Roy Rogers

For other uses, see Roy Rogers (disambiguation).
Roy Rogers

Rogers in The Carson City Kid, 1940
Born Leonard Franklin Slye
(1911-11-05)November 5, 1911
Cincinnati, Ohio, U.S.
Died July 6, 1998(1998-07-06) (aged 86)
Apple Valley, California, U.S.
Resting place Sunset Hills Memorial Park,
Apple Valley, California
34°33′25″N 117°08′35″W / 34.5569916°N 117.1429367°W / 34.5569916; -117.1429367
Other names King of the Cowboys, Len Slye
Occupation Singer, actor
Years active 1932–1991
1935–1984 (acting)
Style Western
Spouse(s) Lucile Ascolese (1933–1936)
Arlene Wilkins (1936–1946)
Dale Evans (1947–1998, until his death)

Musical career

Instruments Vocals, guitar
Associated acts Sons of the Pioneers

Roy Rogers (born Leonard Franklin Slye, November 5, 1911 – July 6, 1998) was an American singer and actor who was one of the most popular Western stars of his era. Known as the "King of the Cowboys", he appeared in over 100 films and numerous radio and television episodes of The Roy Rogers Show. In many of his films and television episodes, he appeared with his wife, Dale Evans; his golden palomino, Trigger; and his German shepherd dog, Bullet. His show was broadcast on radio for nine years and then on television from 1951 through 1957. His productions usually featured a sidekick, often Pat Brady, Andy Devine, or George "Gabby" Hayes. In his later years, Rogers lent his name to the franchise chain of Roy Rogers Restaurants.


Early life

Rogers was born Leonard Slye, the son of Mattie (née Womack) and Andrew "Andy" Slye in Cincinnati, Ohio.[1] The family lived in a tenement on 2nd Street, where Riverfront Stadium would later be constructed (Rogers would later joke that he was born at second base).[1] Dissatisfied with his job and city life, Andy and his brother Will built a 12-by-50-foot (3.7 m × 15.2 m) houseboat from salvage lumber, and in July 1912 the Slye family traveled up the Ohio River towards Portsmouth, Ohio.[1] Desiring a more stable existence in Portsmouth, they purchased land on which to build a house, but the Great Flood of 1913 allowed them to move the houseboat to their property and continue living in it on dry land.[1]

Rogers's boyhood home at Duck Run, near Lucasville, Ohio

In 1919 the Slye family purchased a farm in Duck Run, located near Lucasville, Ohio, about 12 miles (19 km) north of Portsmouth, and built a six-room house.[1] Andy Slye soon realized that the farm alone would not provide sufficient income for his family, so he took a job at a Portsmouth shoe factory, living in Portsmouth during the week and returning home on weekends, bearing gifts following paydays. A notable gift was a horse on which young Len Slye learned the basics of horsemanship.[1] Living on the farm with no radio, the family made their own entertainment. On Saturday nights, they often invited neighbors over for square dances, during which Len would sing, play mandolin, and call the square dances.[1] He also learned to yodel during this time, and he and his mother would use different yodels to communicate with each other across distances on the farm.[1]

Len attended high school in McDermott, Ohio,[1] but after he completed his second year there his family returned to Cincinnati, where his father worked at another shoe factory.[1] Realizing that his family needed his financial help, Len quit school and joined his father at the factory.[1] He tried to attend night school, but after being ridiculed for falling asleep in class, he quit school and never returned.

By 1929, after his older sister Mary and her husband had moved to Lawndale, California, Len and his father quit their factory jobs, packed up their 1923 Dodge, and drove the family to California to visit Mary. They stayed for four months before returning to Ohio.[1] Soon after returning, Len had the opportunity to travel again to California with Mary's father-in-law, and the rest of the family followed in the spring of 1930. The Slye family rented a small house near Mary, and Len and his father found employment driving gravel trucks for a highway construction project.[1]

In the spring of 1931, after the construction company went bankrupt, Len traveled to Tulare, California, where he found work picking peaches for Del Monte.[1] During this time he lived in a labor camp similar to the ones depicted in John Steinbeck's novel The Grapes of Wrath.[1] The economic hardship of the Great Depression was just as severe in California as it was in Ohio.

