Roy Rogers was born Leonard Franklin Slye on November 5, 1911 in Cincinnati, Ohio. To young children in the 30s, 40s and 50s, he was King of the Cowboys and with his following, that couldn’t be more true!
Along with his beautiful Palomino horse, Trigger, he appeared in almost 100 films from the 30s through the 50s. Many of his films also featured his wife Dale Evans whom he married on New Year’s Eve in 1947.
In the late 1920s his family moved to California where he held various odd jobs including being a fruit picker and a factory worker. He first started a music career with his cousin Stanley, playing at local theaters and square dances.
When he met Bob Nolan and Tim Spencer, they set off playing together as a trio, followed by various name changes. They started off as the O-Bar-O Cowboys, the Pioneer Trio and finally, Sons of the Pioneers in which they appeared in several movies.
Roy also went through a variety of name changes before landing on Roy Rogers. When he started performing with Sons of the Pioneers, he was called Dick Weston which was the name he was credited with in his first film Slightly Static in 1935.
When Republic Studio gave him a seven year contract, his name was changed to Roy Rogers (1937).
His big break came in 1938 when he replaced Gene Autry in “Under Western Stars“. The movie proved to be an enormous success with the viewing audiences. He then went on starring in approximately 7 singing B-Westerns every year until the early 1950s. All these films featured Trigger, his palomino and Bullet his German Shepherd.
With a healthy rivalry between Rogers and Autry, both went on to extremely successful careers. Although Rogers was referred to as the Singing Cowboy for a short while, Gene Autry ended out coining that title while Roy Rogers became known as the King of the Cowboys.
In 1932, Roy bought a palomino colt named “Golden Cloud” whom he renamed “Trigger”. Under the name Golden Cloud, he made his debut in “The Adventures of Robin Hood” starring Errol Flynn and ridden by Olivia de Havilland as Maid Marian. The story goes that Trigger got his name because, while working with Smiley Burnette, Burnette said the big horse was “quick on the trigger.”
This was an era when musical westerns were hot! Some of his films include Sunset in El Dorado (1945), My Pal Trigger (1946) and The Golden Stallion (1949). Known for his heroism and good-guy persona, he was extremely popular among children. Many of his productions included a sidekick which was casted with Pat Brady who drove an old Jeep named “Nellybelle”, Andy Devine or crotchety but lovable Gabby Hayes.
In 1944, “The Yellow Rose of Texas” formed an immediate chemistry between Roy and Dale and shortly thereafter she gained the title “Queen of the Cowgirls”.
The Roy Rogers Show ran from 1951 – 1975, co-starring Dale Evans. At the end of each show, Roy and Dale sang the duet “Happy Trails” written by Dale. In 1962, the show went through an overhaul and returned as “The Roy Rogers and Dale Evans Show”.
In 1936, Roy married his first wife, Arlene Wilkins. Sadly she died after giving birth to their only son Roy, Jr in 1946. They had two daughters Cheryl who was adopted and Linda Lou.
Roy and Dale were married on New Year’s Eve in 1947 (66 years ago). They had a daughter Robin who was born with a heart defect and Down’s Syndrome. She died a few days before her second birthday. Roy and Dale adopted four children: Dodie, Sandy, Marion Swift and Debbie Lee. Again their family was struck with tragedy when Debbie was killed in a church bus accident in 1964 and Sandy chocked to death while serving in the Army in 1965.
With their many tragedies, their religion and faith always remained strong.
In 1965 Roy and Dale established the Roy Rogers and Dale Evans Museum in their hometown of Victorville, CA. The museum held Trigger whom Roy preserved when the horse died in the same year.
After celebrating their 50th anniversary, Roy passed away six months later on July 6, 1998 in Victorville, CA from congestive heart failure, he was 102 years old.
Roy has a star on the Hollywood Walk of Fame, induced into the Western Performers Hall of Fame (along with Dale) and was inducted again as a member of the Sons of the Pioneers in 1995. He received many other honors for his years of excellent contributions to the industry.
Roy Rogers, to many of us who were very young children, singing along with Roy and Dale “Happy Trails”, there is only one King of the Cowboys. He showed us the importance of values, being of our word and treating others with respect.
In this day and age, kids could sure use another Roy Rogers.
Wishing Everyone — A Happy New Year and a Prosperous Life!