The Roy Rogers Story
The Biography of Roy Rogers and Dale Evans
Roy Rogers: the man who epitomized what a real hero was
to youngsters across America. He was handsome, had a flair
about him, was a born shows-man. The man who always
triumphed over evil influences and showed us what
it was like to stand up for what we believe in.
On the screen or off, Roy was the same. He had integrity,
he believed in honesty, had moral family values,
he stood and fought for justice. There was a quality
in his life that makes us have an admiration for the
type of man he developed himself into.
Roy never started a fight, but he never backed down
when confronted either. Roy didn't believe in hurting
people, he never shot a man, but instead shot the gun
out of the man's hand.
From famous singer, to movie heartthrob, to TV star,
featured in comic books, his own radio show,
thousands of promotional items in his name,
fan clubs all over the world, his own chain of restaurants,
hero to three generations, a man who America loved.....
Roy Rogers signifies the American Dream, all that
is right and pure, a man who had a way of making
all of us want to be like him.
He was born November 15, 1911 as Leonard Frank Slye, in
Cincinnati Ohio; the son of Mattie and Andy Slye.
His youth was steeped in poverty. His father worked
in a shoe factory. The house he was born in was
later razed to make way for Riverfront Stadium,
(the home of the Cincinnati Reds) in fact Roy often
joked that he was born right where second base was located.
When Roy was seven years old his family moved to a small
farm in nearby Duck Run. Living on a farm meant long
hours and hard work, but no matter how hard they
worked the land there was little money to be made.
Roy often said that about all they could raise on
their farm was rocks, yet the skills he learned
on the farm were essential to his later success.
Living on the farm meant little time for socialization,
so to break the hard work and monotony, the family
would often invite some of their neighbors over for
a square dance, during which Roy would sing and play
the mandolin. Before long he became skilled at
calling square dances. It was also during this time
that he learned another valuable skill, yodeling.
Since growing rocks didn't pay well, after two years
of high school, Roy decided to go to the shoe factory
with his father to help support the family.
Factory life didn't suit Roy or his father, so they
decided to pack up and move to California where Roy's
sister Mary was located.
It was in the heart of the Great Depression and jobs
were just as hard to come by in California as they
were in Ohio. Roy tried anything he could find,
including driving a gravel truck, picking peaches for
Del Monte where he lived in the same labor camps John
Steinbeck wrote about in his classic novel, "The Grapes Of Wrath".
During this time, (1931) Roy happened to be playing his
guitar and singing at his sister Mary's house when she
suggested that he try out for the Midnight Frolic radio
program, which featured amateur talent.
Mary finally talked her brother into going on the program.
A few nights later, wearing a Western shirt his sister
had made for him, Roy appeared on the program, where he
sang, yodeled, and played the guitar.
A few days later he received a phone call asking if
he'd like to join a local country music group called
The Rocky Mountaineers.
In 1932 Roy, Tim Spencer, and Bill Nichols left The
Rocky Mountaineers and worked briefly with
The International Cowboys. In June of 1933 Roy and Tim
joined a new group called The O-Bar-O Cowboys and left
for what turned out to be a disastrous tour of the Southwest.
Roy recalled, "We starved to death on that trip. We ate
jack rabbits, we ate anything we could get to eat."
While in Roswell, New Mexico, the group was given
air time on the local radio station so that they could
promote their appearance in town. Each of the boys talked
about how homesick he was and mentioned his favorite
foods in hopes someone might take pity on them.
That evening there was a knock on the door at the motor
court where the boys were staying. Arline Wilkins and
her mother had come, each with a freshly baked lemon pie.
After Roy's return to Los Angeles, he and Arline began
corresponding, and on June 14, 1936 they were married.
Arline and Roy were married until her death on
November 5, 1946, due to complications from giving
birth to son Roy Jr. Roy and Arline had two daughters,
Cheryl Darlene and Linda Lou.
Back in Los Angeles, Roy was able to land a job singing
with Jack And His Texas Outlaws on radio station KFWB.
He wasn't satisfied and wanted to form his own group.
Roy, Tim Spencer and Bob Nolan decided to give it
another try. The boys decided to put the emphasis on
Western music and call themselves The Pioneer Trio.
Throughout this time Roy continued singing with
The Texas Outlaws so they could pay their rent. After
weeks of constant rehearsing, the trio finally felt
they were ready to be heard.
