One of the most important western icons of the 20th century is the “King of the Cowboys”, Roy Rogers. The singer and actor has become a symbol of pride and unity all around the United States, as the young cowboy found himself in the limelight for more than five decades of his life.
Despite his humble beginnings as a country singer, Rogers has appeared in over 100 films, radio shows, and TV shows. Mostly, as a singing cowboy alongside his beautiful wife, Dale Evans, their trusty golden palomino steed, Trigger, and their loyal German shepherd, Bullet. The value of being a family man was everything to Rogers, which is a good thing since he had nine children with Evans, five of whom were adopted at different times. Find out everything there is to know about the amazing life of the “King of the Cowboys”!
Young Boy in Farmville
Somewhere on a small farm in Cincinnati, Ohio, a young and vibrant boy named Leonard Slye was born in late 1911. The boy was enthusiastic about horses from a very young age and learned a lot about them thanks to living so close to Lucasville. With his dad away during the weeks, supporting the family by working at a Portsmouth shoe factory, Leonard found himself without a lot of interesting things to do. Since the family lived without a radio, the young boy took it upon himself to learn how to sing, dance, play the mandolin, and even yodel to communicate with his family across great distances on the farm.
When Leonard grew up and was able to start taking his responsibilities as a young man around the house, he was gifted a horse by his loving father. He would spend hours every day learning horsemanship and would grow up to become very adept with the four-legged creature. Learning how to dance, sing, play the mandolin and ride horses eventually proved to be some of the most important skills in the young boy’s life, and he would achieve a great deal of success later on thanks to his mastery of them. That young boy, Leonard, eventually changed his name and became the famous Roy Rogers.
The Rocky Mountaineers
While many youngsters move to California to find opportunities in the entertainment and fame industries, Leonard Slye’s family moved to La-La-Land when he was 19 years old, so his father would be able to provide for their family through driving food trucks and picking fruits. In 1931, not long after moving to Cali, Leonard decided to give his entertainment skills a chance and set out to work for the Midnight Frolics radio show, in Los Angeles. The crew loved Leonard and he was immediately offered a job opportunity with The Rocky Mountaineers, a short-lived Western singing group.
Leonard wasn’t used to getting a lot of attention, because he grew up on a small farm and spent most of his time with his family and the animals. That’s why it took him a while to get over his introversion and become able to use his skills to perform in front of an audience. The young entertainer began touring with The Rocky Mountaineers in the middle of summer, with the group performing in locations such as New Mexico and Arizona on a very small budget. The band was very frugal and despite their popularity, the often struggled to even pay for food.
First Steps Into Fame
While The Rocky Mountaineers traveled New Mexico and Arizona, Leonard Slye became good friends with the other members of the band, Bob Nolan and Tim Spencer. Eventually, the group disbanded, but the friends remained close and decided to start a new group called “The Pioneers Trio”. Tim Spencer was the lead singer of the group, Bob Nolan played the bass, and Slye was the guitarist. In addition to Nolan and Slye playing the instruments, both of them also helped Spencer with vocal harmonies.
In 1934, the group expanded by adding Hug Farr, the fourth member of the group, with his signature bassy voice. When the group began appearing on radio, they were referred to as “Sons of the Pioneers”, probably because they were found to be too young to be actual pioneers of anything. The name was loved by both the band’s members and its fans, leading to them officially adopting the new name. The Sons of the Pioneers were quite popular and their fans in the US kept asking for more.
How Leonard Became Roy Rogers
In 1935, popular cowboy actor, Gene Autry, was set to appear in a western film. Like many cowboy movies in the ‘30s, Republic Pictures studio, which produced, the film wanted to hire the charismatic, manly, horse riding Autry, who could also sing and dance. The actor was very popular at the time and began asking for more and more money, until the studio eventually said “enough”, and started looking for a new singing cowboy that would not be as expensive. When Leonard Slye saw the opportunity, he immediately auditioned for the part.
