Roy Rogers starred in over 100 radio shows, television shows, and films. He was considered a national treasure. Over the years, his name and looks were transferred to books, toys, and comic books. Family was everything to Roy Rogers and his wife, Dale Evans. The couple had nine children, and five of them were adopted. Like any family, their lives weren’t perfect. They had their own share of family tragedy. The family museum had over 200,000 per year before it had to be shut down. Roy Rogers lived a life none of us will ever forget, but he did have his secrets.
He Started At the Bottom
Roy Rogers was born Leonard Slye on November 5, 1911, in Cincinnati, Ohio. When he was a young boy, his father gave him a horse as a gift. He was raised on a farm near Lucasville, which helped him with his knowledge of horsemanship. Growing up, he learned to sing, dance, and play the mandolin. Since his family didn’t have a radio, he had to make his own music, and he entertained his family. He even organized a square dance once.
Joining the Rocky Mountaineers
When Roy was 19-years-old, he moved with his family to California. He and his father were truck drivers and fruit pickers. Roy loved to sing, so in 1931, he tried out for a Los Angeles radio show called The Midnight Frolics. His voice was very impressive, which led to a western group called the Rocky Mountaineers to ask him to join their group. At the time, he was still a bit shy when performing in front of others who weren’t his family. He overcame his fear little by little, and he toured with the band in New Mexico and Arizona. The hardest part of touring was the lack of food because they had to live on a tight budget.
The Pioneers Trio
While touring with the Rocky Mountaineers, Roy got close to fellow band members, Bob Nolan and Tim Spencer. Together, they formed a group in 1933 called The Pioneers Trio. Spencer was the lead singer, Nolan played the base, and Roy played the guitar. In 1934, they brought Hugh Farr into the band, and he played the fiddle. They were so young that when they played on the radio, the announcer changed their name to The Sons of the Pioneers. They were very popular in the U.S., and their most famous songs were Cool Water and Tumbling Tumbleweeds.
Changing His Name
While playing the bands, Roy used his given name, Leonard Slye. When he had the opportunity to appear in Western films, he landed a supporting role in a 1935 film. Gene Autry had the lead role. When Autry wanted more money from the studio, they started searching for a cowboy who could sing. Roy was chosen, and the Republic Pictures studio changed his name to Roy Rogers, and he landed his first leading role. The name of the film was Under the Western Stars.
When Roy prepared for his first leading role, the studio allowed him to pick a horse that would be his sidekick. They lined up five rented horses, and he chose a yellow-haired palomino stallion. The horses’ name was Golden Cloud. Roy liked the horse so much that he bought him in 1943. Roy thought that the horse’s name didn’t fit his intelligence or swiftness, so he renamed him Trigger. Before Roy bought Trigger, the horse already had some success in Hollywood. In The Adventures of Robin Hood, Olivia de Havilland rode him.
A Really Talented Horse
Trigger was very smart and talented. He knew how to sit down in a chair, she could sign and X with a pencil, he could lie down for a nap, and even cover himself up. He learned over 150 cues, and he could walk on his hind legs for 50 feet. And he could do amazing tricks, but he often ruined them. Each time he heard applause, he would bow, regardless of the trick that he was doing.
Roy’s Love Life
While Roy’s professional life was heating up, so was his love life. His first wife was an admirer named Lucile Ascolese. Their marriage only lasted a few years, and the couple divorced. During his radio tour, Roy met Grace Arline Wilkins in 1933 in Roswell, New Mexico. The two married in 1936, and they adopted a daughter named Cheryl Darlene. In 1943, Grace gave birth to a daughter named Linda Lou. She also gave birth to a boy named Ray Jr, aka Dusty, before she died of childbirth complications in 1946.
Roy and Dale met when they collaborated on a movie together in 1944. A few years after Grace died, the two fell in love. Before meeting Roy, Dale eloped at the age of 14 and gave birth to a son when she was 15. When her marriage fell apart, she pursued a radio career and had two more husbands. Those marriages ended, which led her to Roy.
A Marriage and a Baby
The couple was at a rodeo at the Chicago Stadium when Roy proposed to Dale. In 1947, they were married at the same place they filmed Home In Oklahoma together. Shortly after, Dale gave birth to a baby girl named Robin Elizabeth. She was born with Down syndrome and died from mumps before she was two years old. Dale loved her daughter and wrote a book in her honor called, Angel Unaware.
Dale’s book was very inspirational. The book led to discussions among Americans and the disabled. People were amazed at how hands-on the couple was when caring for their disabled daughter. There is a training center for children with developmental disabilities with Dale’s name, called The Dale Rogers Training Center in Oklahoma. After the loss of their daughter, the couple adopted children Mimi, Dodie, Sandy, and Debbie. They had a lot of love to give, so they gave it to children without homes.
