DALE EVANS….. CHILDHOOD TO TEEN TO HOLLYWOOD
Little girls dream fantastic things. When I was young, I used to sit by the banks of the Nueces River in South Texas and dream that Tom Mix would marry me. Old Tom was the greatest movie cowboy of his day—so handsome and tall in his glittering silver saddle. He was everybody's hero; adults admired him and children adored him. Saturday afternoon we went to the picture show where I watched him ride the wild West with his trick horse, Tony. I worried terribly for them when they got in trouble; I cheered for them when they saved the day; and I ached for Tom to be mine. He was a full-grown man, but that didn't matter to this wide-eyed little Texas girl. I was quite certain he would wait for me to grow up, and that he would never change. I was going to make him mine. We would have six children together, then gallop our horses through the sagebrush, and the world would be as sweet as it could be.
I never met Tom Mix. A lot of things have happened in my life that I sure never expected when I was a girl of five sitting by that easy-flowing river. There have been more tears and pain than any young child could possibly imagine. But I'm not here to complain or to tell you of my disillusionments. Because, you know, as things turned out, that crazy South Texas dream about my handsome cowboy hero and all those kids we'd raise and the happy trails we would ride together really did come true.
It took me a long time to wake up, and I am not talking about my spiritual state of mind. I am talking about being born. My mother used to say I spent my whole life making up for the first three days after I came into this world. It was in my grandparents' home in Uvalde, west of San Antonio—in those days women didn't go to the hospital to have a child— and the doctor had given my mother an anesthesia called "twilight sleep" to help her through her labor. Trouble was, it not only knocked her out, but me, too. On October 31, 1912,1 was born sleepy—deathly sleepy. For three days after my birth, I did not cry or make a sound. My parents, Walter and Betty Sue Smith, began to worry that I wasn't right. But when I came to, I made enough of a racket to let the world know I was fine. Since then no one has ever accused me of being the quiet type.
I was born Frances Octavia Smith. Being the first grandchild in my mother's family, I never lacked for attention. Six loving aunts doted on me. My uncle Byron and aunt Annie Merle had no children of their own, so when I visited them it was a special occasion. They had a ranch—acres and acres of South Texas paradise, or so it seemed to me. Visiting them was so romantic. All of Texas seemed like a grand romance in those days—so wild and free. I rode forever on their land. If there was a pony around, I rode that; if not, I found a goat to ride. I rode anything I could get astraddle. And when I wasn't riding across the plains or toward the foothills of the Anacacho Mountains, I swam the Nueces, which was so clear you could see the fish below and the rocks at the bottom.
I worshiped my uncle Byron. But of course I did: he was the kind of man I have always liked—good-looking, strong-willed, and courteous. He was a gentleman in a cowboy hat, a Texan through and through. I remember to this day what a great coffee drinker he was. He drank it all day long in little demitasse cups, and he liked it STRONG. 'Texas style," he called it: "Too thick to drink and too wet to plow." My aunt was a fabulous cook; she had graduated from Columbia University in New York with a degree as a dietician. But she used to make her chili the way Texans like it—with beans on the side. Uncle Byron took a handful of those red-hot Mexican peppers they used to grow—real gut-busters—and chopped them up over his beans. Hot peppers and black coffee, for pity's sake! Now, he was a rugged individual.
One relative I think I take after—for better and for worse —is my great-grandfather. He was a man who went his own way and stood on his own two feet, no matter what. I remember him when he got old and his eyesight became so poor that he couldn't see across the front porch. Still, he never let anyone drive him to Wednesday night prayer meetings. He was going to make it on his own, don't you know! He walked straight down the middle of the street, leaning on his cane. Even when he did something completely crazy (which he did aplenty!), you couldn't help but admire the man's grit. There was one time he decided to pause in his walk about town smack in the middle of the railroad track just as a train was about to pull out of the station. The brake-man got down and asked if he would kindly move, but for reasons known only to the old man and to God, he refused. He didn't budge until the brakeman fetched the stationmaster, who was a good friend of Great-grandfather's, and the stationmaster finally convinced him to saunter off the track. I remember him reaching out with that cane of his to hook me about the neck and pull me close. I complained and said I didn't like him doing it, but if I could talk to him today, I would tell him that I knew it was a loving gesture all along, and deep inside I appreciated his affection. The man had backbone, if you know what I mean.