Out of the many cowboys that auditioned for the part, Slye was chosen as the lead actor in the film, in part due to his charisma, charming smile and variety of talents. When the film, called 'Under Western Stars', was finally released, Leonard Slye’s name was changed in the credits to Roy Rogers. The name was inspired by combining the popular western first name, Roy, with the family name of the popular western comic, Will Rogers.
The Horse That Changed Roy’s Life
The studio wanted to find Roy Rogers a strong and noble steed that would compliment him in his leading role, as a populist singing cowboy who helps a group of ranchers get their water rights back, during the Dust Bowl of the ‘30s. In order to find the right horse, Republic Pictures studio gave the lead actor a choice between five rented horses that were lined up for him. Rogers immediately knew which one would be the perfect sidekick for him, and picked a yellow-haired palomino stallion, whose name was Golden Cloud. In fact, Rogers loved the steed so much that he decided to buy it just a few years later.
Everything about this beautiful and powerful steed was perfect, except one thing - his name. Rogers felt Golden Cloud just didn’t get across his uniqueness and talents properly, so he changed his name to the now iconic name, Trigger. The horse was already a veteran in the western film industry, and even appeared in The Adventures of Robin Hood, as the mount of actress Olivia de Havilland’s.
Trigger’s Incredible Talents
Roy Rogers made one of the best decisions of his life when he picked his steed. Trigger was born in 1934 and was 1.6 meters long. The famous horse knew about 150 trick cues, and according to Rogers' friends, was able to walk 50 feet on his hind legs. Trigger's other skills included sitting in a chair, signing his name "X" with a pencil and even lying down for a nap (including covering himself with a blanket).
Despite his incredible personality and entertaining tricks, Trigger had one Achilles heel that could ruin every performance he did — the steed was a huge attention lover and would bow for his audience every time he heard applause, even if he heard it during a trick. One of the horse's most impressive abilities turned out to be exceptionally useful throughout its long career, which involved traveling to hotels, theaters and more. The horse was able to hold his needs while indoors!
Roger’s Tragic First Love
Rogers was truly a traditional and loving man. The singer-actor was always searching for the woman he could commit to and marry (despite living in California, which was always identified with a more open romantic lifestyle). While performing in Roswell, New Mexico, Roy received a call from Grace Arlene Wilkins, who promised him that if he sang her "The Swiss Yodel", she would bake him a pie. This cute comment turned into a loving relationship, and the couple got married three years later, in 1936.
Rogers and Arlene adopted their first daughter, Cheryl Darlene. A few years later, Arlene gave birth to their second daughter, Linda Lou, in 1943. She was then pregnant with their third child, a boy named Ray Jr (Dusty), but Arlene did not make the journey with him and unfortunately died during childbirth due to complications, in 1946. Rogers was heartbroken by his wife’s passing, but continued to provide and take care of his children on his own.
The Amazing Dale Evans
Just a few years after the tragic death of Roy Roger’s loving wife, Grace Arline Wilkins. During a regular filming day in his successful acting career, Roy Rogers, the singing cowboy, met the talented and beautiful Dale Evans while they were both on set in a mutual film. Evans was playing a cowgirl at the time, as a co-star to Rogers in the Republic Studio film. Rogers and Evans began dating and quickly found themselves falling in love.
Evans had a tough start in her early life, she spent many years living with her uncle Dr. L.D. Massey, and eloped at age 14 by marrying Thomas F. Fox and having a son with him. She was abandoned a year later by her husband and subsequently found herself pursuing a musical career in Memphis, Tennessee. She then married twice more, but the two marriages also fell apart and ended up in divorce. Although her romantic life was not very successful at the time, everything changed when she met Roy Rogers.
