Saturday, July 13, 2013

Dynamic Duos in Classic Movies blogathon: Roy Rogers & Dale Evans

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?

Francis 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.

Leonard 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 picking fruit.

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.

A 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 Trigger".

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.

Joy 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.

For 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.

Once Upon a Screen and Classic Movie Hub are co-sponsoring the Dynamic Duos in Classic Movies Blogathon. I know you'll enjoy all of the informative and entertaining entries.   


  1. A wonderful choice for the dynamic duos blogathon. I didn't know about their loss of several of their children. Heartbreaking. Swell folks.

  2. They dealt with both their joys and troubles with grace, even more inspiring when you consider their very public lifestyle.

    When their daughter Robin was born, the hospital and studio advised that she be institutionalized. Roy and Dale never even considered such an alternative. In my eyes they were heroes on screen and off.

  3. What, no mention of Roy Rogers' fast-food restaurant? There was one near my high school that me and my friends would hang out in after class. It's gone now...

    I'm probably more familiar with Roy's music than with his movies. I'll bet my father would've seen his movies though. He loved westerns, and I heard more than my share of country music growing up. Definitely didn't know all that about Roy & Dale's kids.

  4. Oh my gosh! I was so sad when the Roy Rogers Restaurant at the corner of Yonge & Bloor in Toronto closed that I must have blocked it out of my memory. Loved that roast beef sandwich.

    Roy was King of the Merchandisers. I'll bet even Walt Disney could have learned a thing or two from him.

  5. What a wonderful choice!! I loved to watch their TV shows. TheY seemed like such wonderful people.

  6. Yet I knew few about Roy and Dale, their story really touched me. So many sadness! But at the same they brought so much joy to the screen.
    Thanks for this informaitive post!

  7. Thanks for such a great post with extraordinary background info. Roy & Dale sound like they were wonderful in real life as well as onscreen.

  8. I'm so, so glad you pad a tribute to these two. The blogathon would not be complete without Dale Evans and Roy Rogers.

    What a remarkable couple! I don't know how they withstood the tragedies in their lives, but they really are an inspiration.

    Also, I love the last photo that you've posted of the two of them, and Roy looking so lovingly at his wife. Beautiful!

  9. My favorite western duo! They were home-on-the-range in front of the big screen and such a genuineness about them, not at all moviestarish. I wonder how much $2,500 is like today? Whatever the cost, Trigger was worth it! Excellent post.

  10. Dawn, I found a couple of episodes of the TV show on YouTube. Boy, did it bring me back.

  11. Le, I'm so pleased you liked the article.

  12. Grand Ole Movies, I have come across online comments from people who interviewed or simply met Roy and Dale, and they all say how down-to-earth and friendly they were in real life.

  13. Ruth, it's so true about that picture. They never seemed to lose their joy with one another.

  14. Thanks, Metzinger gals. Apparently the Smithsonian was interested in Trigger when he passed at the age of 33, but Roy couldn't bear to be parted from him, despite protests from Dale.

  15. WOW! What a story these two had. I've always enjoyed their work but knew nothing of the tough times they went through. A wonderful choice for the blogathon. Thanks so much for taking part.


  16. Thank you so much, Aurora.

    Roy and Dale truly are a testament to perseverance and love.

    As performers I think they aren't always given their due because of the cowboy hats. Watching one of their movies such as "Don't Fence Me In" you can see pros who really knew their stuff.

  17. Thanks for the marvelous post! My dad used to take me to the California Roy Rogers museum when I was a wee one. It was on the road back from visiting my grandparent. I remembered being fascinated by the stuffed Trigger. One time, Roy Rogers was on the site but I was too shy to meet him.

    Thanks for telling the beautiful story of Dale and Roy. I'm Hoppy's girl but Roy is special to me too. Marvelous work!


  18. Great post. I know a guy who met Roy on several occasions, and yep, what you saw was what you got. He was just like he was in the movies.

    Of the movies of theirs I have seen, I really liked "Roll on Texas Moon", though I haven't seen all their movies and I've never seen an episode of the TV show. Off to You Tube.

  19. Kevin, it's wonderful to hear stuff like that. It makes it even easier to just sit back and love that Roy Rogers.

    Be careful over on YouTube, you know how the hours go by if you're not paying attention. Don't forget to hydrate.

  20. I've nominated you for the One Lovely Blog Award! Check out all the details here... Thanks for being such a fabulous blogger! ... Kellee

  21. What a great pair to feature! I didn't know much about Dale's background, or that she and Roy had so much heartbreak.
    They're both Western icons, and as a horse person I'm just as smitten with Trigger. Great post!

    1. Thank you for reading and taking the time to comment.



Terence Towles Canote at A Shroud of Thoughts is hosting The 8th Annual Favourite TV Show Episode Blogathon . The popular blogathon is runn...