Silver screen cowboys, Part II | TheFencePost.com

Silver screen cowboys, Part II

Roy Rogers and Dale Evans.

Years ago, we talked to someone in California who said he’d bowled on Friday nights with Roy Rogers when Roy and Dale lived in Apple Valley, Calif. He claimed Roy came in the side door and never wore a cowboy hat when he was with fellow bowlers. Instead he wore a baseball cap because he wanted to be “one of the boys” and not a celebrity. He enjoyed their company, their “down-home” humor, and kidding around as much as they enjoyed Roy’s at the local bowling alley. So, the “The King of the Cowboys” was also a Friday night bowler.

How did this Ohio-born, guitar-playing, skinny cowboy named Leonard Slye, get to become “The King of the Cowboys” on the radio and the silver screen for so many years?

Leonard Francis Slye was born on Nov. 5, 1911, in Cincinnati, Ohio, where his father worked in a shoe factory. His parents, both self-taught musicians, played for square dances on weekends to help with the bills. The family moved about 100 miles to the east, near Portsmouth, to a farm town called Duck Run. Their first house was built by his father and uncle as a houseboat before they dragged it ashore for their home.

Leonard dropped out of McDermott High School and worked with his father in the Cincinnati shoe factory. In 1929, the stock market collapsed and businesses closed. The Great Depression had begun.

Leonard and his father drove out to see their married daughter, Mary, who lived in Lawndale, Calif., to see what the prospects for work were there. They returned for another cold Ohio winter, but in the spring of 1930, the family headed back to California, in their 1923 Dodge, leaving Ohio for good. Roy said they were like the people described in Steinbeck’s classic novel, “The Grapes of Wrath.” They lived in government camps and picked fruit, but at least they had work, money and food.

After they got settled in a town, Roy sang, yodeled and played his guitar, and his sister encouraged him to interview for KMCS, an Inglewood radio station. He changed his name to Roy Rogers and got the job on the show, “The Midnight Frolic,” while working and entertaining on weekends. Roy formed a cowboy singing group called, “The Sons of the Pioneers.”

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When Republic Pictures was in a contract dispute with Gene Autry, they searched for another singing cowboy who could ride, sing and play guitar but would act in pictures for less money. Roy Rogers, with his silver-banded, white, Stetson cowboy hat, auditioned and got the part. A natural at acting, his career took off. He was now the “King of the Cowboys.”

Roy Rogers had a radio show for nine years and a television show from 1951-56. He called his jeep the “Nelly Belle.” His horse was “Trigger” and his dog was “Bullet.” Dale Evans’ horse was “Buttermilk.” All the animals got tons of fan mail from children all around the world. Kids proudly carried Roy Rogers and Dale Evans’ lunchboxes to school.

He married cowgirl actress Dale Evans on New Year’s Eve 1947, and she became “The Queen of the West.” She wrote the song that became his theme song, “Happy Trails to You.” They were married 51 years before Roy died on July 6, 1998. Dale Evans died of congestive heart failure on February 7, 2001.

We were fortunate to have visited the Roy Rogers-Dale Evans Museum when it was located in Victorville, Calif., on our drive out to Fontana, Calif., some years ago. Although we never saw Roy or any of his family there, we did see the “Nelly Belle” jeep, “Trigger,” his dog named “Bullet,” movie sets, his gun collection, his 1964 yellow convertible and other memorabilia Roy had saved and stored from his movie career. We are glad we took time out to sit in the cool theater and watch one of his old time, shoot-’em-up movies.

Over the years, the amount of visitors declined so Roy Rogers Jr. and the estate decided to move it to Branson, Mo., hoping it would attract more customers there. But due to financial circumstances, the Roy Rogers Trust had to close that museum in December 2009. They arranged for major auctions of the items at Denver’s Merchandise Mart’s three-day Western Show on June 25-27. (The auction will be June 26). On July 14-15, an auction at High Noon and Christie’s in Manhattan, New York City, will follow. Roy “Dusty” Rogers Jr. their son, will be present at both auctions to greet the public.

The possessions earned and enjoyed by this lanky, good, talented man and his beautiful wife, Dale, in their lifetime were shared with the public at their museums. Now, the items will be sold to admirers of this outstanding cowboy couple, who were loved both on and off the screen. It is estimated that the sale of the mounted Trigger will be between $100,000 and $200,000. Their songs and their performances will continue to live on.

