The King of the Cowboys
Roy and Trigger
In 1943 Republic Studios declared Roy Rogers to be the "King of the Cowboys". The cowboy superstar from Duck Run, Ohio, fit the silver-saddle throne like no man before or since.
As a sagebrush movie hero, he was the best: he shot the straightest, rode the fastest, yodeled and strummed his guitar and when it came to fisticuffs, he could outbox any villian. He was fabulously well-dressed in fringe, and his partner was just about the prettiest cowgirl there ever was - Dale Evans, "Queen of the West". Roy and Dale were simply the most popular cowboy and cowgirl the world has ever known.
Leonard Slye aka Roy Rogers was born on November 5, 1911 in Cincinnati and grew up as a farm boy in Duck Run, Ohio. Leonard learned to love music from his parents at an early age, his father played the guitar and he got his voice from his mother who was an accomplished singer.He spent his childhood on a farm where he developed his love of animals and his naturally atheletic abilities. Due to hard times he was forced to drop out of high school after two years, and to go to work in a shoe factory beside his father, to help bolster the family income. In 1931 he moved to California with his father where they worked as fruit pickers.
Leonard loved music and as a way to make extra income he soon joined a band called the Rocky Mountaineers, where he made an acquaintance of Bob Nolan. Later he was in a band with Jack LeFevre and his Texas Outlaws. Then in 1933, he, Tim Spencer and Bob Nolan started a band called "The Pioneer Trio". They developed a unique style of close harmony with a distinctive cowboy sound and soon became very popular on the radio and in concerts in Southern California. They later added Hugh Farr on the fiddle and changed their name to "The Sons of The Pioneers" at the suggestion of a radio announcer who thought they looked too young to be Pioneers.
ROY & 'THE SONS OF THE PIONEERS'
While the "The Sons of The Pioneers" were beginning to take off in the music world, Slye had been doing some occasional work as a extra in B-westerns under the name of 'Dick Weston'. When he heard that Republic was searching for a new singing cowboy leading man, he sneaked into the studio and ran into and old friend Sol Siegel who arranged an audition. The Republic decision makers liked what they saw in this hansome cowboy with a great voice. Soon a young Leonard Slye, then 26, was signed to a contract for $75.00 per week and given the screen name of Roy Rogers because the studio execs felt it was more 'western' sounding. Roy had never had an acting or singing lesson, but he immediately began working hard at becoming the best singing cowboy he could possibly be. He rented a horse and spent hours in the saddle, learning how to ride. He bought a pair of six-shooters and practiced handling a gun - fast draw, twirling, and shooting. From the very beginning Roy knew what he needed to do to be the best.
Because of a deal "The Sons of the Pioneers" had with Columbia Pictures, Roy had to leave the band. He made his movie debut in "Under Western Stars," which was an instant smash hit for Repulic. In it he rode a magnificent palomino stallion initially named Golden Cloud, but renamed Trigger for Roy's film.
By the early 1940's he had become a huge star, and in 1942, when Gene Autry went into the Army, the studio began to promote bigger budgets for Rogers' oaters and hired his old group "The Sons of the Pioneers" who where no longer obligated at Columbia. In the mid 1940s, the Rogers films eschewed traditional Western plot lines and action sequences in favor of elaborate musical presentations, reflecting Republic's then president Herbert Yates' infatuation with the Broadway hit production of "Oklahoma. Appearently this formula worked well for the public too, as Roy soon became the screen's top Western star. From 1943 through 1954, he was the number one ranked Cowboy Star, based on box office receipts, and for a few years, he even ranked in the top ten for all movie stars!
In 1944 Rogers did a film entitled 'The Cowboy and the Senorita' alongside a, then feisty blonde, by the name of Dale Evans. The combination was well recieved and the studio, at Roy's request, invited Dale back for several other films. In 1947 Roy and Dale were married.
By this time Roy Rogers was at the peak of his career. From the early 1940s to the mid-1950s, he was making as many as six pictures a year, which were seen annually by more than 80 million Americans - over half the population of the country. In 1950 there were more than two thousand Roy Rogers fan clubs around the globe. He once recieved over 78,000 pieces of fan mail in a single month. Roy and his wife Dale were in great demand for public appearences. They regularly rode in all the biggest parades and performed at all the grandest rodeos throughout the nation.