Second Tragic Birth
Roger proposed to Dale Evans at the Chicago Stadium, and soon after, the two got married on New Year's Eve 1947, at the Flying L. Ranch in Davis, Oklahoma, where they had earlier filmed the movie, 'Home in Oklahoma'. Roger and Evans didn’t wait too long before giving birth to their first baby girl. They were thrilled when their daughter Robin Elizabeth was born. Their excitement quickly turned into fear when they realized that she was born with down syndrome, which was a much greater risk during the ‘40s, and resulted in her early death due to complications with mumps before reaching her second birthday.
The couple was devastated and mourned her death for a long time. Rogers and Evans subsequently decided to write a book about the loss of their daughter and how she changed their life, even during her short existence. The book was called “Angel Unaware: A Touching Story of Love and Loss”, and became a major influence in the way that parents deal with identifying and raising kids that have special needs.
Influencing Generations of Parents
It's been common throughout the '40s and '50s for doctors to advise parents of children with special needs to put them away in foster homes or health institutions. The book "Angel Unaware" was the catalyst for a big change in the 20th century in the way that parents raise children with special needs. The book was written from Robin's point of view in heaven, and detailed just how much the couple did to take care of their daughter.
The story of Robin Elizabeth and her parents was so compelling and inspiring that a training center for children with special needs was named after her mother, Dale Rogers. The center is located in Oklahoma and is named “The Dale Rogers Training Center”. In order to fill the void left after the tragic death of their daughter, Roy and Dale decided to adopt four more children - Mimi, Dodie, Sandy, and Debbie.
More Family Tragedies
The famous couple was lucky to have met each other, but also very unlucky in many events that happened thereafter. It was their immense love for children which made these following loses all the more tragic. When their daughter Debbie was being driven to school on a church bus, she was one of the eight people who died as the bus crashed into seven cars while driving along the highway. This was another one of several distinct and brutally powerful blows to the loving parents.
Private First Classes John David Rogers, also known as Sandy, was one of the couple's adopted children. Another tragedy struck the Rogers when just 15 months after the loss of Debbie — their 18-year-old Sandy, who enlisted in the U.S. Army in late 1964 after receiving consent from his parents due to being a minor, died from choking at a military hospital while being deployed in Germany. He complained about feeling ill at the time and was taken to an army medical bed. A few hours later, he vomited and choked to death in 1965, before even reaching the age of 20.
Taking Care of the Family
While dealing with the various tragedies that plagued the Rogers family, economic pressures still applied, and Roy Rogers continued to focus on his career while doing all he could to take care of his family. He acted in a variety of Western films and was extremely popular with audiences in the U.S. Unfortunately, the revenue of his work and efforts ended up in the hands of the Republic Pictures, the studio that helped put him in the spotlight. So Rogers leveraged his popularity to add a clause to his contract that allowed him to earn money from his likeness, voice, and merchandise.
With young boys adoring Roy Rogers and young girls dreaming of marrying someone like him, the popular cowboy was one of the symbols of American manliness and freedom. He had numerous action figures, collecting cards, fiction novels, theme songs and other memorabilia made of him. Rogers truly got as close as you can get to becoming a real-life action hero, that also happened to be a really good singer.
The Roy Rogers Show
In 1950, NBC green-lighted the popular American Western TV show, "The Roy Rogers Show", which ended up broadcasting for 100 episodes between 1951 and 1957. The fictional show featured Roy Rogers, his wife Dale Evans, Pat Brady as his comical sidekick, and Roy's animals, Trigger the Palomino horse and his German Shepherd, Bullet, the "Wonder Dog". The show featured traditional Western and Christian themes, including cowboys, cowgirls, horseback riding, six-shooters, and bank robbers. It also featured topics that were important to the US audience, such as gun safety and environmentalism.
"The Roy Rogers Show" received an Emmy nomination in 1955 for Best Western or Adventure Series, it finished 27 in the Nielsen ratings for the 1951 to 1952 season. Every episode ended with the show's theme song, which was written by Roy Rogers and his loving wife and co-lead, Dale Evans. Most episodes involved Roy, his sidekick, and Dale rescuing the innocent and defenseless from various evil-doers.
