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It was one of the more unusual combinations in show-biz history: the folksy cowboy star and the cosmopolitan song writer. Yet Roy Rogers enjoyed one of his signature songs with "Don't Fence Me In," written by Cole Porter. Rogers' rendition of the song in Hollywood Canteen (1944) helped make it one of the best-loved tunes of its period, and Republic Studios used Don't Fence Me In as the title of a 1945 Rogers Western that is considered one of his best.
Ironically, "Don't Fence Me In" was named by Porter as his least favorite among all his songs. Originally written for an unproduced 20th Century Fox musical, Adios Argentina, in 1934, the song was based on a text by engineer/poet Robert ("Bob") Fletcher, who worked with the Department of Highways in Helena, Montana. Fletcher had sold the poem for $250 to Porter, who adapted it into a song and planned to give Fletcher credit as co-writer. Porter's publishers refused that idea, but after the song became a hit, Fletcher hired attorneys who eventually secured co-authorship status for him.
The same year that the song was resurrected by Warner Bros. for Rogers to sing in Hollywood Canteen, its popularity was boosted as Kate Smith featured it on her radio program and Bing Crosby recorded it with the Andrews Sisters. The Crosby recording would sell over a million copies and top the charts for eight weeks in 1944-45. The song has since been recorded by dozens of artists ranging from Ella Fitzgerald and Louis Armstrong to Asleep at the Wheel.
By the time of Don't Fence Me In, the happily married Roy Rogers and Dale Evans were known as the "King of the Cowboys" and "Queen of the West" because of their popular series of Westerns. In this one, Evans (whose characters had various names while Rogers used his own) plays Toni Ames, a spunky magazine reporter who visits Rogers' ranch while researching a story about Wildcat Kelly, a notorious outlaw from the turn of the century who has been thought dead for 40 years. Toni's suspicions that Roy's partner, Gabby Whittaker (George "Gabby" Hayes), is actually Kelly sets off a series of plot complications involving a shady resort owner (Moroni Olsen) who has his own reasons for wanting to see Gabby sent to jail.
The resort setting provides an excuse for music-making as Roy, Toni and their friends take jobs as entertainers in order to investigate and clear Gabby's name. In addition to the title song as performed by Roy, Dale and the Sons of the Pioneers, there are several non-Porter tunes. Rogers is joined by the boys on "Choo Choo Polka" and "Along the Navajo Trail," and solos on "My Little Buckaroo." Evans sings "A Kiss Goodnight," and the Sons deliver "Last Roundup" and their best-known song, Bob Nolan's "Tumbling Tumbleweeds."
A clip of Rogers singing "Don't Fence Me In" in Hollywood Canteen was used in Night and Day (1946), a fictionalized biography of Porter starring Cary Grant. A scene from Don't Fence Me In was used in the Stars Hall of Fame wax museum in Orlando, Florida.
Producer: Donald H. Brown
Director: John English
Screenplay: Dorrell McGowan, Stuart E. McGowan, John K. Butler
Cinematography: William Bradford
Film Editing: Charles Craft
Art Direction: Hilyard Brown
Music: Morton Scott, Cy Feuer
Cast: Roy Rogers (Roy Rogers), George 'Gabby' Hayes (Gabby Whittaker), Dale Evans (Toni Ames), Robert Livingston (Jack Chandler), Moroni Olsen (Henry Bennett), Marc Lawrence (Clifford Anson), Bob Nolan (Bob), The Sons of the Pioneers (Musicians).
by Roger Fristoe