The things that made Roy Rogers a pop culture icon in the 1950’s died long before he did. Our heroes are no longer cowboys. And no one makes a pitch for clean living anymore. And a yodeling straight-shooter dressed in frills and rhinestones (a trademark from his rodeo days) would be hopelessly out of place in these cynical times.
But for many baby boomers, Roy Rogers was their first real TV hero. His passing reminds us of how much we’ve aged and how much innocence we’ve lost.
On playgrounds today, kids threaten to “Springerize” their foes because they’ve seen one too many Jerry Springer show. Teachers have to ban language inspired by the animated “South Park.” And good guys don’t wear white hats anymore.
Although Rogers was a B-movie Western film star in the 1940’s, his popularity soared when his films were recycled on TV in the early 1950’s. The medium was in it’s infancy in 1951 when his half-hour series, “The Roy Rogers Show,” made him a TV star. The series ran seven years in NBC at 6:30 P.M. Sundays and reruns aired another three years on CBS on Saturday mornings.
Rogers already had been crowned “King of the Cowboys” before he came to TV. In 1948, an estimated 80 million went to see his films. His TV show was set on the Double R Bar Ranch where Roy continued his simple fight for law and order in the contemporary West. Also featured were: Dale Evans; Roy‘s bumbling sidekick, Pat Brady; Roy‘s horse, Trigger; Roy‘s dog, Bullet; Pat‘s cantankerous jeep, Nellybelle; and Dale‘s horse, Buttermilk.
The theme song, “Happy Trails To You“, written by Dale Evans, is embedded in the memory of many a baby boomer.
Popular with children, “The Roy Rogers Show” spawned hundreds of merchandising items from lunch boxes to Double R Bar action figures.
Roy Roger‘s screen and TV character was a good guy who could sing and use fists. He’d rather kiss his horse than get mushy with a girl. But if you had a horse as smart as Trigger, you’d probably want to kiss him, too. When Roy did get mush, it was with his real life wife, Dale.
“Today they’re making pictures that I wouldn’t want Trigger to see,” Rogers said in a 1992 interview in Los Angeles. Rogers, looking fit and trim at 81, had come to Los Angeles from his Apple Valley home to promote an American Movie Classics documentary on his life.
“I did pretty good for a guy who never finished high school and used to yodel at square dances,” he said. “I was raised on a little farm about 12 miles out of Portsmouth, Ohio. We were so far back in the woods, they almost had to pipe in sunlight.”
He may have been born Leonard Slye, but he became Roy Rogers as the character blended with the man. Rogers said he believed in the things his character stood for: character, truth, justice, virtue, civility and good winning over bad. He was part of the romantic cowboy myth that post-World War II Americans embraced and clung to through the early 1960’s.
In the 1950’s, almost every kid in the country wanted to be like Roy Rogers, Hopalong Cassidy or Davy Crockett. In 1958, there were 24 Westerns in prime time television. Today there are none.
“People are always asking me why they don’t make Westerns like they used to,” Rogers said. “I don’t know the answer. The world changed. Hollywood changed. I think we’ve lost something, and we don’t know how to get it back.”
The Tampa Tribune
Roy Rogers received two Golden Boot Awards and was inducted into the National Cowboy Hall of Fame in Oklahoma City. He is the only performer elected twice to the Country Music Hall of Fame, with his Sons of the Pioneers in 1980 and as an individual in 1988. He made 87 Westerns and from 1943 to 1954, he was ranked by theater operators as the No.1 Western box office star.
He had a national chain of restaurants named after him when in 1990, Hardee’s acquired the 648 unit Roy Rogers chain and merged it into it’s business Roy and Dale are seen here on the cover of the in-house publication of Hardee’s Food Systems, Inc. He passed away Monday, July 6, 1998, at age 86.