After a successful audition on radio KFWB, The Pioneer
Trio started out on the Jack And His Texas Outlaws
radio program, where their fine harmonies soon began
attracting quite a bit of fan mail along with good
The Pioneers were given a program of their own where
they began using Bob Nolan's "Tumbling Tumbleweeds" as
their theme song. Looking to improve their sound,
they added fiddler Hugh Farr to the group.
One day Harry Hall introduced them as The Sons Of
The Pioneers. After their broadcast they asked why
he'd changed their introduction. Hall said he thought
they were too young to be pioneers, but that they
certainly could be Sons Of The Pioneers. Soon after,
Farr's brother Karl joined the group.
Their success nationwide was right around the corner.
In the summer of 1934 Jerry King began Standard Radio,
and the first artists he recorded were The Sons Of The
Pioneers. Up until that point the Pioneers had been
heard only in the Southern California area through
their radio broadcasts and personal appearances. All
this changed when their transcriptions began being
played on hundreds of radio stations throughout the
United States and Canada.
That led to the Pioneers' first film appearance, in the
Warner Brothers short, "Radio Scout". A few months later
the Pioneers made their Feature film debut, in "The Old
These films were soon followed by their appearances
in four Westerns: "Gallant Defender", "The Mysterious
Avenger", "Song Of The Saddle" and "California Mail"
and an appearance in the Bing Crosby film "Rhythm On
The Range", where they joined Bing in singing "I'm An
Old Cowhand (From The Rio Grande)."
In July 1936 the Pioneers left KFWB and traveled to
Dallas to appear at the Texas Centennial. While
performing there they appeared in Gene Autry's film
"The Big Show". One of the visitors who saw The
Sons Of The Pioneers perform at the Texas Centennial
was a young singer named Dale Evans.
The enormous success of Gene Autry's films had caused
just about every movie studio to jump on the singing
cowboy bandwagon, and Columbia Pictures signed The Sons
Of The Pioneers to appear in Charles Starrett's series
In the meantime Gene Autry had grown unhappy with his
contract with Republic Pictures. Republic decided to
advertise for another singing cowboy, just in case Autry
didn't show up for work one day.
Roy got the job and Republic put him to work in the
Three Mesquiteers film "Wild Horse Rodeo" in which he
was billed as Dick Weston.
Gene Autry failed to report for the start of his next
film, but the now re-named Leonard Sly reported to work
with a new name.....Roy Rogers, in the lead role for
"Under Western Stars".
When "Under Western Stars" was released in April 1938,
it became an immediate hit, and it made a star of Roy.
Meanwhile, Gene Autry and the studio soon resolved their
differences, Roy Rogers' career was launched.
Before filming began on "Under Western Stars", several
of the stables that provided horses to Republic
brought their best lead horses to the studio so Roy
could select a mount. As Roy recalled it, the third
horse he got on was a beautiful golden palomino who
handled smoothly and reacted quickly to whatever he
asked it to do.
Roy said of Trigger "He could turn on a dime and give
you some change."
Smiley Burnette, who played Roy's sidekick in his first
two films, was watching and mentioned how quick on the
trigger this horse was. Roy agreed and decided that
Trigger was the perfect name for the horse.
Roy was proud of the fact that throughout his more
than 80 films, the 101 episodes of his television series,
and countless personal appearances, Trigger never fell.
After the success of "Under Western Stars", Republic
starred Roy in a series of historical Westerns:
"Rough Riders Roundup", "Days Of Jesse James",
"Frontier Pony Express", and "Young Buffalo Bill".
These films quickly established Roy as a major Western
Early in 1940 Roy was invited to lunch by Art Rush, who
had started a management company of his own. Over lunch Art
said he wanted to represent Roy. Just as they were
finishing lunch Roy asked Art where he was from. When he
said he was from Ohio, Roy reached out his hand and said
they had a deal. For the next 49 years Art Rush represented
Roy Rogers. Their handshake was the only contract they
Art Rush began negotiating deals with a number of companies
to put out a wide variety of products bearing the Roy
Rogers name. Before long there was a whole franchise
built around his name. There were: Roy Rogers hats,
shirts, and bandannas, Roy Rogers cap pistols, holsters,
and lassos. There were Roy Rogers furniture, sheets,
blankets, and clocks. Roy Rogers wrist watches and a
Roy Rogers lunch box
Editors Note: the above lunchbox was what Dave began school life
with in the first grade, circa 1960.