My father lived on a farm that belonged to my grandfather. He and my mother's brother ran a hardware store in Italy, which is about forty miles south of Dallas, and which used to call itself "the biggest little town in Texas." When it came time for my brother to be born, three years after me, my dad decided to take me back down to Uvalde, which I liked so much, and where I wouldn't be in the way when the new baby was brought to the house. Aunt Annie Merle was coming through by train on her way back there, so we went down to the railroad station in horse and buggy, me dressed in my Sunday best for the trip. But it was raining like mad, and when it rains in Texas, the mud is something else. The earth turns to glue. We slogged through the knee-deep muck, and finally I stood in the rain with my dad, holding his hand, waiting eagerly for Aunt Annie to whisk me down to the ranch I adored. I was thrilled when I saw the huge headlight barreling down the tracks from afar and I heard the train whistle blow. My dad lifted me up in his arms. He was going to hand me to my aunt in the observation car when the train stopped for water. The train always stopped in Italy for water. But the rain had slowed its schedule down, and that conductor had no intention of stopping. The engine barreled through the station, its whistle shrieking like a banshee, and I remember one short glimpse of my aunt standing there with her arms outstretched as my dad held me up. He told me that he thought for a moment that he might be able to throw me into her arms as she sped past, but the train was moving too fast. As I watched my aunt recede into the distance I let out a wail and squalled all night long. The next day my dad got on the train and took me to Uvalde himself.
At first I loved my little brother Hillman, who was named after the founder of Hillman College, the Baptist school where my father had been educated. Because he was the firstborn boy, Hillman was always known as Son; even when he was middle-aged, my grandkids used to call him Uncle Son. Soon, though, I learned to hate him. I had been queen of the castle up until my little brother's arrival, and all of a sudden I had to share my empire with this squirt (who, adding insult to injury, used to fight with me because he considered Hoot Gibson a better cowboy than Tom Mix). I soon became convinced that the little devil was going to steal all my parents' and grandparents' affection. There was only one solution: I ran away from home. At the age of four, I would fend for myself in the wilds. My grandmother caught up with me in a wooded glen behind the farmhouse and tanned my hide with a switch.
That whipping didn't cure me of my sorrows; it only convinced me that I wasn't loved, and that all hope was lost. One day when my parents were too busy pampering him to pay sufficient attention to me, I decided to abandon the human race altogether and join the family of newborn pigs we kept behind our house. There I cuddled in among the piglets, soothing my grief, oblivious to the mother sow who was eyeing me with increasing curiosity and suspicion. When, finally, my parents missed me, my father came looking and found me in the pigpen. He stepped ever-so-gingerly toward me, realizing that the wary mother was beginning to feel protective about her litter, which by now included me. Praying that neither I nor any of the little porkers would squeal before he could lift me away from the glare of the fierce mother's eyes, he scooped me up and out of harm's way. He hugged me with relief, which was, I suppose, what I had been after all along; but then he took me across his knee for a firm laying on of hands—the kind that has nothing to do with religious spirit.
I was a born show-off. If ever I got a new dress, I would pirouette through the house in it, and I used to burst into song recitals at the slightest provocation. At Sunday School, I was far more interested in what the other little girls were wearing than in the lessons. I remember coming home one Sunday when I was especially proud of a new dress I was wearing. My father asked me what I had learned about Jesus in school. "Oh, he wasn't there today," I said, thinking of how nice I had looked. In church, I couldn't help swishing my skirts with glee during the gospel singing, and on some occasions I got so carried away with the spirit of the occasion that I danced wildly down the aisles, singing gospel a cap-pella and showing off my pirouettes and pretty dress. I loved to dance, which is something I must have inherited from my father. He loved to dance, but was forbidden by his religion. Visits to my grandparents' house in Centerville, Mississippi, were always rollicking fun. The floorboards in that old place literally rocked with laughter and fun. And yet it's strange: my father's family were strict Baptists, and if you asked them, they would tell you that they frowned on frivolous dancing, particularly in church. How well I remember after one of my impromptu Sunday morning recitals when my father escorted me next door to the fire station and taught me a lesson about vanity via my backside.
