Dale Evans and Roy Rogers
Let's look at one of Roy and Dale's typical and popular movies from Republic Studios, Lights of Old Santa Fe
. They sing an adorable love/hate song called The Nerve of Some People
and go through the love/hat routine one expects in a rom/com programmer. Dale plays Marjorie who, with the help of "Gabby" Hayes is trying to keep her family business, a wild west show in the black. Gabby enlists the aid of Roy and the Sons of the Pioneers and, of course, Trigger. Marjorie resents this. Who does that Rogers fellow think he is anyway? Roy just smiles and does a lot of darn fool things that are all for
Margie's own good and after a lot of complications things right themselves in the end. If this had been RKO in the 30s, they'd be Fred and Ginger on the range. At MGM it would be Nick and Nora on horseback. How did this felicitous teaming come about?
Smith was born in Texas in 1912, a bright and precocious girl who moved
ahead in school and loved to perform. At the age of 14, she ran off and married her 18-year-old boyfriend and at 15 was back home with a baby son. She decided against a reconciliation with her husband and relied on her parent's help to raise her boy Tom as she worked in secretarial jobs and still dreamed of show business. She wrote songs and eventually landed a gig as a radio singer.
Francis's popularity as a musician grew over the years and she tried for the big time in Chicago twice. The first time Dale (the name given to her by a station manager) and her son ended up broke and ill, and back home. The second time, at age 27, she started to groove with bookings in the best clubs and national radio spots. She picked up stage tips from headliners such as Fats Waller and
Ray Bolger. A Hollywood agent paid for a trip to the coast for an audition for Paramount's Holiday Inn. At this point, Dale figured
she was too old for any studio to take an interest, but a friend
advised her to take the money and enjoy the trip.
Once in Tinseltown, ambition took over and Dale found she really wanted whatever Hollywood had to offer. If that meant lying about her age and lying about her son by saying he was her kid brother and working more on her career than on a failing second marriage, she told herself it was all for the greater good. Paramount didn't want her, but Dale did get a bit in 20th
Century Fox's 1942 film Orchestra Wives. The next year found her at Republic for Swing Your Partner. The year after that she was paired with the studio's box office champ Roy Rogers for Cowboy and the Senorita. Dale says she made the silliest senorita you ever saw with her hair
dyed raven black and her Texas accent bursting through some phonetic
Spanish, but Roy and Dale clicked. Roy had many lovely leading ladies before Dale including Carol Hughes, Mary Hart, and Pauline Moore, but who wants a
couple of good scenes and billing behind a horse? The personality plus band singer gave as good as she got and a new screen team was born.
Sly was born in Ohio in 1911 to a poor and loving family. At a young
age, Len's father bought a small farm in Duck Run but still worked in a
Cincinnati shoe factory to make ends meet. The younger brother of three sisters took on the responsibility of being the man of the family. At
18, Len and the folks traveled to California where his oldest sister
Mary was living with her husband.
Roy found work picking fruit and working for a trucking company, but his sister had other ideas for her talented kid brother. Len could play the guitar and sing, and despite his shyness, he entered a radio talent contest. He found work with a country band and met fellow singer/composer Bob Nolan. Eventually, with Tim Spencer, they would found The Sons of the Pioneers
and become popular with their original tunes like Tumbling Tumbleweeds
and their unique brand of harmonies and western swing. Of course, they
got paid more in experience than in cold hard cash, but it sure beat
Soon the Sons of the Pioneers started getting some movie spots. Singing cowboys were the rage and there was always a scene or two that called for some music and some square dance calling. At this point, Roy
was going by the name of Dick Weston and the group appeared in some Gene
Autry pictures at Republic. Gene was renegotiating his contract with studio boss Herbert Yates and walked out before production on what would become 1938s Under Western Stars. The lead in the film, a
congressman from the west who alerts Washington to the needs of people in the dust bowl, was given to the newly christened Roy Rogers. A star was born. Roy's natural likeability, good looks, way with a song and action sequences made him a natural.
new cowboy star needs a horse so the many stables that rented to the studios sent possible candidates for Roy to check out. It was love at first sight when Roy rode Golden Cloud, a beautiful palomino stallion who had appeared in The Adventures of Robin Hood. Smiley Burnett
rechristened him Trigger and Roy bought him from the stable for $2,500
on the installment plan. This purchase made future studio negotiations
fun for Roy when Yates couldn't "make anybody a star by putting him on
In 1938, the
newly successful Roy married Arline Wilkins, whom he had met while the
Sons of the Pioneers were on one of their early tours. Longing for a
family, they adopted a daughter Cheryl in 1940 and her arrival was
followed by the birth of their daughter Linda and of Roy, Jr. known as
Dusty in 1946. Sadly, Arline passed from complications from the
Cesarean birth within a week of Dusty's arrival. The King of the Cowboys had everything he could possibly want at one moment and lost it all in the next.