Losing Robin wasn’t the only tragedy the family suffered. Their adopted daughter, Debbie, was born in Korea. When she was 12, she died. She was on a school bus that crashed into seven cars on the highway, and Debbie was one of the eight students who died in the accident. Their son John David, aka Sandy, died when he was 18-years-old. He enlisted in the army and was deployed to Germany. He died in a military hospital there in 1965.
A Flourishing Career
While growing his family, Roy continued to focus on his career. He did plenty of public appearances, but all of the money went to Republic Pictures. In 1940, he initiated a clause in his contract that would allow him to use his likeness and his voice for merchandise. He was a huge star, so he had action figures with his likeness. He was also the subject of cowboy adventure novels, playsets, and a Dell comic strip. All of them featured him, and finally, the money was his.
The Roy Rogers Show
On December 30, 1951, Roy got his won show. It was called The Roy Rogers Show, and he played the owner off a ranch in Mineral City. His wife also starred in the show. She played the owner of the town hotel and cafe. Trigger was also on the show, as was the family dog, a German Shepherd named Bullet the Wonder Dog. The show was on NBC, and it ended on June 9, 1957, after 100 episodes.
After The Roy Rogers Show was canceled, he and his wife tried a comedy variety show called The Roy Rogers and Dale Evans Show. It couldn’t stand up against The Jackie Gleason Show, and it ended after three months. Roy continued to act, and he played a cowboy on Wonder Woman and on The Muppet Show. His last motion picture was called Macintosh and TJ. It was filmed in Texas and debuted in 1975.
Roy and Dale did what they could to keep Hollywood from affecting the children the way it had with many kids. They moved out to a ranch so that the kids could grow up with horses, pigs, cows, and chickens. Also, Roy liked his privacy. Dusty didn’t agree with Roy’s decision to keep his kids from the limelight, and by the time he finished high school, Dusty starred in two films. Roy wasn’t happy about it.
Leaving Home and Coming Back
Roy didn’t want his son to be an actor. He had a job for two weeks, where he was to test the seams in napalm bombs. When he quit, his father was mad. This led Dusty to leave home and live with friends. He was hoping to start a career in Ohio, but while on his own, he realized how important his father was to people outside of the home. When he returned to Apple Valley, he wanted to smooth things out with his father. Dusty was worried that his father would die before he had a chance to tell him that he loved him.
Trigger lived a wonderful life with Roy. In 1965, he died in Apple Valley on Roy’s ranch. To honor his friend, Roy preserved him and had him mounted by Bischoff’s Taxidermy. In 1967, Roy and Dale opened the Roy Rogers and Dale Evans Museum, and Trigger was on display. This allowed fans to say their goodbyes to Trigger.
Trigger wasn’t the only family pet to be placed in the museum after death. In 1957, Bullet the Wonder Dog died, and he was preserved and added to the display. The same was true with Dale’s buckskin Quarter Horse named Buttermilk. She died in 1972 and was added to the collection. To keep the animals looking pristine, they had to be brushed daily, and their glass eyes had to be cleaned.
Relocating the Museum
The family museum was moved from Apple Valley to Victorville, California, in 1976. When it was moved, it became a major attraction. People flocked to the museum to see something that would remind them of Roy, Dale, and the Westerns they watched growing up on television. In 2003, the museum was relocated again, this time to Branson, Missouri. When the couple died, the IRS levied a high tax on the Rogers’ estate. The children were hoping to relocate the museum to an area where more tourists would visit, which could earn enough money to keep it open.
The Museum Closed
Relocating the museum didn’t help bring in tourists, and thanks to the other honkey tonks and tourist attractions in Branson, the museum closed. It wasn’t what the children wanted, but they had no other choice. They weren’t making enough money to keep the doors open.
Roy Rogers Restaurant
In 1968, the first Roy Rogers Restaurant opened. They served fried chicken, burgers, and roast beef sandwiches. Roy had no connection to the chain, but he issued a license to his moniker for the franchise. There is a drink named after him that contains no alcohol. It is Coca-Cola, grenadine syrup, and a maraschino cherry.
During his career, he played in plenty of Westerns in the ’50s, ’60s, and ’70s. He also made some very memorable cameo appearances in Wonder Woman, The Fall Guy, and The Muppet Show. He also took part in the Randy Travis video, Heroes and Friends in 1990. The video shows Roy and Dale in their best days on TV, and in the end, Roy makes an appearance.
Happy Trails Children’s Foundation
Roy and Dale founded a few charities. The one that was closest to their hearts was the Happy Trails Children’s Foundation, which worked to combat child abuse. Dale and Roy loved children, and they believed that child abuse was becoming an epidemic, so they wanted to do something, which is why they started their charity.