Music was always in my soul, and performing came naturally. I was encouraged by all my aunts, who had taught me to read, recite, and sing early on. By the time I was five years old, I was reading everything I could get my hands on, and when I enrolled in school I was so precocious that I skipped half the first grade and all of second. At home, when one of the aunts gave me a new dress or hat (which was often!), I put it on and danced around reciting poems and stories I had learned. At any family gathering, all the relatives used to delight in coming up to me and saying, "Frances, recite something." I thrived on these command performances—a born ham. One year when I had just learned "The Night Before Christmas," I went around repeating it to anyone who would listen. Over and over and over: I recited it so much that my brother finally got a bellyful. I was getting all the attention, as usual, so one evening he stood up and announced to all my aunts and uncles, "Hush! Let Bubba talk!" My mother said, "All right now, everybody be quiet. Frances, you sit down. We will now let Son talk." Well, Son got up and took a deep breath and, loud and forceful as you please, proclaimed, "SPEECH, SPEECH, SPEECH!" then sat down, satisfied that everyone had paid attention to him for once. He was a terrific, terrific boy.
My dad was one of those men who always believed the grass was greener somewhere else, so when I was seven he turned the farm in Italy back to my grandfather, sold his interest in the hardware store, and set off for Osceola, Arkansas, on the banks of the Mississippi River. His brother already lived there in a big, two-story house, and he had convinced my pop that he would enjoy the sure-fire profits of long staple cotton-growing if he moved there to join him. Dad took the money that he'd gotten from the hardware store and sank it all into a farm. Unfortunately, that year it rained . .. and it rained, and it rained—it rained all year long. Levees broke, and the fields turned into mud. Boll weevils ate the cotton, and I remember the evening sky turning dark with swarms of mosquitoes. It was the worst crop ever, and we lost everything.
Still, I have fond memories of living in our little frame house in the country between Osceola and Luxora, Arkansas. We had no electricity, and my brother and I had very few toys, but we found our fun in simple things. How well I recall the smell of the rich earth. I can see my little brother and me playing with a black boy and his sister, the children of the tenant farmers on the place my dad had rented. I had a garden planted with mustard greens, onions, and radishes. I got a toy iron stove and a little iron pot, and my brother and I and those two children would build a fire and cook our greens and our produce over it. It smoked like the devil, but the aroma was heavenly. Then the four of us ate our children's meals together, just like grown-ups. We had such a good time. But when company came to their house or to our house, we had to break up the fun and go our separate ways.
None of us knew why, because we were children, but neither their parents nor ours wanted the company to see us playing together. Oh, I used to be furious about this and I would argue with my dad no end. "When you're older, you will understand," he told me. I'm eighty-one, and I still don't understand. But that's just the way my father had been raised. In Mississippi segregation was a way of life. He allowed that it might be all right to play with the little colored children outdoors, but never inside.
One time I was at the barber shop—in those days, little girls got their hair cut by the barber, just like little boys, a bob with bangs in the front—and the barber parted my hair and said to my father, "Mr. Smith, come here, I think you ought to see this." He showed my father that I had little nits crawling on my scalp. Well, my daddy stormed home and said to my mother, "See, I told you not to let them play with the colored children." But it turned out that it wasn't the colored children's fault at all. I had spent the night with a little white girl the week before. I had borrowed her cap, and gotten the head lice from her. Her parents confirmed this, and don't you know I sure never let my dad forget that!
My Arkansas cousins lived in a big house where we used to chase each other up and down the great stairway and wrestle in the front hall. Their cook, Liney, was a very religious woman who didn't know how to read or write, so she had my cousin Quentin read the Bible to her every day. At night, when she went to bed he sat beside her and read Scripture as she nodded and "Amen'd" and cried, "Yes, Lord!" to the great truths of the Book. I didn't know it then, but this woman, with her deep and unabashed spiritual feelings, had a profound influence on me and on all us children growing up. Many years after I left the Deep South, Liney was found dead on her knees by the side of her bed. She had died in prayer. I always thought that was the way she would have wanted to pass on.
