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Roy Rogers

Born: Leonard Franklin Slye, November 5, 1911, Cincinnati, Ohio
Dies: July 6, 1998 (age 86), Apple Valley, California
Resting place: Sunset Hills Memorial Park, Apple Valley, California

Roy Rogers and TriggerRoy Rogers is an American singer and cowboy actor who is one of the most popular Western stars of his era. Known as the "King of the Cowboys", he appears in over 100 films and numerous radio and television episodes of The Roy Rogers Show. In many of his films and television episodes, he appears with his wife Dale Evans, his golden palomino Trigger, and his German Shepherd dog Bullet. His show runs on radio for nine years before moving to television from 1951 through 1957. His productions usually features a sidekick, often Pat Brady, Andy Devine, or George "Gabby" Hayes. In his later years, Rogers lends his name to the Roy Rogers Restaurants franchise chain.

Early life
Music career
Film career
Personal life

Early life
Rogers (Leonard Slye) is born to Mattie (née Womack) and Andrew "Andy" Slye in Cincinnati, Ohio. The family lives in a tenement building on 2nd Street, where Riverfront Stadium will later be constructed (Rogers will later joke that he is born at second base). Dissatisfied with his job and city life, Andy and his brother Will builds a 12-by-50-foot houseboat from salvage lumber, and in July 1912 the Slye family travels up the Ohio River towards Portsmouth, Ohio. Desiring a more stable existence in Portsmouth, they purchase land on which to build a house, but the Great Flood of 1913 allow them to move the houseboat to their property and continue living in it on dry land.

In 1919, the Slye family purchase a farm in Duck Run, located near Lucasville, Ohio about 12 miles north of Portsmouth, and builds a six-room house. Andy Slye soon realizes that the farm alone will provide insufficient income for his family, so he takes 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 is a horse on which young Len Slye learns the basics of horsemanship. Living on the farm with no radio, the family makes their own entertainment. On Saturday nights, the family often invite neighbors over for square dances, during which Len will sing, play mandolin, and call the square dances. He also learns to yodel during this time, and he and his mother will use yodeling calls to communicate with each other across distances on the farm.

After completing the eighth grade, Len attends high school in McDermott, Ohio. After completing his second year in high school, his family returns to Cincinnati, where his father begins work at another shoe factory. Realizing that his family needs his financial help, Len quit school and joins his father at the shoe factory. He tries to attend night school, but after being ridiculed for falling asleep in class, he quits school and never returns.

By 1929, after Len's older sister Mary and her husband move to Lawndale, California, he and his father quit their factory jobs, pack up their 1923 Dodge, and drive the family to California to visit Mary. They stay for four months before returning to Ohio. Soon after returning, Len has the opportunity to travel to California with Mary's father-in-law, and the rest of the family follows in the spring of 1930. The Slye family rent a small house near Mary, and Len and his father find employment driving gravel trucks for a highway-construction project.

In the spring of 1931, after the construction company goes bankrupt, Len travels to Tulare, California where he finds work picking peaches for Del Monte. During this time he lives in a labor camp similar to the ones depicted in John Steinbeck's novel The Grapes Of Wrath. The economic hardship of the Great Depression is just as severe in California as it is in Ohio.

Music career
After returning to Lawndale, Slye's sister Mary suggests that he audition for the Midnight Frolic radio program, which broadcast over KMCS in Inglewood. A few nights later, wearing a Western shirt that Mary makes for him, Slye overcomes his shyness and appears on the program playing guitar, singing, and yodeling. A few days later, he is asked to join a local country music group called The Rocky Mountaineers. Slye accepts the group's offer and becomes a member in August 1931.

By September 1931, Slye hires Canadian-born Bob Nolan who answers the group's classified ad in the Los Angeles Herald-Examiner that reads, "Yodeler for old-time act, to travel. Tenor preferred." Although Nolan stays with the group only a short time, he and Slye stay in touch. Nolan is replaced by Tim Spencer.

In the spring of 1932, Slye, Spencer, and another singer, Slumber Nichols, leave the Rocky Mountaineers to form a trio, which soon fails. Throughout that year, Slye and Spencer move through a series of short-lived groups, including the International Cowboys and the O-Bar-O Cowboys. When Spencer leaves the O-Bar-O Cowboys to take a break from music, Slye joins Jack LeFevre and His Texas Outlaws, who are a popular act on a local Los Angeles radio station.

In early 1933, Slye, Nolan, and Spencer form a group called the Pioneers Trio, with Slye on guitar, Nolan on string bass, and Spencer on lead vocals. The three rehearse for weeks refining their vocal harmonies. During this time, Slye continues to work with his radio singing group, while Spencer and Nolan begin writing songs for the trio. In early 1934, fiddle player Hugh Farr joins the group, adding a bass voice to the group's vocal arrangements. Later that year, the Pioneers Trio become the Sons of the Pioneers when a radio station announcer changes their name because he fells they are too young to be "pioneers". The name is received well and fits the group, who are no longer a trio.