Reviving the Show
When "The Roy Rogers Show" finished its airing in 1957, Roy continued to appear in numerous films and TV shows although his popularity was beginning to fall. In an attempt to revive their fame and success, Roy and Dale Rogers decided to try another TV show, this time with ABC. The show was called "The Roy Rogers and Dale Evans Show" and was a Western comedy that featured many of the iconic people from Roy's past, including the members of The Sons of the Pioneers and his sidekick from The Roy Rogers Show.
Unfortunately, the series was canceled very quickly after just one-third of a season and a total of 13 episodes, due to stiff competition from another comedy show called "The Jackie Gleason Show", which ran in similar time slots. The show’s failure didn’t stop Rogers from continuing to appear in various films and shows, including "Wonder Woman" and "The Muppet Show". Roy’s last appearance in a major film happened in 1975, when he played his usual role in "Macintosh and T.J".
Keeping the Children Away From Hollywood
Outside of his cowboy persona and commercial media appearances, Roy Rogers was a very private person, and liked to keep his family as distant as possible from the limelight of the entertainment industry. The actor and his wife truly went the extra mile to make sure their kids were not exposed to the challenges children of Hollywood celebrities typically face. When their son Dusty was asked by People magazine about his father’s relationship with the entertainment industry and his family, he said: “We always moved away from the encroaching population because Dad liked his privacy.”
Dusty added, “He wanted his kids raised on a ranch, where they could have horses and pigs and chickens and cows.” Regardless of his attempts to hide his kids from Hollywood, Roy couldn’t stop Dusty from developing his own ambition to become a successful Hollywood actor. This proved to be a thorn in their relationship and would end up causing a huge breakup inside the family.
A Family Breakdown
It’s very likely that Roy Rogers, who was a very traditional and god-loving person, experienced a lot of problems being a popular Hollywood star. This caused him to react very negatively when he found out that his son, Dusty, also had his heart set on becoming an actor. At his very first job, Dusty appeared to be quite unhappy, so the aspiring actor decided to leave his family and try his luck in Ohio. Dustin’s solitude helped him reach a big realization about the importance of family.
Dusty realized that family was more important than his goal of becoming an actor. The loyal son decided to return home to Apple Valley and make amends with his father. Roy was happy to reunite with his son. The various tragedies and issues his family faced seemed to finally quiet down, letting some love and peace replace them.
Roy Rogers' loyal steed, Trigger, is arguably the most successful and popular horse of the 20th century. The American horse was born in San Diego, California, and made his first appearance in films as the mount of Maid Marian, from the 1938 film, 'The Adventures of Robin Hood'. Trigger later became so important to Rogers that he would sign New Year’s greetings with the words "from Roy Rogers and Trigger". The trusty steed appeared in many of Rogers' films and even got his own Dell comic book detailing his adventures.
Trigger passed away in 1965, on Rogers' ranch in Apple Valley. The actor made numerous wonderful gestures in the memory of his trusty mount, including professionally stitching his mount on a life-sized statue of the horse, which was displayed in the Roy Rogers and Dale Evans Museum, when it opened in Apple Valley in 1967. Different replicas of much larger sizes were erected in other spots, including a 1,300lb 24-ft statue that sits atop the Roy Rogers Museum in Victorville.
Remembering “Wonder Dog” Bullet
Fans of 'The Roy Rogers Show' followed Bullet, the Wonder Dog, for six straight seasons and over 100 episodes. The impressive and loyal German Shepard was the faithful companion of the lawful cowboy, Roy Rogers. Bullet always helped our heroes, including alerting Roy when danger was approaching, rescuing the show's stars and chasing evil-doers when they were trying to escape. Bullet was so fast that he was able to keep up with Roy as he was riding Trigger in pursuit of criminals.