In 1951 Roy and Dale moved to television and starred for six years on "The Roy Rogers Show".with co-star Pat Brady, and his dog Bullit. They also created several long-running radio series that featured their singing duets and dramatic sketches. Roy Rogers and Dale Evans were simply the most popular cowboy and cowgirl the world has ever known.
Roy and Dale loved children and spent a lifetime devoted to children and children’s charities, including the Happy Trails Children’s Foundation for severely abused and neglected children. Through the years, they made hundreds of visits to children’s hospitals and orphanages all over the country. But their love of children showed most in their home life. They where the parents to nine children, with 15 grandchildren, and 33 great-grandchildren. They truly had an International family, adopting Dodie, an American Indian girl, Debbie, a Korean American girl, and Sandy, a little boy from Kentucky, who had been severely abused. Marion , a foster daughter from Scotland, came to live with them as a teenager.
Roy was a man of many talents and interests and he had the time and money to pursue his varied interests. He was a rancher, horse breeder and trainer. He was a sportsman, outdoorsman, hunter and fisherman. He was an avid bowler and an occasional golfer. Roy was a motorcycle riding, speedboat racer. He was a successful businessman and entrepreneur, restauranteur, and real estate developer. He was a philosopher, philanthropist and raconteur. He had a way with animals and at one time owned 37 coon dogs. He even raised and raced pigeons.
Roy Rogers and Dale Evans were proud Christians, who at the top of their careers in 1950, made a decision to include a religious song in each of their many live performances. They made this decision even after all their advisers counseled against it. When threatened with the cancellation of their contract at the Madison Square Garden World Championship Rodeo, if they didn’t delete the religious segment from their show, Roy stood firm, he was fully prepared to walk away if necessary rather than compromise his beliefs. Eventually management relented, and Roy and Dale enjoyed one of the most successful engagements in the history of the Garden.In later years, Roy and Dale appeared many times with Billy Graham in Crusades all over the country, singing gospel songs and giving their testimony.
Open-heart surgery and other health problems curtailed his workload in the 1980s, but in 1987 he and Dale taped a series of reminiscences to introduce their old movies for cable TV. In 1991 he was prevailed upon to record a new album, called "Tribute," which served as a valedictory for his career. The album had the 80 year-old cowboy singing with Kathy Mattea, Ricky Van Shelton, Randy Travis, and nine other country stars. It ended with them all singing "Happy Trails" togather. One of the songs a musical duet with Clint Black titled "Hold On Partner," found it's way onto the country music charts.
On July 6th, 1998 The King of the Cowboys rode off into the sunset. Happy Trails...until we meet again!
Roy Rogers Trivia:
- Roy was elected to the Country Music Hall of Fame twice. Once as a member of "The Sons of the Pioneers" in 1980, and again in 1988 as Roy Rogers.
- His biggest song hit was a "Happy Trails" which was penned by Dale.
- Some of Roy's best-loved movie sidekicks include Gabby Hayes, Andy Devine, Pinky Lee and Pat Brady.
- Roy was a 33rd Degree Mason
- Roy performed many of his own stunts. He was an outstanding athelete and stayed in superb phyical condition. He was an excellent marksman, with handguns, rifles, shotguns, and even a bow and arrow. He was perhaps the best horseman of all the leading cowboys in Hollywood.
- Roy was a patriot who loved his flag and country. He sold millions of dollars worth of War Bonds during World War II and made numerous USO tours of military bases with Trigger. Years later he also made a tour of Vietnam.
- Roy was a firm believer in our 2nd Amendment Rights, and appeared in TV commercials as an NRA spokesman.
- At one time Roy was asked to run for Congress on the Republican ticket. His reply was, “I have both Democrat and Republican fans and I can’t afford to lose any of them!”
- The Roy Rogers & Dale Evans museum is located in Branson Missouri. Their joint autobiography, "The Story of Roy Rogers and Dale Evans: Happy Trails," was published in 1979.
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