My first-grade teacher, Miss Blanche, had a paddle. And if one of us sassed her or misbehaved, believe me, she used it! Every day she lined up the class scoundrels in a row and applied it—not brutally, but strong enough so we remembered . . . and behaved. I was cautious to avoid becoming a career criminal in that class, but on one occasion I was called into the lineup—I don't recall exactly why—and I was a clever enough girl that I managed to talk myself out of a beating. "Miss Blanche," I said in a fearful voice, "if you spank me, I'll have to tell my parents that you spanked me, which means I will get another spanking when I get home!" She took pity on me, and she hung up her paddle. What relief I felt that day! But in retrospect, I wonder if it wouldn't have been better if she had gone ahead and applied the paddle. It might have taught me a lesson I sorely needed to learn. Acting on impulse was becoming a bad habit with me, as it is for so many children; in my case, it got me into trouble fast and at an early age.
My mother used to say I was "born grown" because I was so impatient to grow up. I wanted adventure! I wanted to see the world and be sophisticated.
I was aggressive, smart, and extroverted—too much so for my own good. Skipping early grades put me with older children, and I think because of that I missed some of the easygoing times of childhood. I loved music so much that I started piano lessons when I was eight years old, but soon I grew impatient with them, too— all those boring scales and exercises—and I began improvising my own compositions. This drove my poor teacher to distraction until finally she informed my parents that she could no longer teach me anything and stalked out of the house. From that point on, I played by ear, turning to voice to express myself musically. My first public solo was in church. I sang "In the Garden," accompanied by the organist. In high school we had a band in which girls played ukuleles and I played piano: "Five-foot-two, eyes of blue . . ." That kind of fast jazz song was more to my liking then.
I had a nervous breakdown when I was eleven years old. I had skipped another grade—the seventh—and the pressures to do well in school as well as extracurricular activities took their toll. I collapsed, physically, and I was compelled to spend a whole summer in bed recuperating. But even this enforced idleness didn't do a thing to slow me down. My stars, I wanted to do everything. I wanted to be a singer, I wanted to be a dancer, I wanted to be an artist—I used to draw and paint, you know, free-style—and I think most of all I wanted to be an actress. I wanted to do anything that involved performing. But my family wanted me to be a piano teacher or an elementary school teacher. Oh, no, that wasn't nearly enough for me!
At the age of twelve I was a freshman in high school but too young to attend the public dances at the town courthouse in Osceola with a date. I looked and acted older than I was, and boys asked me out, but my parents wouldn't allow me to accept their offers. What I did was this: I managed to cajole my mother into becoming a chaperone, which meant I could go to the dances with her. Everyone in town was there, and once the music started I could dance to my heart's delight. At age thirteen I had my hair permed and borrowed a dress with a pouf of real ostrich feathers from my aunt Rose, and I felt like a grown-up.
It was at one of the courthouse dances that I met my first steady boyfriend, Thomas Fox, from the neighboring town. Tom was dashing and handsome with dark, serious eyes. And he was so mature in my young eyes—all of eighteen years old, with a Chrysler roadster. My, how we used to do the Charleston! I loved dancing with Tom. Soon we went everywhere together. When my parents realized what was going on they forbade me to see him. An old bachelor uncle of mine offered to send me to Switzerland to study music to get my mind off teenage romance. But it was too late to reel me in. Rebellion flared in my soul; Tom and I met secretly at friends' homes. One night, when I was supposed to be rehearsing an operetta at school—I had a leading part because of my high, almost lyric soprano voice—we eloped. Tom had gotten a marriage license by lying about our ages. We were married in a Baptist minister's home. I broke a lot of hearts that night; I was young and thoughtless. Afterwards, we sped across the state line in his roadster to Tom's mother's house in Humboldt, Tennessee. We spent our honeymoon there— one weekend with his mother and his aunt. I was fourteen years old. We then moved in with my husband's father and stepmother.