Outside of the show, Bullet was also the family dog, and was truly obedient and intelligent. Bullet was born in 1949 and passed away in the '60s. He was preserved and exhibited at the Roy Rogers-Dale Evans Museum in Victorville, California. Although the Wonder Dog was truly a remarkable friend, and his presence was often felt at the museum where he was memorialized, his preserved body was eventually auctioned for $35,000, due to the terrible fate of the museum.
The Roy Rogers-Dale Evans Museum
The Roy Rogers-Dale Evans Museum was originally founded in 1967, after Roy Rogers retired. It included various items that the actor had collected throughout his career, and as written above, also included his two beloved pets, Trigger and Bullet. In 1976, the museum was moved from the small countryside Apple Valley to Victorville, California. The purpose of the move was to help attract more fans. The move was successful and many people came to pay homage to the legendary Western actor.
After Roy Rogers and Dale Evans passed away in the early 2000s, the museum was moved to Branson, Missouri. The economy was going through a rough patch and just recovering from the DotCom bust, which led to poor sales. If that wasn’t enough, the IRS levied a heavy tax on the family assets; these two factors proved to be the beginning of the end for the prestigious museum.
The move to Branson proved to be insufficient in attracting enough high-paying visitors, while debts from the costs of upkeep just kept piling up for the struggling family. Dusty and the Rogers did their best to keep their parents’ history and legacy afloat, but even the best of intentions can’t override economic realities. After years of difficulties and debts, the family decided it was time to close and put the museum up for sale.
Eventually, the large collection of Roy Rogers and Dale Evans was sold in 2010 to the modest sum of almost $3 million. Bullet's preserved body was sold for $35,000, and the statue of Trigger was sold for $250,000. Rogers' car, a 1964 Pontiac Bonneville, was sold for $254,500.
Roy Rogers Food Chain
In 1968, the popular fast-food chain called RoBee's House of Beef was forced to rebrand itself, following a lawsuit from Arby's, who claimed that the name was too similar and was considered as trademark infringement and unfair competition. Luckily for the chain's founder, he was good friends with Roy Rogers' agent, which led to a licensing deal with the actor cowboy that led to its rebranding.
The new name of the chain was Roy Rogers Franchise Company, LLC. The Roy Rogers chain saw great commercial success, which led the fast-food chain to aggressively expand nationwide and eventually reach 600 locations in its peak. The menu consisted mostly of hamburgers, beef sandwiches, fried chicken and common beverages that you'll expect to find in a fast-food restaurant. The Roy Rogers chain is still alive and kicking in various locations, including New York, Washington, Baltimore, Philadelphia and more.
Trigger’s Death and Roy’s Response
Trigger was a true favorite, not just to the fans, but also to the entire Rogers family. He had loyally followed and supported the family, both as a private steed to Roy Rogers, and as co-actor and traveling friend throughout the height of Roy’s career. Trigger appeared in over 30 films with the actor and was as remembered by fans as the cowboy himself. When Trigger past away in 1965, at age 30, Roy Rogers mourned the end of his over-20-year relationship with the steed.
When interviewed about his feelings regarding the horse’s passing, Rogers said “I just couldn’t think of burying old Trigger. Too many people loved him. We too took Trigger, Dale’s horse Buttermilk, and Trigger Junior and had them beautifully mounted.” It took the actor many years to mourn the passing of his loving Trigger.
Cameos and Popular Appearances
Roy Rogers was an extremely popular actor in the peak of his career, which began in the ‘50s and lasted through the ‘70s. He was the most popular cowboy in the United States and was considered as a national symbol of what makes America great. In addition to his main role in numerous western films and of course, the popular Roy Rogers Show, he also had various cameos that were completely unexpected by fans. Roy appeared in everything from Wonder Woman, The Muppet Show, The Fall Guy and even Randy Travis’ music video of his popular 1990 song, “Heroes and Friends.”
