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Singing Cowboys - Star of the Month
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Roy Rogers Profile
5 Films - Friday, July 1

Roy Rogers was known as the "King of the Cowboys" and for good reason: he turned out nearly 100 big screen westerns between 1935 and 1952; starred in his own TV show for six years on CBS; his faithful horse Trigger was a star in his own right; and his wife and frequent co-star Dale Evans was equally beloved. He even had his own theme song, "Happy Trails." Rogers was clearly more than just a singing cowboy. He was an American institution.

He was born Leonard Slye in Cincinnati, Ohio on November 5, 1911. When he was ten, the family moved to a farm, but his father was forced to stay in town and work at a shoe factory to make ends meet. On weekends, Rogers' father would rejoin the family and on paydays, he would come bearing gifts. One present would have an impact on Rogers' future in a major way - a horse. He would learn to ride and love horses as a child. Rogers would also learn to yodel during this period, primarily as a means of communicating across the farm.

By the time he was seventeen, Rogers had joined his father working in the shoe factory. Then, in 1930, the entire family packed up and moved to California in search of a better living. Rogers' sister, Mary, was already living in California with her husband. Rogers found work first as a truck driver and then, in desperation, picking fruit. According to various accounts, it was around the campfire with the farm workers that Rogers first realized the joyful effect his guitar and songs had on listeners. Soon he formed a group with his cousin Stanley, called The Slye Brothers, and moved to Los Angeles to find work as a musician.

The band would go through several incarnations over the next few years, often changing members and their marquee name. In 1934, Sons of the Pioneers was born, featuring Rogers (first using his given name, then the stage name Dick Weston before finally adopting the moniker Roy Rogers) along with Bob Nolan and Tim Spencer. The group made their film debut in the short Slightly Static (1935) and soon made the leap to features with The Old Homestead (1935). Over the next few years, the Sons of the Pioneers appeared in almost a dozen films, including Gene Autry's The Big Show and The Old Corral (both released in 1936).

In 1938, Rogers broke out of his supporting band member role to take the lead in Under Western Stars. The film also marked his first billing as Roy Rogers. From there, Rogers never looked back. He turned out western after western throughout the 1940s and into the '50s, often with his band mates providing musical backup. Some of Rogers' more memorable early outings include The Arizona Kid (1939) with favorite sidekick George 'Gabby' Hayes and Dark Command (1940) starring John Wayne and Claire Trevor. Rogers played a series of real life western heroes and outlaws in the '40s in films such as Young Buffalo Bill (1940), Young Bill Hickok (1940) and Jesse James at Bay (1941). The decade also ushered in such successes as Don't Fence Me In (1945) featuring Cole Porter's title tune and The Cowboy and the Senorita (1944), his first pairing with Dale Evans.

Rogers and Evans were married three years later on New Years Eve 1947. It was his third marriage; her fourth. Rogers' first marriage, when he was 22-years old, lasted just three years and produced no children. Rogers' second wife died after giving birth to their son in 1946. The couple also had two daughters (one adopted). The marriage to Evans would last over 50-years and include four adopted children. As for the other important figure in Rogers' life, his horse Trigger, the two first met in 1938. Trigger was fresh off the set of The Adventures of Robin Hood (1938) where he'd been ridden by Olivia de Havilland. Trigger appeared with Rogers in virtually every film and TV show thereafter. The horse would die in 1965 at age thirty-three.

Rogers' film career began to taper off in the 1950s due to the popularity of television. Still, he turned out hit films such as Heart of the Rockies (1951) and Pals of the Golden West (1951), his final star vehicle. He would appear in a few more movies, supporting Bob Hope in Son of Paleface (1952) and Alias Jesse James (1959); the latter was virtually just a cameo role. But Rogers' focus soon turned to the small screen as well and he, and his wife Dale, headlined the popular The Roy Rogers Show, which ran from 1951-1957 on CBS.

Rogers was twice elected to the Country Music Hall of Fame - first in 1980 as part of the group Sons of the Pioneers and finally in 1988 as a solo artist.

Roy Rogers died July 6, 1998. He was 86-years old.

by Stephanie Thames

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