Music career

After 19-year-old Len Slye's second arrival in Lawndale, his sister Mary suggested that he audition for the Midnight Frolic radio program, which was broadcast over KMCS in Inglewood. A few nights later, wearing a Western shirt that Mary had made for him, he overcame his shyness and appeared on the program playing guitar, singing, and yodeling.[1] A few days later, he was asked to join a local country music group, the Rocky Mountaineers.[1] He accepted the group's offer and became a member in August 1931.[1][2]

By September 1931, Slye hired the Canadian-born Bob Nolan, who answered the group's classified ad in the Los Angeles Herald-Examiner that read, "Yodeler for old-time act, to travel. Tenor preferred." Nolan stayed with the group only a short time, but he and Len stayed in touch. Nolan was replaced by Tim Spencer.[3]

In the spring of 1932, Slye, Spencer, and another singer, Slumber Nichols, left the Rocky Mountaineers to form a trio, which soon failed. Throughout that year, Slye and Spencer moved through a series of short-lived groups, including the International Cowboys and the O-Bar-O Cowboys. When Spencer left the O-Bar-O Cowboys to take a break from music, Slye joined Jack LeFevre and His Texas Outlaws, who were a popular act on a local Los Angeles radio station.[4]

In early 1933, Slye, Nolan, and Spencer formed the Pioneers Trio, with Slye on guitar, Nolan on string bass, and Spencer as lead vocalist. The three rehearsed for weeks refining their vocal harmonies. During this time, Slye continued to work with his radio singing group, while Spencer and Nolan began writing songs for the trio.[3] In early 1934, the fiddle player Hugh Farr joined the group, adding a bass voice to their vocal arrangements. Later that year, the Pioneers Trio became the Sons of the Pioneers when a radio station announcer changed their name because he felt they were too young to be pioneers. The name was received well and fit the group, which was no longer a trio.[3]

By the summer of 1934, the popularity and fame of the Sons of the Pioneers extended beyond the Los Angeles area and quickly spread across the country through short syndicated radio segments that were later rebroadcast across the United States. The Sons of the Pioneers signed a recording contract with the newly founded Decca label and made their first commercial recording on August 8, 1934.[3] One of the first songs recorded during that first session was "Tumbling Tumbleweeds", written by Bob Nolan. Over the next two years the Sons of the Pioneers would record 32 songs for Decca, including the classic "Cool Water".[5]

Film career

Lynne Roberts and Rogers in Billy the Kid Returns, 1938

From his first film appearance in 1935, he worked steadily in Western films, including a large supporting role as a singing cowboy while still billed as Leonard Slye in a Gene Autry movie. In 1938, Autry demanded more money for his work, and there was a competition for a new singing cowboy. Many singers sought the job, including Willie Phelps of the Phelps brothers, who appeared in early Western movies. Slye ended up winning the contest and was given the stage name Roy Rogers by Republic Pictures, shortening his first name and combining it with the surname of Will Rogers. He was assigned the leading role in Under Western Stars. Rogers became a matinee idol, a competitor with Autry as the nation's favorite singing cowboy. In addition to his own movies, Rogers played a supporting role in the John Wayne classic Dark Command (1940). Rogers became a major box office attraction. Unlike other stars, the vast majority of his leading roles allowed him to play a character with his own name, in the manner of Gene Autry.[6]

Publicity photo of Rogers and Mary Hart for Shine On, Harvest Moon, 1938

In the Motion Picture Herald Top Ten Money-Making Western Stars poll, Rogers was listed for 16 consecutive years, from 1939 to 1954, holding first place from 1943 to 1954.[7] He appeared in the similar Box Office poll from 1938 to 1955, holding first place from 1943 to 1952. (In the final three years of that poll he was second only to Randolph Scott.)[8] These two polls are only an indication only of the popularity of series stars, but Rogers also appeared in the Top Ten Money Makers Poll of all films in 1945 and 1946.[9]

Rogers was an idol for many children through his films and television shows. Most of his postwar films were in Trucolor during an era when almost all other B westerns were black and white. Some of his movies would segue into animal adventures, in which Rogers's horse, Trigger, would go off on his own for a while with the camera following him.