By the summer of 1934, the popularity and fame of the Sons of the Pioneers extends beyond the Los Angeles area and quickly spreads cross the country through short syndicated radio segments that are later rebroadcast across the United States. After signing a recording contract with the newly founded Decca label, the Sons of the Pioneers maks their first commercial recording on August 8, 1934. One of the first songs recorded by the group during that first August session is "Tumbling Tumbleweeds" written by Bob Nolan. Over the next two years the Sons of the Pioneers will record 32 songs for Decca, including the classic "Cool Water".

Film career
From his first film appearance in 1935, he works 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 is demanding more money for his work, Slye is immediately rechristened "Roy Rogers". Actually, there is a competition for a new singing cowboy, and many western singers seek the job, including Willie Phelps of the Phelps brothers who appears in early western movies. Sly ends up winning the contest and becomes Roy Rogers. Slye's stage name is suggested by Republic Picture's staff after Will Rogers and the shortening of Leroy, and he is assigned the lead in Under Western Stars. Rogers becomes a matinee idol and American legend. A competitor for Gene Autry as the nation's favorite singing cowboy is suddenly born. In addition to his own movies, Rogers plays a supporting role in the John Wayne classic Dark Command (1940). Rogers becomes a major box office attraction. Unlike other stars, the vast majority of Rogers' leading roles allow him to play a character with his own name in the manner of Gene Autry.

In the Motion Picture Herald Top Ten Money-Making Western Stars poll, Rogers is listed for 15 consecutive years from 1939 to 1954, holding first place from 1943 to 1954. He appears 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 is second only to Randolph Scott.) Although these two polls are really an indication only of the popularity of series stars, Rogers also appears in the Top Ten Money Makers Poll of all films in 1945 and 1946.

Rogers is an idol for many children through his films and television shows. Most of his postwar films are in Trucolor during an era when almost all other B westerns are black-and-white. Some of his movies will segue into animal adventures, in which Rogers's horse Trigger will 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 brings a clause into a 1940 contract with the studio where he will have the right to his likeness, voice and name for merchandising. There are Roy Rogers action figures, cowboy adventure novels, and play sets, 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. Roy Rogers is second only to Walt Disney in the amount of items featuring his name.

The Sons of the Pioneers continue their popularity, and they have never stopped performing from the time Rogers starts the group, replacing members as they retire or die (all original members are deceased). Although Rogers is no longer an active member, they often appear as Rogers' backup group in films, radio, and television, and Rogers will occasionally appear with them in performances up until his death. In August 1950, Evans and Rogers has a daughter, Robin Elizabeth, who has Down Syndrome and dies of complications with mumps shortly before her second birthday. Evans writes about losing their daughter in her book Angel Unaware.

Rogers and Evans are also well known as advocates for adoption and as founders and operators of children's charities. They adopt several children. Both are outspoken Christians. In Apple Valley, California, where they make 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. Rogers is an active Freemason and a Shriner, and is noted for his support of their charities.

Rogers and Evans's famous theme song, "Happy Trails", is written by Evans; they sing it as a duet to sign off their television show. In the fall of 1962, the couple co-host a comedy-western-variety program, The Roy Rogers and Dale Evans Show, airs on ABC. It is cancelled after three months, losing in the ratings to The Jackie Gleason Show on CBS. He also makes 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". Rogers also owns a Hollywood production company which handles his own series. It also films 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 licenses his name to the Marriott corporation, which converts its Hot Shoppes locations to Roy Rogers Restaurants, with which Rogers otherwise has no involvement.

Rogers owns a Thoroughbred racehorse named Triggairo, who wins 13 career races including the 1975 El Encino Stakes at Santa Anita Park.

Personal life
In 1932 a palomino colt foaled in California is named "Golden Cloud"; when Len acquires him, he renames him "Trigger". In 1932, Len meets an admirer, dark-haired Lucile Ascolese. They are married in 1933 by a justice of the peace in Los Angeles. The marriage fails. Divorce proceedings begin in 1934 and divorce is granted in 1936. Len then goes on tour with the "O-Bar-O Cowboys" and in June 1933 meets Grace Arline Wilkins at a Roswell, New Mexico radio station. She trades Len a lemon pie for his singing "Swiss Yodel" over the air.  They are married in Roswell, New Mexico on June 11, 1936 after having corresponded since their first meeting. In 1941, the couple adopt a girl, Cheryl Darlene. Two years later, Arline bore daughter Linda Lou. She bore Roy, Jr. ("Dusty") in 1946 and dies of complications from the birth a few days later, on November 3.

Rogers meets Dale Evans in 1944 when they are cast in a film together. They fall in love soon after Arline's death and Rogers proposes to her during a rodeo at Chicago Stadium. They marry on New Year's Eve in 1947 at the Flying L Ranch in Davis, Oklahoma, where they have filmed Home in Oklahoma a few months earlier. They remain married until Rogers' death in 1998.

Rogers is a Freemason and is a member of Hollywood (CA) Lodge #355, the Scottish Rite Valley of Los Angeles, and Al Malaikah Shrine Temple. He is also a pilot and the owner of a Cessna Bobcat.

When Rogers dies of congestive heart failure on July 6, 1998, he is residing in Apple Valley, California. He is buried at Sunset Hills Memorial Park in Apple Valley, as is his wife, Dale Evans, three years later.

See also
Dale Evans
Trigger (horse)
Buttermilk (horse)
Pat Brady
Andy Devine
George "Gabby" Hayes

More History of the Old West 

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