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Roy Rogers had been making cowboy movies since 1935 and was a serious rival to Gene Autry as a singing cowboy when he was signed to make The Cowboy and the Senorita (1944). It would be a memorable film both personally and professionally. It was his first film opposite the woman who would become his wife and with whom he created the most famous romantic Western couple of Roy Rogers and Dale Evans.
In their book Happy Trails: Our Life Story, Rogers remembered filming the picture, "In 1944 I got a new costar, who was hired to play in a picture called The Cowboy and the Senorita. Her name was Dale Evans and, like me, she had started out as a singer. In fact, I had met her a few years earlier when we were both entertaining the soldiers at Edwards Air Force Base in 1941. I appeared with the Sons of the Pioneers, and I was dancing with Claire Trevor when Art Rush [Rogers' manager] introduced us. I was too bashful to do much other than say "Howdy," but I thought she seemed like an awfully nice girl. When we started to work together, I got to like Dale right away. She was a person who always looked like she had just stepped out of the shower real fresh and clean; and she was a good sport, too, carrying her weight in each and every scene and never complaining when we had to work long hours and do stunts that wore us out. I knew that being the girl lead in a cowboy movie wasn't her greatest dream in life, but she never gave it less than her all. When we weren't rehearsing or filming a scene she made me feel comfortable because she was so easy to talk to. When my daughters visited the set it seemed they always like to pay a visit to Dale's dressing room. She had a way about her that made people feel good. The only thing I found hard to believe was that she had been raised in Texas, because she sure didn't know one end of a horse from another! "
Dale Evans confirmed this, "As for me, I never had thought of myself doing a Western. Sure I had liked cowboy pictures as a child, but that was as a child. As a professional actor, my goals were grander than that. I thought I wanted to be in a sophisticated musical comedy something debonair, urbane, and adult. But I didn't argue with Mr. [Herbert] Yates [the head of Republic Pictures], who was certain that with my real Texas background I was the right gal for the part of Isabel Martinez in The Cowboy and the Senorita, to be directed by Joe Kane. I was supposed to be a raven-haired beauty, and as 'the senorita', I had to speak with a heavy Spanish accent. Mr. Kane used to kid me about my delivery, saying it sound like "Si, Si, you'all!"
Evans' ability to sound Mexican wasn't the only thing the studio assumed she could do since she was from Texas, they thought she could ride a horse. Roy Rogers was right, she couldn't. "I had not ridden since I was seven years old. The fact was: I couldn't ride worth beans. To make matters worse, they gave me a big horse with the disposition of a convict breaking out of prison frisky to the point of being downright mean, and with a mind of his own. He was the kind of horse cowboys call cold-jawed, meaning you can pull and tug on those reins all you want and the horse will do what it chooses and go where it wants to go at whatever speed suits its mood at the time. I'd get on him for a scene and we'd start galloping somewhere and all I could do was hold on and hope. In one scene I was supposed to come cantering down a hill with Roy riding Trigger in front of me and Guinn "Big Boy" Williams on his horse in back. How I stayed on my horse, I will never know. I bounced so hard in the saddle that my temporary caps just flew out of my mouth those teeth [Darryl F.] Zanuck [head of 20th Century Fox] had made me buy. And Big Boy Williams' horse trampled right over them. That was the end of my lovely caps; to tell you the truth, I was glad to be rid of those pesky things. When I finally managed to stop the horse, Roy came over and said, "I never saw so much sky between a woman and a horse in all my born days." He suggested that if I wanted to stay alive, I ought to take a few riding lessons, which I did at Pickwick Stables in North Hollywood. Roy was a natural on a horse and gave me pointers whenever he had a chance.
"One day while we were filming The Cowboy and the Senorita, I was sitting aboard the willful horse they had given me. I was dressed in city clothes and high-heeled shoes. Roy warned me to be careful with those shoes; he said that if the heels ever caught in the stirrup when I was getting on or off, I could get hung up there and dragged to death. Well, I thought I knew it all, so I didn't pay much attention to what he had said. I was busy listening to Gabby Hayes practicing some dialog, laughing at the way he twisted that wrinkled old face of his when he spit out his words. At one point I laughed so hard that I threw my head back and slapped my side. The horse took my sudden reaction as a signal to bolt and bolt he did, like he was shot from a cannon! I wasn't even sitting square in the saddle. I was sideways, and sure enough, one of my heels caught in the stirrup as I was sliding off. I reached up and grabbed the saddle horn to keep myself from falling to the ground but I was hanging on for dear life as that horse hit a gallop. "Grab her, Roy!" Gabby called out. Roy jumped on Trigger and came after me. He drew alongside as I was about to lose my grip, reaching over and hefting me from the side of the runaway horse, pulling me up close to him on Trigger's back. For me, no movie scene could have been so breathtaking. And no make-believe cowboy was ever as heroic as Roy Rogers appeared to me at that moment."
Rogers was married to his second wife, Arlene, when he began working with Evans, and she was married to her third husband, Dale Butts, but they enjoyed working together and became good friends. In 1946, Evans' marriage ended and that same year, following the birth of their son Dusty, Arlene Rogers died unexpectedly. The friendship between Rogers and Evans grew into love in the year after Arlene's death and they were married at the end of 1947. Their marriage, one of the strongest in Hollywood, lasted fifty-one years until Rogers' death in 1998. Evans would follow in 2001.
The Roy Rogers and Dale Evans Museum, which the pair ran in Victorville, California was a very popular tourist destination because Rogers and Evans were often there and would happily pose for pictures and sign autographs for their fans. It was a labor of love because, as Rogers once said, "We've had a lifetime of Happy Trails full of love, laughter, and sometimes sorrow. Everything we've ever done is right here for everyone to see. For nearly as long as I can remember, I thought about having a museum. I've always liked to save things. No matter what came my way, whether it was a letter from a boy or girl movie fan or from a President, or a nice shotgun or an old-time telephone, I stuck it in the basement, or the garage, or in drawers at home. Dale would say, "Honey, when are you going to empty those drawers?" I'd put everything in a box and call the van & storage company to come pick it up and keep it for me." Following Rogers' death, it was moved to its current site in Branson, Missouri.
Producer: Harry Grey
Director: Joseph Kane
Screenplay: Bradford Ropes, Gordon Kahn
Cinematography: Reggie Lanning
Film Editing: Tony Martinelli
Art Direction: Fred A. Ritter
Music: George A. Norton, Phil Ohman, Walter Scharf
Cast: Roy Rogers (Roy Rogers), Mary Lee (Chip Williams), Dale Evans (Ysobel Martinez), John Hubbard (Craig Allen), Guinn 'Big Boy' Williams (Teddy Bear), Fuzzy Knight (Fuzzy).
by Lorraine LoBianco
Happy Trails: Our Life Story by Roy Rogers and Dale Evans, with Jane and Michael Stern
King of the Cowboys, Queen of the West: Roy Rogers and Dale Evans by Raymond E. Whitewww.royrogers.com