With money from Rogers's films and from his public appearances going to Republic Pictures, Rogers brought a clause into a 1940 contract with the studio where he would have the right to his likeness, voice and name for merchandising.[10] There were Roy Rogers action figures, cowboy adventure novels, and playsets, as well as a comic strip, a long-lived Dell Comics comic book series (Roy Rogers Comics) written by Gaylord Du Bois, and a variety of marketing successes. Rogers was second only to Walt Disney in the number of items featuring his name.[11]

The Sons of the Pioneers continued their popularity and have not stopped performing from the time Rogers started the group, replacing members as they retired or died (all original members are dead). Although Rogers was no longer an active member, they often appeared as his backup group in films, radio, and television, and he would occasionally appear with them in performances up until his death. In August 1950,

Rogers and Evans were well known as advocates for adoption and as founders and operators of children's charities. They adopted several children. Both were outspoken Christians after their marriage.[12] Beginning in 1949 they were part of the Hollywood Christian Group, founded by their friend Louis Evans, Jr., the organizing pastor of Bel Air Church.[13] The group met in Henrietta Mears's home and later in the home of Evans and Colleen Townsend, after their marriage. Billy Graham and Jane Russell were also part of this group. In 1956 the Hollywood Christian Group became Bel Air Church. In Apple Valley, California, where they made their home, streets, highways and civic buildings have been named after them in recognition of their efforts on behalf of homeless and handicapped children. Rogers was also an active Freemason and a Shriner and was noted for his support of their charities.

Publicity photo of Rogers and Gail Davis, 1948

Rogers and Evans's famous theme song, "Happy Trails", was written by Evans; they sang it as a duet to sign off their television show. In the fall of 1962, the couple co-hosted a comedy-Western-variety program, The Roy Rogers and Dale Evans Show, aired on ABC. It was cancelled after three months, losing in the ratings to The Jackie Gleason Show on CBS. He also made numerous cameo or guest appearances on other popular television shows, starring as himself or other cowboy-type characters, such as in an episode of Wonder Woman called "The Bushwackers".[14]

Rogers owned a Hollywood production company, which produced his own series. It also filmed other undertakings, including the 1955–1956 CBS Western series Brave Eagle, starring Keith Larsen as a young, peaceful Cheyenne chief, Kim Winona as Morning Star, his romantic interest, and the Hopi Indian Anthony Numkena as Keena, Brave Eagle's foster son.

In 1968, Rogers licensed his name to the Marriott corporation, which converted its Hot Shoppes restaurants into Roy Rogers Restaurants, with which Rogers otherwise had no involvement.

Rogers owned a Thoroughbred racehorse named Triggairo, who won 13 career races, including the 1975 El Encino Stakes at Santa Anita Park.[15]

Personal life

Rogers and Dale Evans at Knott's Berry Farm in the 1970s

In 1932 a palomino colt foaled in California was named "Golden Cloud"; when Len acquired him, he renamed him Trigger. In 1932, Len met an admirer named Lucile Ascolese. They were married in 1933 by a justice of the peace in Los Angeles; the marriage failed, and the couple divorced in 1936.[16] Len then went on tour with the O-Bar-O Cowboys and in June 1933 met Grace Arline Wilkins at a Roswell, New Mexico, radio station. They were married in Roswell on June 11, 1936, after having corresponded since their first meeting.[17] In 1941, the couple adopted a daughter, Cheryl Darlene. Two years later, Grace gave birth to a daughter, Linda Lou. A son, Roy, Jr. ("Dusty"), was born in 1946. Grace died of complications from the birth a few days later, on November 3.

Rogers met Dale Evans in 1944 when they were cast in a film together. They fell in love soon after Arline's death, and Rogers proposed to her during a rodeo at Chicago Stadium. They married on New Year's Eve in 1947 at the Flying L Ranch in Davis, Oklahoma, where they had filmed Home in Oklahoma a few months earlier. Together they had five children: Robin Elizabeth, who had Down syndrome and died of complications with mumps shortly before her second birthday, and four adopted children—Mimi, Dodie, Sandy, and Debbie.[4] Evans wrote about the loss of their daughter in her book Angel Unaware. Rogers and Evans remained married until his death, in 1998.[17]

Rogers was a Freemason and was a member of Hollywood (California) Lodge No. 355, the Scottish Rite Valley of Los Angeles, and Al Malaikah Shrine Temple.[18] He was also a pilot and the owner of a Cessna Bobcat.[19]


Rogers died of congestive heart failure on July 6, 1998. He had been residing in Apple Valley, California. He was buried at Sunset Hills Memorial Park in Apple Valley, as was his wife Dale Evans three years later.[20][21]

