Roy Rogers was an American actor and singer born on November 5, 1911, in Cincinnati, Ohio. Known as the “King of the Cowboys” for starring in musical Westerns, he appealed to fans for his good-guy hero image. They also loved his sidekick palomino, Trigger, and dog, Bullet. Rogers appeared on TV, radio, records and film from the 1930s-1950s. Film highlights included Under Western Stars (1938), King of the Cowboys (1943), Sunset in El Dorado (1945), My Pal Trigger (1946) and The Golden Stallion (1949). Rogers died on July 6, 1998, from congestive heart failure.
Actor and singer Leonard Franklin Slye was born on November 5, 1911, in Cincinnati, Ohio, to parents Andrew and Mattie Slye. Known best as a singing cowboy, Rogers, with his trademark horse Trigger, appeared in nearly 100 films during the 1930s, '40s and '50s, many of them featuring his third wife, Dale Evans.
In the late 1920s, Rogers' family relocated to California, where Rogers held various jobs, including fruit picker and factory worker. He got his start in the music business with his cousin Stanley, playing at square dances and local theaters. Shortly after, Rogers met Bob Nolan and Tim Spencer, and the trio began to play together, calling themselves the O-Bar-O Cowboys. The band went through various incarnations, performing as the Pioneer Trio, and the Sons of the Pioneers, and even appearing in several motion pictures.
King of the Cowboys
Throughout his career, Rogers changed his name more than once. At the time of his stint with the Sons of the Pioneers, he was calling himself Dick Weston—the name he was credited with in his first film, Slightly Static (1935). In 1937, he became "Roy Rogers" after Republic Studio offered him a seven-year film contract. His big break came when he was cast to replace Gene Autry (following a contract dispute) in the starring role of Under Western Stars (1938). The film was a major hit with audiences, and Rogers went on to star in an average of seven singing B-Westerns every year until the early 1950s, all of which featured his trusty palomino, Trigger (which he purchased from the studio), and his dog, Bullet.
While Rogers was known as a singing cowboy, his rivalry with the better known Gene Autry was a boon to the careers of both men, even though in later years Rogers did surpass Autry at the box office. In an era when the musical Western was a popular film genre with audiences, Rogers became known as the "King of the Cowboys" after appearing in a film of the same name. Other films he made included Sunset in El Dorado (1945), My Pal Trigger (1946) and The Golden Stallion (1949). Espousing patriotism and heroism, he gained an enormous following of mostly young fans. With his endorsement of a multitude of products—from children's toys to cereal brands—Rogers, with Evans and Trigger, evolved into pop cultural icons.
Rogers and Dale Evans
In 1944, Rogers appeared in his first film with actress Dale Evans. The Cowboy and the Señorita sparked an irresistible on-screen chemistry between the two, and Evans quickly gained the nickname "Queen of the Cowgirls," to match the moniker of her on-and-off-screen sweetheart. Between the years of 1944 and 1951, they appeared in nearly 30 films together. Particularly in the mid-to-late 1940s, the duo appeared in a string of back-to-back productions, among them The Cowboy and the Señorita (1944), The Yellow Rose of Texas (1944), Utah (1945) and Apache Rose (1947).
From 1951-1957, Rogers starred in his own popular television series, The Roy Rogers Show, which also featured Evans. The song "Happy Trails," written by Evans, was the show's theme song. Following a revamping, the show aired again as The Roy Rogers and Dale Evans Show in 1962.
In 1967, Rogers and Evans established the Roy Rogers and Dale Evans Museum in their hometown of Apple Valley and then moved it to nearby Victorville, California in 1976. The museum featured Trigger, whom Rogers had preserved when the horse died that same year at the age of 33. In 2003, the museum relocated to Branson, Mo, but has since closed.
Throughout his life, Rogers was known as much for his kindness as for his movie roles. For instance, he appreciated his fans so much that he attempted to respond personally to every piece of mail he received, despite the fact that his film studio refused to pay for postage, and the cost came out of his own pocket. In 1988, for his achievement in the country music industry and in recognition of his inspiration to generations of country musicians, Rogers was elected to the Country Music Hall of Fame. In addition to numerous awards and accolades, he has four stars on the Hollywood Walk of Fame, in recognition of his achievements in radio, music, film, and television.
In 1933, Rogers, still known as Leonard Slye, married Lucile Acolese, but the marriage didn't last. Back in the saddle, in 1936 Rogers married Arline Wilkins, who died after giving birth to their only son, Roy Jr., in 1946. The couple also had two daughters, Cheryl (adopted) and Linda Lou. Rogers married Dale Evans on New Year's Eve in 1947. Together they had a daughter, Robin—born with a heart defect and Down syndrome—who died just days before her second birthday in 1952. In the 1950s, Rogers and Evans adopted four more children, known familiarly as Dodie, Sandy, Marion Swift and Debbie Lee. The Rogers family was struck with tragedy when, in 1964, Debbie died in a church bus accident, and again, in 1965, when Sandy choked to death while serving in the Army.
A little more than six months after celebrating the 50th anniversary of his marriage to Evans, Rogers died in Victorville, California, on July 6, 1998, of congestive heart failure.
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