Go Here for a side and back view
Roy Rogers became the biggest individual name in product
licensing, second only to the Walt Disney cartoon characters
when it came to product endorsements. Roy was always
concerned about the quality of any product that bore
his name. If he found that a product was shoddy or
unsatisfactory, he wouldn't renew his contract with that company.
As Roy's films became more and more successful,
Republic brought The Sons Of The Pioneers into his pictures.
In 1941 the Sons of The Pioneers joined Roy in "Red River
Valley" and worked with him in each of his films over
the next seven years.
In 1943 Roy was voted the #1 Western star at the box office,
and Republic began billing him as the King of the Cowboys.
In 1944, a lovely young cowgirl named Dale Evans co-starred
beside Roy in "The Cowboy And The Senorita". There was
something about the couple that sparked audiences.
With Gabby Hayes, Roy's trusty sidekick, Dale, and
The Sons of The Pioneers all together, the package was
complete. The public absolutely loved them.
After Arline passed away in 1946 life was hard for
Roy, but with the help of family and his work, he
In 1947, while Roy and Dale were working a rodeo in Chicago,
Roy asked Dale to marry him. On New Years Day, 1947
the two were hitched. Dale was such an amazing person,
she had little trouble juggling the responsibility of
taking care of three children, plus a new marriage,
and her filming career.
Through the 1940s and into the 1950s, he was the No. 1
Western star at the box office in a magazine poll of
Roy had once said of those days, Cowboys weren't allowed
to kiss girls in pictures, so one time I gave Dale a
little peck on the forehead and we got a ton of letters
to leave that mushy stuff out. So I had to kiss Trigger instead."
By the early 1950s television had become the biggest
thing in the entertainment industry and fewer people
were going to the movies. Roy's contract with
Republic Pictures was coming up for renewal, and he
wanted his next contract to give him the right to make
a certain number of television appearances.
However, Republic balked. Roy's film "Pals Of The Golden
West" in December 1951 was the last film Roy made for
Republic after 14 years and more than 80 films.
Roy was immediately hired by Paramount Pictures.
"The Roy Rogers Show", premiered on NBC on December 30,
1951, and quickly became a regular part of Sunday
evening viewing for millions of American families.
A few months earlier Dale had decided that Roy needed
a new theme song. He had been using "Smiles Are Made
Out Of The Sunshine," but Dale felt he needed a more
Since he often signed his autographs "Trails of Happiness,
Roy Rogers and Trigger," Dale came up with the idea for
the song "Happy Trails." Roy and Dale introduced the
song on their weekly radio program, and later at the
end of "The Roy Rogers Show."
In 1950 there were more than two thousand Roy Rogers fan
clubs around the globe; the one in London had fifty thousand
members, the biggest such club then for anyone, anywhere
In August of 1950 Roy and Dale became the parents of
Robin Elizabeth. A few days after her birth, Robin was
diagnosed with Down's syndrome. The doctors advised them
to place the girl in an institution. But for Roy and
Dale, this was never an option.
Roy said, "There must have been a reason God gave us
this child, so we would take her home, take care of her,
and love her."
Despite receiving the best care possible, Robin died
shortly before her second birthday. Her death not only
strengthened the Rogers' faith in God, but was the
inspiration for Dale's book, "Angel Unaware", which
has since been responsible for helping many families
deal with the challenges of raising special children.
In 1952 the couple adopted an American-Indian girl
they named Mary Little Doe, (Dodie). Roy was part Indian
(Choctaw, the same as Dodie), whenever Indians appeared
in Roy's films, they were never enemies, but always friends.
Soon afterward, a malnourished, abused young boy was
also adopted into the family which they named
John David but called Sandy.
In 1954 the couple met a young lady, Marion Fleming
whom they met in an orphanage in Scotland. Marion
was invited to join the family at their home.
Nicknamed Mimi, she became a ward of the Rogers family.
In 1955 they adopted a little orphan girl from Korea
named Deborah Lee.
Roy was the only man in the Country Music Hall of Fame
twice. He was elected to the Country Music Hall of Fame
in 1980 as a member of the Original Sons Of The Pioneers
and in 1988 as an individual artist.
His fan club once boasted 1.75 million members registered
in the United States alone. His fan mail peaked at 75,000
letters a month in 1945.
On July 6th, 1998, our world grew a little bit smaller
as we lost one of the finest persons the human race has
Our loss was Heaven's gain.
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