Honors and awards

Rogers performing at Knott's Berry Farm

On February 8, 1960, Roy Rogers was honored with three stars on Hollywood Walk of Fame: for Motion Pictures at 1752 Vine Street, for Television at 1620 Vine Street, and for Radio at 1733 Vine Street.[22] In 1983 he was awarded the Golden Boot Award,[23] and in 1996 he received the Golden Boot Founder's Award.[23]

In 1976, Rogers and Evans were inducted into the Western Performers Hall of Fame at the National Cowboy & Western Heritage Museum in Oklahoma City, Oklahoma, and in 1995 he was inducted again as a founding member of the Sons of the Pioneers.[24]

Rogers was also twice elected to the Country Music Hall of Fame, first as a member of the Sons of the Pioneers in 1980, and again as a soloist in 1988. To this day, he remains the only person elected to the Country Music Hall of Fame twice.[25] In 2001, a Golden Palm Star on the Palm Springs, California, Walk of Stars was dedicated to him and Dale Evans.[26]

Rogers' cultural influence is reflected in numerous songs, including "If I Had a Boat" by Lyle Lovett, "Roy Rogers" by Elton John on his 1973 album Goodbye Yellow Brick Road, and "Should've Been a Cowboy" by Toby Keith. Rogers himself makes an appearance in the music video for the song "Heroes and Friends" by Randy Travis. Rogers is referenced in numerous films, including Die Hard (1988) in which the Bruce Willis character John McClane used the pseudonym "Roy" and remarks, "I was always kinda partial to Roy Rogers actually." In the television series American Dad!, the character Roger uses "Roy Rogers" as a pseudonym in the episode "Roy Rogers McFreely".


Box office ranking

For a number of years exhibitors voted Rogers among the most popular stars in the country:


Charted albums

Year Album Chart Positions Label
US Country US
1970 The Country Side of Roy Rogers 40 Capitol
1971 A Man from Duck Run 34
1975 Happy Trails to You 35 20th Century
1991 Tribute 17 113 RCA

Charted singles

Year Single Chart Positions Album
US Country CAN Country
1946 "A Little White Cross on the Hill" 7 Singles only
1947 "My Chickashay Gal" 4
1948 "Blue Shadows on the Trail"
(Roy Rogers and the Sons of the Pioneers)
"(There'll Never Be Another) Pecos Bill"
(Roy Rogers and the Sons of the Pioneers)
1950 "Stampede" 8
1970 "Money Can't Buy Love" 35 The Country Side of Roy Rogers
1971 "Lovenworth" 12 33 A Man from Duck Run
"Happy Anniversary" 47
1972 "These Are the Good Old Days" 73 Single only
1974 "Hoppy, Gene and Me"A 15 12 Happy Trails to You
1980 "Ride Concrete Cowboy, Ride"
(Roy Rogers and the Sons of the Pioneers)
80 Smokey & the Bandit II (soundtrack)
1991 "Hold on Partner" (w/ Clint Black) 42 48 Tribute

Music videos

Year Video Director
1991 "Hold on Partner" (with Clint Black) Jack Cole
Publicity photo of Rogers and Trigger

