Star, based on box office receipts. For a few years, he ranked in the top ten for all movie stars! His career was unparalleled by virtually any other entertainer. In addition to his movies being number one, his television shows were among the highest rated of their time, his records topped the charts, he set personal appearance attendance records and he was a one man industry with his name and likeness on hundreds of products from cookies to toys to clothing.
Roy’s films were based on a formula that included action, romance, and comedy, they had something for everyone. His pictures contained some of the most innovative action sequences ever recorded on film, a testament to the skilled directors, cameramen, stuntmen, and special effects people at Republic. They were the best in the business and they took a lot of pride in their work. None of the major studios at that time could even come close to capturing on film the exciting action that was a part of every Rogers film. The musical production numbers in some of his films rivaled those of MGM. If they had been filmed in Technicolor, they would have indeed been spectacular.
In 1944, after a string of leading ladies that included some of the most beautiful young actresses in Hollywood, Dale Evans joined Roy in The Cowboy and the Senorita. Together, they starred in 28 films. Roy and Trigger, along with Dale Evans, Gabby Hayes, and the Sons of the Pioneers, formed one of the greatest movie teams of all time
Dale was no slouch herself:
- As Dale Evans, she ultimately reached Chicago, home of great music and talented bands. She became a vocalist with a number of different “big bands” and was featured soloist in such notable hotels as the Blackstone (Balinese Room), the Sherman (Panther Room, along with jazz legend, Fats Waller), the Drake (Camellia Room) and the Chez Paree Supper Club. Anson Weeks hired her as vocalist for his orchestra just as they began a major tour to the West Coast. After a two-month stand at The Coconut Grove, Dale left the Orchestra and returned to Chicago where she was hired as staff singer for radio station WBBM, the local CBS affiliate. Talent scouts from Paramount Studios discovered her and arranged a screen. test in Hollywood for the movie, Holiday Inn, starring Fred Astaire and Bing Crosby. Dale’s dancing wasn’t quite up to Astaires’, so she didn’t get the part. Her agent, however, showed her screen test to 20th Century Fox studios where she received a one-year contract. This resulted in only small parts in two pictures, Orchestra Wives and Girl Trouble. Dale then signed with the top ranked Chase and Sanborn Show which was broadcast nationwide. Featured as regulars with Dale were Don Ameche, Jimmy Durante, Edgar Bergen (Candice Bergen’s father) and Charlie McCarthy. Weekly guests read like a Who’s Who of the entertainment industry.
This exposure caused Republic Studios to sign her to a one-picture contract (Swing Your Partner) with a one-year option. The option was exercised and she was cast in several contemporary movies and one John Wayne western in which her singing was featured.
Herbert Yates, head of Republic Studios was inspired by the successful stage play, Oklahoma, and decided to expand the female lead in westerns and adopt this format for one of his biggest stars, Roy Rogers. Dale, he reasoned, had a large following and reputation as a singer and, being from Texas, could surely ride ‘n rope. His reasoning proved correct on the former but somewhat suspect on the latter. Nevertheless, history was made and destiny seemingly fulfilled in 1944 with release of The Cowboy and The Senorita – the first of 28 films they would make together. This on-screen team became an off-screen team on New Year’s Eve, 1947. They were married on the Flying L Ranch in Davis, Oklahoma, where they had just completed filming Home in Oklahoma. The owner of the ranch, when he learned they were to be married, offered the ranch as a wedding site.
An instant family was formed. Dale had her son, Tom, and Roy had an adopted daughter, Cheryl, and birth children Linda Lou and Roy Rogers, Jr., “Dusty”, from his first wife, Arline, ‘who had died after Dusty’s birth. Roy and Dale had one child together, Robin, whose death from complications associated with Down’s syndrome inspired Dale’s classic book, Angel Unaware. The family swelled with the addition of Mary Little Doe (Dodie), of Native American heritage: John David (Sandy), a battered child from an orphanage in Kentucky; Marion (Mimi), their foster child from Scotland; and Debbie, a Korean War orphan whose father was a G.I. of Puerto Rican ancestry.
The family lost three of the children tragically: Robin (as mentioned above), Debbie, in a church bus accident when she was twelve, and Sandy of an accidental death while serving with the military in Germany.
In 1950, Roy and Dale developed their own production company and began producing their half-hour television series, The Roy Rogers Show, that ran until 1957. These episodes have been translated into every major language and, at any given time, are likely being shown somewhere in the world. The same is true of their movies.
Happy trails guys, hope the new location works out for you. And if you are unaware, the Sons of the Pioneers rock, and their versions of “I’m An Old Cowhand” “Tumbling Tumbleweeds” and “Cool Water” are definitive: not country, western.