Roy kept on
working and even recent leading lady Dale Evans returned to the fold after trying to shake the cowgirl image in a couple of films that didn't pan out. Dale recalled that during those days at Republic you worked so closely, for such long hours together that casts and crew became like a family seeing each other at their best and their worst. However, it wasn't without a great deal of trepidation that Dale accepted Roy's marriage proposal 15 months after Arline's passing. Not the least of her red flags was the prospect of being a stepmom to two little girls who would probably resent her presence. However, just like in their movies, Roy knew she'd come around and on the eve of 1948, they were married at the location used for their feature Home in Oklahoma.
Roy and Dale produced and starred in TVs The Roy Rogers Show from 1951 to 1957. Along with Pat Brady, the jeep Nellybelle, Trigger,
Dale's horse Buttermilk, and Bullet, the wonder dog (who was also the family pet), they entertained children of all ages with adventures on the range. Dale wrote the closing theme song, Happy Trails for their radio program.
Some trails are happy ones, others are blue.
It's the way you ride the trail that counts;
Here's a happy one for you.
Happy trails to you until we meet again,
Happy trails to you, keep smilin' until then.
Who cares about the clouds when we're together?
Just sing a song and bring the sunny weather.
Happy trails to you until we meet again.
and sorrow comes to each family. Dale and Roy had a little daughter whom they named Robin. She was a Down Syndrome baby with many physical frailties and a poor heart, passing at the age of two. The couple adopted Mary Doe, of Choctaw background like Roy. They also adopted
Sandy, an abused child from Ohio, and Debbie from Korea. A Scottish girl named Marion joined their family as their ward as they were unable to adopt a British subject. Debbie was killed with a school friend at the age of 12 in a school bus accident. Sandy, a young soldier stationed in
Germany died from an unaccustomed bout of binge drinking. Tragically,
that is a story still too common in the news these days. Dale shared
her loss, and her comfort in her Faith, by writing. You can learn a lot about this strong woman in Angel Unaware, Hear the Children Crying, Say Yes to Tomorrow, and The Woman at the Well.
You can find Roy away from the Republic lot introducing Cole Porter's Don't Fence Me In in 1944s Hollywood Canteen. In 1948 Roy, Trigger - and the Sons of the Pioneers - were featured in the Pecos Bill segment of Disney's Melody Time. (There was a time when my son was a little buckaroo when the only thing
that would quiet him down was the Sons of the Pioneers singing Blue Shadows on the Trail.) Roy and Trigger had some fun with Bob Hope in 1952s Son of Paleface, and Roy and other western stars have fun cameos in Hope's 1959 feature Alias Jesse James.
Roy's last movie was 1975s Mackintosh and T.J.
wherein young Clay O'Brien learns all those lessons Roy taught generations of kids through the years. Around that time Roy had a
surprise hit with the song Hoppy, Gene and Me. 1991 saw the release of an album called Tribute featuring Roy singing duets with contemporary country and western vocalists such as Clint Black, Ricky Van Shelton, Emmylou Harris and
more. Roy introduced films under the banner Great Movie Cowboys in syndication, and he and Dale hosted a similar program for their films on the Nashville Network. Just like in their movies Dale would be cracking wise and Roy would sit back and smile.
many years visitors could enjoy memorabilia of the Rogers family life
and career at their museum in California and then Branson, Missouri. The museum was closed and the items were auctioned in 2010. According to
news reports of the time, auctioneer Cathy Elkies said it was the "most
colorful, emotional and
sentimental" sale she had experienced in her 20 years at Christie's. Roy's passing in 1998 was headline-making news and I recall that the PBS
Newshour dedicated half of their program to recalling the joy Roy brought to us. Dale passed away 2001.
The barefoot boy from Duck Run and the sassy gal from Texas left their mark
on show business and in the hearts of generations of adoring fans.