“Happy Trails to You,” Roy and Dale.

Years ago, we talked to someone in California who said he’d bowled on Friday nights with Roy Rogers when Roy and Dale lived in Apple Valley, Calif. He claimed Roy came in the side door and never wore a cowboy hat when he was with fellow bowlers. Instead he wore a baseball cap because he wanted to be “one of the boys” and not a celebrity. He enjoyed their company, their “down-home” humor, and kidding around as much as they enjoyed Roy’s at the local bowling alley. So, the “The King of the Cowboys” was also a Friday night bowler.

How did this Ohio-born, guitar-playing, skinny cowboy named Leonard Slye, get to become “The King of the Cowboys” on the radio and the silver screen for so many years?

Leonard Francis Slye was born on Nov. 5, 1911, in Cincinnati, Ohio, where his father worked in a shoe factory. His parents, both self-taught musicians, played for square dances on weekends to help with the bills. The family moved about 100 miles to the east, near Portsmouth, to a farm town called Duck Run. Their first house was built by his father and uncle as a houseboat before they dragged it ashore for their home.

Leonard dropped out of McDermott High School and worked with his father in the Cincinnati shoe factory. In 1929, the stock market collapsed and businesses closed. The Great Depression had begun.

Leonard and his father drove out to see their married daughter, Mary, who lived in Lawndale, Calif., to see what the prospects for work were there. They returned for another cold Ohio winter, but in the spring of 1930, the family headed back to California, in their 1923 Dodge, leaving Ohio for good. Roy said they were like the people described in Steinbeck’s classic novel, “The Grapes of Wrath.” They lived in government camps and picked fruit, but at least they had work, money and food.

After they got settled in a town, Roy sang, yodeled and played his guitar, and his sister encouraged him to interview for KMCS, an Inglewood radio station. He changed his name to Roy Rogers and got the job on the show, “The Midnight Frolic,” while working and entertaining on weekends. Roy formed a cowboy singing group called, “The Sons of the Pioneers.”

When Republic Pictures was in a contract dispute with Gene Autry, they searched for another singing cowboy who could ride, sing and play guitar but would act in pictures for less money. Roy Rogers, with his silver-banded, white, Stetson cowboy hat, auditioned and got the part. A natural at acting, his career took off. He was now the “King of the Cowboys.”

Roy Rogers had a radio show for nine years and a television show from 1951-56. He called his jeep the “Nelly Belle.” His horse was “Trigger” and his dog was “Bullet.” Dale Evans’ horse was “Buttermilk.” All the animals got tons of fan mail from children all around the world. Kids proudly carried Roy Rogers and Dale Evans’ lunchboxes to school.

He married cowgirl actress Dale Evans on New Year’s Eve 1947, and she became “The Queen of the West.” She wrote the song that became his theme song, “Happy Trails to You.” They were married 51 years before Roy died on July 6, 1998. Dale Evans died of congestive heart failure on February 7, 2001.

We were fortunate to have visited the Roy Rogers-Dale Evans Museum when it was located in Victorville, Calif., on our drive out to Fontana, Calif., some years ago. Although we never saw Roy or any of his family there, we did see the “Nelly Belle” jeep, “Trigger,” his dog named “Bullet,” movie sets, his gun collection, his 1964 yellow convertible and other memorabilia Roy had saved and stored from his movie career. We are glad we took time out to sit in the cool theater and watch one of his old time, shoot-’em-up movies.

Over the years, the amount of visitors declined so Roy Rogers Jr. and the estate decided to move it to Branson, Mo., hoping it would attract more customers there. But due to financial circumstances, the Roy Rogers Trust had to close that museum in December 2009. They arranged for major auctions of the items at Denver’s Merchandise Mart’s three-day Western Show on June 25-27. (The auction will be June 26). On July 14-15, an auction at High Noon and Christie’s in Manhattan, New York City, will follow. Roy “Dusty” Rogers Jr. their son, will be present at both auctions to greet the public.

The possessions earned and enjoyed by this lanky, good, talented man and his beautiful wife, Dale, in their lifetime were shared with the public at their museums. Now, the items will be sold to admirers of this outstanding cowboy couple, who were loved both on and off the screen. It is estimated that the sale of the mounted Trigger will be between $100,000 and $200,000. Their songs and their performances will continue to live on.

“Happy Trails to You,” Roy and Dale.