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|Also Known As:||Dick Weston,Leonard Franklin Slye,Weston Leonard,Len Slye,Leonard Slye,Dick Weston||Died:||July 6, 1998|
|Born:||November 5, 1911||Cause of Death:||congestive heart failure|
|Birth Place:||Cincinnati, Ohio, USA||Profession:||Cast ... actor singer factory worker fruit picker|
Roy Rogers was hardly from the West. In fact, he was born in Cincinnati and never left the state of Ohio until he was 18 years old and followed his father to California where the family worked as migratory fruit pickers. In the early 1930s, Rogers shed his birth name of Leonard Slye and took the stage name 'Dick Wesson' when he formed the singing group The Sons of the Pioneers, who became popular on radio. In 1935, Republic Pictures signed him to a seven-year contract at $75 per week and still billed as 'Dick Wesson', he made his film debut in "Tumbling Tumbleweeds" (1935), a vehicle for Gene Autry. Rogers continued playing bit roles, but studio head Herbert Yates was grooming him for stardom. When Gene Autry walked off the lot in a contract dispute in 1938, it was Rogers' chance. Now billed as 'Roy Rogers' and often playing an onscreen character with that name, he had his first leading role in "Under Western Stars," as a singing cowpoke turned Washington Congressman. The film is a combination of Davy Crockett lore and "Mr. Smith Goes to Washington" rip-off that defends the independence of the American westerner. Rogers was an instant hit, and was then usually teamed with Gabby Hayes as his sidekick. Virtually all of his films were in the singing cowboy mode, except for "Dark Command" (1940), in which he played the supporting part of Claire Trevor's trigger-happy brother who is trying to settle the question of whether or not Kansas should be slave state prior to the Civil War.
In 1944, he appeared in "The Cowboy and the Senorita." Playing a supporting role was Dale Evans, a band and radio singer with only a few films under her belt. In 1947, Rogers and Evans were married and began to make more than 20 films together. But the rise of TV had killed the Poverty Row studios which had made Rogers a star, and he joined the gallop of other lucky Western matinee stars into the new medium. From 1951-57, he starred with Evans in "The Roy Rogers Show" (NBC), riding his horse Trigger while Evans rode her Buttermilk. Each week, Rogers would save the West from some evildoers, and Evans would sing "Happy Trails to You," the song she wrote for the show. Rogers character was stalwart, homespun, never really kissed a girl lest his legion of young male fans get cross, and he never misrepresented the Native American characters either. While it was never publicized--although Rogers never hid it--Rogers' father was a full-blooded Cherokee. America's 'King of the Cowboys' was one of those "mixed breeds" that were often stereotyped in Hollywood films. After original production of "The Roy Rogers Show" ceased in 1957, the show ran on Saturday mornings and afternoons for many years, thus generating new legions of fans. Rogers and Evans hosted "The Chevy Show," an NBC variety series a few times in the late 50s, then, in 1962, ABC gave them their own short-lived variety series, "The Roy Rogers and Dale Evans Show."
Rogers began spending more and more time in the Apple Valley area of California, where he owned a ranch and numerous business interests. His net worth was estimated to be well over $100 million in the 80s. He opened the Roy Rogers Museum in Victorville, and would often greet the many fans who came to see the exhibits. And, as often reported, his horse Trigger, who went to his last round-up in 1955, was stuffed and displayed at the museum. But Rogers had not completely retired from show business. He made a guest appearance on "The Beverly Hillbillies" in 1964, and appeared occasionally on variety shows and on "The Tonight Show Starring Johnny Carson." Beginning in 1962, he toured with a stage show that played fairs and rodeos, as well as the Grand Ole Opry in Nashville, although heart surgery in 1991 slowed him down somewhat.
Rogers and Evans guest hosted several installments of "The Nashville Palace" (NBC, 1981-82), recalled the by-gone days on the syndicated retrospective "The Singing Cowboys Ride Again" (1982), and even played a drunk in a small role in "The Gambler III: The Adventure Continues" (CBS, 1983), alongside new western singing star Kenny Rogers. His last feature film role was in "Mackintosh & T.J." (1975), about a religious old cowboy and his rebellious son. In the 90s, Dale Evans hosted a talk show for Christian cable distribution and Rogers often joined in her ministry on TV.
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