When I was fifteen, I had a baby: Tom Jr. We were living in Memphis at the time. We had moved there from Blytheville when I was pregnant, and for the first time in his life, Tom worked for someone other than his father. I didn't know anything about keeping house, I didn't know anything about anything. I would try to cook for us, but it was awful: lumpy cream gravy, burnt hamburgers. I tried, I did the best I could, but I wasn't much more than a child myself. Tom had to sell his car to pay the bills, and he grew very resentful. We moved back to Blytheville where he could work in his father's dry-cleaning operation, but that didn't help the situation for him. One spring day, when the baby was six and a half months old, Tom's brother and his brother's wife took me to visit my mother, who now lived in Memphis. It was Easter time. They said they would come back in a week to pick me up and bring me home. I was supremely happy that Easter. Tom Jr. was such a pretty little boy, and I was with my mother. But three days later I got a letter from my husband in which he wrote that we were too young to be married, and he needed to be free. He said we should get a divorce. It broke my heart. I was stricken. It felt like I was being killed. I wasn't yet sixteen years old.
My mother, bless her heart, agreed to help raise Tom. She even suggested she adopt him, freeing me to be young again.
But I couldn't do that, not even for my mother. Still, as Tom learned to speak he called her Mom. Me, he called Sassie because 'Frances" was too difficult for the little boy to pronounce. As a baby he had such severe ear problems that for a while we thought we might lose him. They operated and my mother stayed up two days and two nights with little Tom, applying icepacks to keep the swelling down. I believe he might have lost his life if it weren't for her.
I had no diploma, but my grades had been good, so at age sixteen and a half I was able to enroll in business school. I soon got a job as a secretary in an insurance firm. My boss was the claims agent, and my job was filling out and filing forms. Far more interested in show business than in the insurance business, I spent a great deal of time at my desk writing. First I tried short stories, but the rejection slips flooded in; then I tried song writing, which was easier. In fact, one time I personally took a song I wrote to a Memphis publisher and sang it to him. He said it had possibilities and he would consider publishing it. "Leave the music with me," he said, "and I will get back to you with a decision." I was thrilled. I waited months to hear from him. Then one day when I was in a Memphis music store I saw my tune in sheet music—only slightly altered—with the name of someone else on the music as composer. I was miserable; nothing was going right.
I sat at my desk alone in the office one day with an accident claim form in the typewriter and my hands resting idle on the keyboard. I was thinking, but not about the form; I was trying to come up with lyrics for a tune I had just composed. As I thought, I started singing. I didn't notice my boss walk in. He stood there awhile, listening to me and watching the accident report form gathering dust in front of me, then he exploded. "Miss Fox, what are you doing?" he demanded. Shaken from my creative reverie, I flew to the keyboard and my fingers began moving like mad. "What are you doing?" he asked again. I admitted that I was trying to write lyrics for a song. "You sing well," he said. I assumed I was about to be fired.
"I love to sing," I confessed. "I've always loved to sing."
"How would you like to sing on the radio?" he asked.
You're kidding me, I thought.
"I have an interest in a paper stock company on a local station and we sponsor a fifteen-minute program every Friday night. If you can accompany yourself on the piano, I would like you to sing for me. I think, Miss Fox, you are in the wrong business."
Trumpets blared! Bells rang! The heavens opened before my very eyes! That Friday night, Frances Fox made her radio debut. I sang the old song "Mighty Lak a Rose," dedicated to my little son. I was elated when the station offered me a regular spot on a thirty-minute weekly program. Listeners phoned in requests and I sang whatever they wanted, dedicated to whoever they named. Within a few months, I moved up to WMC, the big commercial station in town. I was on the air with a sports announcer named Bucky Harris. Between his sports reports and commentary, I sang and played the piano.
Civic organizations invited me to perform at luncheons and banquets. Some of them paid—as much as twenty dollars from the well-to-do groups; for most such performances, though, the pay was in chicken croquettes and peas. I welcomed it all; it was a great experience. I learned to perform in public, in front of all kinds of people. In the evenings I often went with a date to dances on the roof of the Peabody Hotel. This was a very chic and cosmopolitan venue—the heart of social life in the mid-South—and I thought I was quite the sophisticate just going there. Sometimes, when the big dance bands came to town, I would be invited up to join them. I sang through a big old megaphone, like Rudy Vallee, and I was in seventh heaven. Soon I went to the local CBS station—WREC, which broadcast from the Peabody Hotel—and I got my own half-hour program. My name was up there. I was in popular demand. I was somebody.