Rogers also owned his own Hollywood production company and helped produce other projects, such as 1955's CBS Western "Brave Eagle." Rogers was inducted twice into the Country Music Hall of Fame and the Western Performers Hall of Fame, at the National Cowboy & Western Heritage Museum, in Oklahoma City, Oklahoma.
Charities and Contribution
Rogers and Evans were known for being avid advocates of adoption, and had a total of nine kids, many of which were, in fact, adopted. They also founded and operated various children's charities, which led to many streets, highways and civic buildings being named after them in Apple Valley, California. One of the most important charities founded by Roy and Dale was the Happy Trails Children’s Foundation, whose purpose was to combat the phenomena of child abuse in families.
As devout Christians, and believers in kindness and virtue, the Rogers family was also part of the Hollywood Christian Group, which was founded by a good friend of theirs named Louis Evans, Jr.
The Happy Trails Foundation
The Happy Trails Foundation was a non-profit founded by Roy Rogers and Dale Evans to work with abused children and help curb the epidemic. The foundation is partnered with Trinity Youth Services and has two cottages, which host 44 beds for boys aged 10 to 16. It collects boys who have been abused and removed from their homes in southern California and hosts them for 12 to 18 months, providing them with individual and group therapy, as well as outdoor activities and sports.
The foundation is mostly supported privately through drawings and auctions, as well as the Single Action Shooting Society. But what happens to previously abused children after they finish their treatment with The Happy Trails Foundation?
Graduates of the Foundation
When Roy Rogers and Dale Evans initially founded The Happy Trails Foundation, they set out to create an environment that allowed abused boys to recover both physically and mentally from their past. When boys graduate from the 12 to 18-month program, they get consultation and guidance from a staff, which then determines the best place for them.
While some graduating boys are returned to their homes, many are sent to foster families or other family members such as grandparents, aunts, and brothers. The foundation is proud of its work and proudly claims that boys who graduate the program rarely, if ever, find themselves back in the system.
The Introverted Cowboy
While most fans of the cowboy actor like to think about Roy Rogers as the charismatic and relatable hero, the way he actually felt proved to be very different than what was perceived. Throughout his life, Roy had to deal with debilitating shyness and introversion. When he first met Dale Evans, he found her easy to talk to and the two connected instantly, which was a huge reason for their long-lasting relationship that carried them together until the end of their lives.
Roy credits his sister for helping him get over his shy nature by auditioning for the Midnight Frolic Radio Show, which ended up being an extremely successful decision that would launch the young talent's career. Despite not being able to appear on his first radio show, due to extreme shyness and social anxiety, the actor managed to eventually get over his introversion and take the nation by storm with his charisma, talents and likable personality.
He Was a True Hollywood Star
Roy Rogers was one of the most popular and beloved actors in Hollywood during the 20th century. In fact, the western cowboy actor played in more films than almost any other Hollywood performer at the time. Rogers acted in anywhere from two to eight films every single year between 1935 and 1951, despite the various challenges and tragedies he faced throughout his life. After his marriage with Dale Evans, Roy didn't act in as many films as he used to, but kept appearing in popular shows and media outlets up until the mid-’80s.
Roy Rogers' legacy still continues today through his children; his son Dusty is the most vocal proponent of his father's legacy and has taken the same role his father had as a singer and actor in Hollywood. He currently lives in Los Angeles, California, and is over 70 years old.
Roy’s Recognized Singing Career
In 1976, Roy Rogers and Dale Evans were inducted into the Western Performers Hall of Fame. Roy was inducted again in 1995, as one of the founding members of the Sons of the Pioneers. While most people remember the American cowboy mostly as the iconic western actor, he also had a successful singing career and was widely recognized for his music. He was inducted into the Country Music Hall of Fame in 1980, for his work with the Sons of the Pioneers, and then again for his solo singing career in 1988.