See also


  1. 1 2 3 4 5 6 7 8 9 10 11 12 13 14 15 16 17 18 Zwisohn, Laurence. "Happy Trails: The Life of Roy Rogers". Retrieved April 29, 2014.
  2. Green, p. 74.
  3. 1 2 3 4 "Sons of the Pioneers". Country Music Television. Retrieved April 29, 2014.
  4. Green, p. 75.
  5. "Sons of the Pioneers". Retrieved August 27, 2011.
  7. Hardy, Phil (1984). The Encyclopedia of Western Movies. Minneapolis: Woodbury Press. ISBN 978-0-8300-0405-8.
  8. "Motion Picture Herald and Boxoffice Polls". Retrieved October 31, 2011.
  9. "Top Ten Money Making Stars". Retrieved 2013-08-09.
  10. Phillips, p. 38.
  11. Enss and Kazanjian, p. 132.
  12. Miller Davis, Elise (1955). The Answer Is God. New York: McGraw-Hill. pp. 104–112. LCCN 55009539.
  13. "Fuller Seminary: The Original Five". Retrieved 2015-11-05.
  14. "Wonder Woman: Pilot: The New Original Wonder Woman". Retrieved October 31, 2011.
  15. "Triggairo Horse Pedigree". Pedigree Online Thoroughbred Database. Retrieved October 31, 2011.
  16. O'Neal, Bill; Goodwin, Fred (2001). The Sons of the Pioneers. Ft. Worth, Texas: Eakin Press. p. 10.
  17. 1 2 Phillips, pp. 13–15.
  18. "Famous Masons". MWGLNY. January 2014.
  19. "A Plane Crazy America". AOPA Pilot: 79. May 2014.
  20. Brooks, Patricia; Brooks, Jonathan (2006). "Chapter 8: East L.A. and the Desert". Laid to Rest in California: A Guide to the Cemeteries and Grave Sites of the Rich and Famous. Guilford, Connecticut: Globe Pequot Press. pp. 235–7. ISBN 978-0762741014. OCLC 70284362.
  21. Roy Rogers at Find a Grave
  22. "Hollywood Star Walk: Roy Rogers". Los Angeles Times. July 7, 1998. Retrieved April 29, 2014.
  23. 1 2 "Legacy". Golden Boot Awards. Retrieved April 29, 2014.
  24. "Great Wwstern Performers". National Cowboy & Western Heritage Museum. Retrieved April 29, 2014.
  25. "Roy Rogers". Country Music Hall of Fame. Retrieved April 29, 2014.
  26. "Palm Springs Walk of Stars" (PDF). Palm Springs Walk of Stars. Retrieved August 9, 2013.
  27. "The Screen's First Money-Spinneks for 1942.". The Argus. Melbourne: National Library of Australia. 27 February 1943. p. 6, The Argus Week-end Magazine. Retrieved 5 October 2014.
  28. "Bing Crosby America's Screen Favourite.". The Argus. Melbourne: National Library of Australia. 24 March 1945. p. 8, The Argus Week-end Magazine. Retrieved 5 October 2014.
  29. "Film Cable From Hollywood.". Sunday Times. Perth: National Library of Australia. 2 December 1945. p. 5, Sunday Times Comics. Retrieved 5 October 2014.
  30. "Box Office Stars.". The News. Adelaide: National Library of Australia. 28 December 1945. p. 1. Retrieved 5 October 2014.
  31. "The Box Office Draw.". Goulburn Evening Post. New South Wales: National Library of Australia. 31 December 1948. p. 3, daily and evening edition. Retrieved 5 October 2014.
  32. "Filmdom Ranks Its Money-Spinning Stars Best at Box-Office.". Sydney Morning Herald. National Library of Australia. 30 March 1950. p. 12. Retrieved 5 October 2014.
  33. "Comedians Top Films Poll.". The Advocate. Burnie, Tasmania: National Library of Australia. 27 December 1952. p. 2. Retrieved 5 October 2014.
  34. Whitburn, Joel (2011). Top Pop Singles 1955–2010. Record Research, Inc. p. 762. ISBN 0-89820-188-8.
  • Enss, Chris; Kazanjian, Howard (2005). The Cowboy and the Senorita. Guilford, Connecticut: Globe Pequot Press. ISBN 978-0762738304. 
  • Green, Douglas B. (2002). Singing in the Saddle: The History of the Singing Cowboy. Nashville: Vanderbilt University Press. ISBN 978-0826514127. 
  • Kazanjian, Howard (2005). Happy Trails: A Pictorial Celebration ... Guilford, Connecticut: Globe Pequot Press. ISBN 978-0762730896. 
  • Pando, Leo (2007). An Illustrated History of Trigger, The Lives and Legend of Roy Rogers' Palomino. McFarland Publishing. ISBN 978-0-7864-6111-0. 
  • Phillips, Robert W. (1995). Roy Rogers: A Biography. Jefferson, North Carolina: McFarland. ISBN 978-0899509372. 
  • Rogers, Roy; Evans, Dale (1994). Happy Trails: Our Life Story. New York: Simon & Schuster. ISBN 978-0671897147. 
  • Rogers, Roy; Evans, Dale; Stowers, Carlton (1979). Happy Trails: The Story of Roy Rogers and Dale Evans. Waco, Texas: Word Books. ISBN 978-0849900860. 
  • Rogers, Roy; Morris, Georgia (1994). Roy Rogers: King of the Cowboys. New York: Collins Publishers. ISBN 978-0002553346. 
  • Zwisohn, Laurence (1998). Paul Kingsbury, ed. The Encyclopedia of Country Music. New York: Oxford University Press. pp. 456–57. ISBN 978-0195116717. 
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