Still, I wasn't making enough money as a singer to get by, so I kept a day job. I was employed by Clarence Saunders, founder of Piggly-Wiggly, which was a kind of novelty back then—the first self-service grocery store. One day I walked out of the office with the other girls on our way to lunch and there was Tom, my husband, sitting in his car, waiting for me.
"Frances," he called out, "come here. I want to talk to you."
I left the girls and went over to the car. I hadn't seen him or heard from him in months.
"See if you can get off work this afternoon," he said. "Let's go over to the State Theater, let's catch a show."
I was dumbstruck. Our divorce wasn't yet final, but it was about to be. What was he doing there?
"Frances, come back to me," he said.
I loved him very much. I never had stopped loving him, even when I felt abandoned. And for a few hours that day, I was going to go back to him. In the evening I went home to prepare to leave. I was planning to slip out of the house at midnight, taking little Tom with me, and meet my husband on the corner. Long about twilight that day, I looked at my mother and I looked at that little boy, and I began to weep. I knew that mother would always be there. If I faltered, she would stand by my side. I thought about how much she had done for me, and how she had stayed with the boy day and night when he needed her, and I made a decision. When Tom called at twelve o'clock, I told him I wasn't going with him. It was tough, but it was the right thing to do. For little Tom, and for me.
I had made it to the top in Memphis, and I therefore reasoned that I could succeed in a bigger market, too. So I set off to conquer Chicago. I started as a file clerk at Goodyear—their biggest branch, on the South Side. Remember, these were horrendous times, the height of the Depression. While I was there the banks closed, people were jumping out of windows on LaSalle Street in Chicago just as they did on Wall Street in New York. I was making twenty-five dollars a week doing all the filing for the branch. My salary went for rent, a babysitter to watch Tom when he came home from school, heavy coats to protect us from a kind of winter we had never known, and food. It was a struggle to make ends meet.
I took the electric train in from the South Side to the office, which was a huge set of filing cabinets arranged like a horseshoe, two stories high. I filed upstairs and downstairs, up and down all day long. I also relieved the switchboard operator for one hour at lunch and in the morning and afternoon; we had fourteen lines coming in and fifty interoffice lines. And I took dictation from five men including the operating manager, who traveled to universities and interviewed young men who wanted to get into the rubber industry. Whenever I had a free moment, I went to auditions, but nothing seemed to click. No matter how hard I tried, I couldn't make the grade as a performer. Not in Chicago. My mother came to help with Tom, but after a while she went back down to be with the family in Texas.
I was nineteen, working hard, with bleak prospects as a singer. Not long after my mother left us, my health broke. There simply wasn't enough food, so I had been depriving myself to feed Tom, and I was under such pressure at my job and going to auditions that I developed malnutrition and something close to pernicious anemia. My hemoglobin was just zilch, nothing. I applied for health insurance and they turned me down flat. They said, "You're a sick woman. You'd better take care of this or you'll die." So for the first time in my life, I asked my mother for money. I had come to crack Chicago, but Chicago had cracked me.
We were a miserable pair, Tommy and I, as we rode the train back to Texas. I couldn't stand up without feeling dizzy. Two weeks in the hospital on liver and iron, then three months' rest on the family farm had me on my feet again. When I left home this time I went to Louisville, where I managed to land my first job with really good pay, at station WHAS. My mother wanted Tommy to stay behind with her on the farm, but I insisted he come with me.
When I first went to WHAS, I auditioned using the stage name Marion Lee.
A lot of women were using Lee or Leigh or Marion at the time, and I thought it sounded rather glamorous. But the station manager called me into his office and said, 'Your name is trite! I want you to have something different."
So the next morning when I came to work he called me in and told me that my name was Dale Evans.
"Dale Evans?" I said. "Dale is a boy's name! And what does Evans have to do with me?"