This makes Roy Rogers the only person to have ever been inducted into the Country Music Hall of Fame - twice! "The King of the Cowboys" also received a Golden Palm Star on the Palm Springs Walk of Stars, which was dedicated to Roy and his wife. Some of the singer’s most popular songs to date are "Hi-Yo, Silver," "A Little White Cross on the Hill," "My Chickashay Gal," and "Money Can't Buy Love."
Three Is the Lucky Number
While Rogers is mostly remembered for his marriage to Dale Evans, he had three marriages in total. His first wife was his admirer, Lucile Ascolese, and this marriage happened in 1933. The marriage was broken off because the couple disagreed on some basic things.
After that, Rogers married Arline Wilkins, with whom he had two children, and who died due to childbirth complications in 1946. This all made the way for the third and final marriage to Dale Evans.
The Adventures of Trigger
Roy's palomino steed, Trigger, started his acting career in popular American Western films, and was in various films for the first twenty years of his life. He was born on July 4th, 1934, which just happens to be Independence Day in the United States. The star horse passed away on July 3rd, 1965, at the age of 31 - not bad for a horse.
Trigger’s first appearance on film was in 'The Adventures of Robin Hood', but his next work with Roy led the star horse to become the most famous horse in all of film entertainment history. Trigger appeared in over 90 films with Roy, and eventually, the two even had their prints done on the sidewalk in front of Grauman's Chinese Theatre in Hollywood.
King of the Cowboys
Back in his prime, Roy Rogers was the second most popular cowboy and Western star in the world. In 1942, according to box office rankings, Roy was only bested by Gene Autry, who ironically helped him rise to stardom because of his increasing demands for higher wages. Slowly but surely, Roy, too, reached his spot to first place as the most popular cowboy in the industry, and he stayed there for a very long time.
In 1944, Roy was so successful that he became a household name and the 24th most popular Hollywood star in the nation. Two years later, the actor kept rising in his fame and even became the 10th most popular celebrity in the United States. This was his best record yet as 1946 had been Roy’s peak of fame. From there on until the early ‘60s, Roy truly became the most popular Western film star in the world and captivated audiences across the nation with his incredible adventures.
Roy’s Musical Hits
Roy wasn’t just a loving family man and a famous actor, he was also a highly acclaimed and commercially successful country singer and guitarist. He would eventually release various hit songs that only helped boost his acting career even further. Roy’s first hit song was “A Little White Cross on the Hill”. The song reached number seven in the U.S. country charts. His next hit was “My Chickashay Gal”, which got all the way to number four in the nation’s Country Charts.
Roy Rogers was always the ambitious type, and didn’t want to only be famous in the United States. In 1972, he released “Leavenworth”, which reached the 12th place on the nation’s charts, but also the 33rd place on the Canadian charts.
Dale Evans’ Real Name
When Dale Evans was born, on October 31, 1912, in Uvalde, Texas, her real name was Lucille Wood Smith. The actress, who would one day go on to marry Roy Rogers, had a tough and conflict-filled life growing up. When she was still an infant, her parents decided to change her name to Frances Octavia Smith. She was married at age 15 and had a child, but was abandoned by her husband just a year later. After getting divorced in 1929, the young aspiring musician changed her name again, this time to the famous "Dale Evans", as a way to promote her singing career.
Dale then went on to marry two other men, but both marriages fell apart and produced no children. Then, Dale became an actress and met Roy. The two fell in love and got married on New Year's Eve, 1947, at the Flying L Ranch in Davis, Oklahoma. Although Roy was Dale’s fourth husband, it was the marriage that she had been waiting for her whole life.
Robin Elizabeth Inspired the Rogers
Roy Rogers and Dale Evans only gave birth to one biological child. Her name was Robin Elizabeth, and she died less than two years after being born, due to complications caused by down syndrome. In those times, when a baby was born with defects and disabilities, the parents’ response was usually to give it away to a foster home or dispose of it in whatever means available. Following their daughter’s early death, Roy and Dale were inspired to help change that reaction throughout the nation and educate parents on how to take care of children with different born defects.
