Roy Rogers (born Leonard Franklin Slye) (November 5, 1911 - July 6, 1998), was a singer and cowboy actor, as well as the namesake of the Roy Rogers Restaurants chain. He and his second wife Dale Evans, his golden palomino Trigger, and his German Shepherd Dog, Bullet, were featured in over one hundred movies and The Roy Rogers Show. The show ran on radio for nine years before moving to television from 1951 through 1957. His productions usually featured a sidekick, often either Pat Brady, (who drove a jeep called "Nellybelle") or the crotchety Gabby Hayes. Roy's nickname was "King of the Cowboys". Dale's nickname was "Queen of the West."
The baby who would become famous as Roy Rogers was born to Andrew ("Andy") and Mattie (Womack) Slye in Cincinnati, Ohio, where his family lived in a tenement building on 2nd Street. (Riverfront Stadium was constructed at this location in 1970 and Rogers would later joke that he had been born at second base.) Dissatisfied with his job and city life, Andy Slye and his brother Will built a 12-by-50-foot houseboat from salvage lumber, and, in July 1912, the Slye family floated on the Ohio River towards Portsmouth, Ohio. Desiring a more stable existence in Portsmouth, the Slyes purchased land on which to build a home, but the flood of 1913 allowed them to move the houseboat to their property and continue living in it on dry land.
In 1919 the Slyes purchased a farm about 12 miles north of Portsmouth, at Duck Run, near Lucasville, Ohio. They there built a six-room home. Leonard's father soon realized that the farm alone would provide insufficient income for his family and he took a job at a shoe factory in Portsmouth, living there during the week and returning home on the weekends, bearing gifts for the family following paydays, one of which was a horse on which Leonard learned the basics of horsemanship.
After completing the 8th Grade, Leonard Slye attended high school at McDermott, Ohio. When he was 17 his family returned to Cincinnati, where his father began work at a shoe factory. He soon decided on the necessity to help his family financially, so he quit high school, joined his father at the shoe factory, and began attending night school. After being ridiculed for falling asleep in class, however, he quit school and never returned.
Leonard and his father felt imprisoned by their factory jobs. In 1929, his older sister Mary was living at Lawndale, California with her husband. Father and son decided to quit their shoe factory jobs. The family packed their 1923 Dodge for a visit with Mary and stayed four months before returning to Ohio. Almost immediately, Leonard had the opportunity to travel to California with Mary's father-in-law, and the rest of the family followed in the spring of 1930.
The Slyes rented a small house near Mary. Leonard and his father immediately found employment as truck drivers for a highway construction project. They reported to work one morning, however, to learn their employer had gone bankrupt. The economic hardship of the Great Depression had followed them west, and the Slyes soon found themselves among the economic refugees traveling from job to job picking fruit and living in worker campsites. (He would later read John Steinbeck's The Grapes of Wrath and marvel at its accuracy.) One day Andy Slye heard of a shoe factory hiring in Los Angeles and asked Leonard to join him in applying there for work. Leonard, having seen the joy that his guitar and singing had brought to the destitute around the campfires, hesitantly told his father that he was going to pursue a living in music. With his father's blessing, he and cousin Stanley Slye went to Los Angeles and sought musical engagements as The Slye Brothers.
In 1932 while performing in Long Beach with the Rocky Mountaineers, Len met Lucille Ascolese. That same year, a palimino colt was foaled in Santa Cietro, CA, named "Golden Cloud", and later renamed "Trigger". In May 1933, Len (21)proposed to Lucille (19) via a radio broadcast and they were married on May 8, 1933 in Santa Ana, CA. Len then went on tour with the "O-Bar-O Cowboys" and in June 1933 met Grace Arline Wilkins at a Roswell, NM radio station when she traded Len a lemon pie for his singing "Swiss Yodel" over the air. Len was sure to return the pie plates to Grace the next day. By August 1934 Len and Lucille had separated as she was reportedly jealous and tired of being a musician's wife. Len and Lucille's divorce was granted on May 28th, 1935, and became final on June 8th, 1936. Having corresponded since their first meeting, Len and Grace Arline Wilkins were married in Roswell, NM on June 11, 1936.
In 1941 the couple adopted a girl, Cheryl Darlene. In 1942, they legally changed their names to Roy and Grace Arline Rogers. The following year, Arline bore a daughter, Linda Lou.
In 1944 Dale Evans was first cast in a movie with Roy. Roy & Arline had a son, Roy Jr. ("Dusty") in 1946, but Arline died of complications from the birth a few days afterward on November 3, 1946. Roy and Dale soon fell in love, and Roy 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 a few months earlier they had filmed Home In Oklahoma. Roy and Dale remained married until Roy's death in 1998.
Leonard Slye moved to California to become a singer.
After four years of little success, he formed Sons of the Pioneers, a Western cowboy music group, in 1934. The group hit it big with songs like "Cool Water" and "Tumbling Tumbleweeds".
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 when Autry temporarily walked out on his movie contract, Slye was immediately rechristened "Roy Rogers" and assigned the lead in Under Western Stars. Rogers became a matinee idol and American legend. A competitor for Gene Autry as the nation's favorite singing cowboy was suddenly born. 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.
Rogers was an idol for many children through his films and television shows. Most of his postwar films were in Trucolor in an era when almost all other B-movies were black-and-white. Some of his movies would segue into animal adventures, in which Roy's horse Trigger would go off on his own for a while, with the camera following him.
With money from not only Rogers' films but his own 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. There were Roy Rogers action figures, cowboy adventure novels, a comic strip, playsets, a long-lived Dell Comics comic book series (Roy Rogers Comics) written by Gaylord Du Bois, and a variety of marketing successes. Roy Rogers was only second to Walt Disney in the amount of items featuring his name.
The Sons of the Pioneers continued their popularity through the 1950s. Although Rogers was no longer a member, they often appeared as Rogers' backup group in films, radio, and television.
In August 1950, Dale and Roy had a daughter, Robin Elizabeth, who died of complications of Down Syndrome shortly before her second birthday. Evans wrote about losing their daughter in her book Angel Unaware.
Rogers and Evans were also well known as advocates for adoption and as founders and operators of children's charities. They adopted several children. Both were outspoken Christians. In Apple Valley, California, where they made their home, numerous streets and highways as well as civic buildings have been named after them in recognition of their efforts on behalf of homeless and handicapped children. Roy was an active Freemason and a Shriner, and was noted for his support of their charities.
Roy and Dale's famous theme song, "Happy Trails," was written by Dale and they sang 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.
Rogers also owned a Hollywood production company which handled 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, Keena.
For his contribution to the motion picture industry, Roy Rogers has a star on the Hollywood Walk of Fame at 1752 Vine Street, a second star at 1733 Vine Street for his contribution to radio, and a third star at 1620 Vine Street for his contribution to the television industry.
Roy and Dale were inducted into the Western Performers Hall of Fame at the National Cowboy & Western Heritage Museum in Oklahoma City, Oklahoma, in 1976 and Roy was inducted again as a member of the Sons of the Pioneers in 1995. Roy was also twice elected to the Country Music Hall of Fame, first as a member of The Sons of the Pioneers in 1980 and as a soloist in 1988.
Rogers also owned a Thoroughbred racehorse named Triggairo who won 13 career races including the 1975 El Encino Stakes at Santa Anita Park.
Rogers died of congestive heart failure on July 6, 1998. Rogers was residing in Apple Valley, California at the time of his death. Rogers was buried at Sunset Hills cemetery in Apple Valley.
Photograph Hand Oil Tinted by Artist Margaret A. Rogers.