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Roy Rogers Logo Roy Rogers Logo

God…Family…Country

By

Joel “Dutch” Dortch

Legendary singing cowboy Roy Rogers, star of radio, film, television and personal appearances, and hero to millions of fans from the Saturday matinee era throughout the television era, passed away at his home in Apple Valley, CA, peacefully in his sleep in the early morning hours of July 6, 1998.  Many of his family members were present at the time, including his wife Dale.  Roy Rogers Roy was 86 and had suffered a number of health setbacks during the past few years including congestive heart failure.  In recent months, he had been in and out of the hospital numerous times.

“Roy Rogers was a wonderful human being,” stated Dale Evans.  “What a blessing to have shared my life together with him for almost 51 years.  To say I will miss him is a gross understatement.  He was truly the ‘King of the Cowboys’ in my life.  He loved his God, his family and his country.  He was a real hero to thousands of people and thank you God, for the years we had together.”

The name Roy Rogers personifies the values, tradition and spirit that are at the heart of our rich American Heritage.  His name is synonymous with integrity, honesty, quality and family values.  He was a superstar who consistently delivered a wholesome brand of honest entertainment suitable for the entire family.  What made him unique among those who have achieved great renown and popularity, was that there was no difference between the screen persona and Roy Rogers, the man.  In fact, in all but a few of his early films, Roy played himself, not a character or a role.  He was the same man off the screen as on.
 
Roy Rogers was a Christian, Roy Rogers and Dale Evans who was not ashamed to boldly witness for his Lord.  At the top of his career in 1950, he and Dale made a decision to include a religious song in each of their many live performances.  They made this momentous decision after all their advisers counseled against it.  When threatened with the cancellation of their lucrative contract at the huge Madison Square Garden World Championship Rodeo,  if they didn’t delete the religious segment from their show, Roy stood firm for what he believed was right.  While he would have been disappointed, 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 and largest grosses 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.   Dale has written more than 20 books including many best sellers.  Most of them are of a religious nature.  She also has hosted a long running television show on the Trinity Broadcasting Network and Roy appeared on the show with her many times. 

Roy was a loving husband and proud father of nine children, with 15 grandchildren, and 33 great-grandchildren.  He and Dale 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 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.  Roy made many long-distance phone calls at his own expense to sick and dying children.  He was not a stranger to sorrow and tragedy.  He lost his first wife, Arlene, one week after Dusty was born,  leaving him with an infant and two small girls, Cheryl and Linda.  He and Dale lost their only biological child, Robin, who was buried on her second birthday.  Debbie, their adopted Korean American daughter, died in a church bus crash when she was twelve years old and Sandy, their little Rebel from Kentucky, died while serving in the Army in Germany. 

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 TriggerRoy Rogers and Trigger performing for the men and women in uniform.  During one record setting tour of Texas bases, Roy and Trigger made 136 performances in just 20 days!  Years later he made a tour of Vietnam, to cheer up the troops fighting there. 

Roy was a firm believer in our 2nd Amendment Rights, and in fact appeared in TV commercials as an NRA spokesman, opposing a proposed gun ban in California.  He was an outstanding citizen and was asked to run for Congress on the Republican ticket at one time.  His reply, “I have both Democrat and Republican fans and I can’t afford to lose any of them!”

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.  Sons of the Pioneers 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 hitFrom 1943 through 1954, (the last year the survey was made,) Roy was the number one ranked Cowboy Star, based on box office receipts. Roy Rogers and Gabby Hayes   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! Roy Rogers, Trigger and Bullet

Roy’s screenplays were well written and always had a moral lesson for the legions of boys and girls who saw his films.  Off screen, Roy lived by the same high standards and moral life he portrayed on screen.  He had a more positive influence on the lives of boys and girls growing up in America in the 40’s and 50’s than any other single individual.  Roy Rogers was one of the most loved, respected and honored men of this century.

Roy was a man of many talents and interests and he had the time and money to pursue his varied interests.  He was an outstanding athlete.  Making westerns is a physically demanding job, and Roy performed many of his own stunts.  He had superior hand/eye coordination and was an excellent marksman, with handguns, rifles, shotguns, bow and arrow, and even a slingshot.  He became a superb horseman, perhaps the best of all the leading men in Hollywood, and he had the good fortune to own and ride the greatest horse to ever appear in motion pictures, Trigger.  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, restaurateur, and real estate developer.  He was a philosopher, philanthropist and raconteur.  He had a way with animals and told this writer that he owned 37 coon dogs when he and Dale got married.  He even raised and raced racing pigeons at one time. 

Roy was a 33rd Degree Mason and a true friend of everyone.  He was an honorary Life Member of the Single Action Shooting Society and a major supporter of the fast growing sport of Cowboy Action Shooting.  He was a genuine legend in his own time and he will be missed by all of us who follow the Code of the West - the Cowboy Way! 

Roy Rogers and Dale Evans
Happy Trails Roy…Good bye.  Good luck, and may the Good Lord take a likin to you!

 

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