Roy and Dale wrote the book 'Angel Unaware', which became a best seller throughout the United States. The couple made it their goal to become role models for other parents, and subsequently opened various foundations and charities whose goal was to improve the lives of children. Part of their love for children came from the family’s deep religious beliefs, which were often felt in Roy’s songs and in Dale’s writing.
Behind Dale’s Career and Honors
Dale Evans began her career singing at a radio station, even though she was officially working there as a secretary. There she was discovered by 20th Century Fox studios, which led to a work contract. The talented singer loved to mix jazz, swing and big band music. She began to appear in films in 1942 and continued all through 1951, during which period she appeared in over 20 movies. Dale received two stars on the Hollywood Walk of Fame, for her contribution to radio and her work in TV and film.
Evans was inducted into the Texas Trail of Fame just four years before her passing. After she died of congestive heart failure in 2001, her daughter Cheryl co-authored a book titled "Cowboy Princess: Life with My Parents, Roy Rogers and Dale Evans", in her memory.
Dale’s Big Lie
When Dale Evans worked with 20th-Century Fox Studios, she was often featured on the Edgar Bergen/Charlie McCarthy show. While working with the company, she was promoted as an unmarried woman who financially helped her teenage brother "Tommy". The only problem was that Dale Evans was indeed married, and Tommy was actually her son, Tom Fox, Jr.
Dale would later regret helping the studio lie about her relationship with her son. Luckily, she worked for a few years and managed to find herself acting as a cowgirl beside hubby Roy Rogers, and we all know where that lucky combination led. Throughout her life, Dale was always a very religious person.
Religious Public Speaker
In 1964, Dale Evans was invited to speak at a rally that held 2,500 people, called "Project Prayer", at the Shrine Auditorium in Los Angeles. The rally was hosted by actor Anthony Eisley, who is best known as Tracy Steele, from the show 'Hawaiian Eye'. Rally attendants hoped to make prayer mandatory in schools, after a decision in 1962 that it was in conflict with the First Amendment of the United States and therefore couldn't be enforced.
The most important and best-remembered line from Dale's speech was: “It's high time that all America stood up to be counted. Let our children learn of the Lord and be free.” Evans was a huge supporter of the movement and even recorded several religious albums in subsequent years, followed by the actress-singer hosting her own religious TV show.
Evans will forever be remembered by fans for her work in film, music and the various non-profit organizations she helped found with Roy Rogers. Dale inspired and changed the nation through her many ventures, from the book “Angel Unaware: A Touching Story of Love and Loss” which helped raise awareness for children with special needs, up to the Happy Trails Children's Foundation, a non-profit which helped thousands of abused boys find a proper home.
The actress also inspired millions of young girls to go after their dreams and achieve their potential through her many roles as the Queen of the Cowgirls. Her most popular and inspiring quote is: "Cowgirl is an attitude, really; a pioneer spirit, a special American brand of courage. The cowgirl faces life head-on, lives by her own lights and makes no excuses. Cowgirls take stands. They speak up. They defend the things they hold dear."
The bond between Roy Rogers and Dale Evans was stronger than steel, as the two were together for many decades, parented many children, appeared in numerous films together, traveled the world hand-in-hand, and even improved the lives of many young children through their various non-profit ventures. But no matter how much a married couple is in love, time always wins at the end and separates the two. The first to go was Roy Rogers, who passed away from congestive heart failure in 1998 at his home in Apple Valley, California; he was 86 at the time.
Dale Evans was heartbroken by her partner’s passing and didn’t have a great reason to keep fighting. Just three years later, the grieving widow also passed away from the same heart condition, in the same home in Apple Valley where the couple lived. She was 88 at the time of her passing. The couple was buried next to each other at the Sunset Hills Memorial Park in Apple Valley. Their legacy lives on to this day through their many kids and grandchildren, and of course, the recordings of their iconic “The Roy Rogers Show.”