"First of all," he said, "the woman I like the most on the screen, in silent pictures, is named Dale. And as for Evans: your name is concocted for radio announcers. It is a very euphonious name. It cannot be mispronounced, and it is hard to misspell it. So, that is your name, Dale Evans." I wasn't very happy, because it wasn't swank and sophisticated, but I must admit, it stuck!
(STRANGE, as a kid the first time I knew a female with the name DALE it was….. DALE EVANS….. I always thought the name Dale was a woman's name, and found it odd to later hear a man called Dale - Keith Hunt)
As Dale Evans, I became a featured singer on a program with three boys who were called the Romeos of Song and a radio announcer named Joe Pierson who played piano. We had a five-piece band and we went on the air at six-thirty in the morning. They called us Honey and the Flapjacks. A lot of country people came up from Nashville to be on that program, some, like the Log Cabin Boys, from the Grand Ole Opry. They all performed for free, just to advertise where they were doing a concert that night. Why, sometimes when we did our show we had so many performing guests that the whole corridor outside the studio was lined with guitars as far as you could see. I liked my work, and I liked having a stage name. To me, it was a sign I was on the road to success.
Tommy and I were living in an apartment out of Louisville. One afternoon when I arrived home from work, the lady who had been taking care of him said he had been vomiting most of the day. His arms and legs were wracked by awful pains that made him scream. I turned white with fear. Kentucky was raging with a polio epidemic, which was the most dreaded disease of that era. It struck fear into parents because it crippled and killed thousands of children. Doctors suspected that Tommy had contracted polio, and the only way to know was to put him in the hospital for a spinal tap. The test proved negative; my boy would be all right. Then and there I promised God that I would be a better person, that I would read my Bible every day . . . but I was young, and my musical ambition was stronger than my spiritual devotion, and my promises were soon forgotten.
Bad as the polio scare had been, it took a different kind of fright to send us packing from Louisville. This one happened around Halloween. A friend of mine had a beautiful child for whom she had made a crepe-paper costume covered with ruffles. This little girl went downstairs into the yard where a man was burning autumn leaves. Her dress caught fire. The mother heard screams and looked out the window to see her daughter going up in smoke and flames. She leaped off the second floor to try to rescue her—broke her ankle doing so— but the little girl died on the way to the hospital. At that moment I decided that Tommy needed to be much safer than I had been keeping him. He needed a place that would nurture him . . . and I, once again, needed to restore myself. Back we went to Texas.
How Tommy loved the family farm, and how he thrived with my brother and sister-in-law and the close-knit community of Texans they were part of! He chased chickens until both he and the birds couldn't run anymore. He had a dog, he attended a good school, and he went to church every Sunday. He breathed fresh air and he blossomed with good health. I looked at the roses in his cheeks and for the first time in that boy's young life, I felt secure knowing that he was safe and happy.
As for me, I had no idea when I once again retreated back to Texas to lick my wounds that I was about to see my career take flight.
I found a job near home on the staff of radio station WFAA in Dallas, close enough so that I could come home every weekend and be with my family. I was the band singer on a show there called 'The Early Birds." We had a big orchestra and two comedians; I sang songs like "Shine On, Harvest Moon" and "Mockingbird Hill." Listeners began to know Dale Evans and to like her. In August 1938, I was the cover girl for Rural Radio magazine, which showed "Tune Tumbler Dale Evans" wearing a sunbonnet and a short skirt, dipping my toes in the waters of Turtle Creek in Dallas and holding a fishing pole. Rural Radio billed itself as "The Only Magazine Published Exclusively for Rural Listeners," but pretty soon I found myself singing at the Adolphus Hotel with Herman Walman's orchestra and performing at the Meadowbrook Country Club out of St. Louis, Missouri, which was hardly hayseed.
I remarried—a pianist and orchestral arranger from WHAS in Louisville. He was on his way to the West Coast. He stopped in Dallas and we were married there.
From Dallas, once again I set off to conquer Chicago. This time, I made all the right connections, and before I knew it I was Hollywood bound.
AS I SAID AS A KID I ONLY EVER KNEW THE NAME "DALE" AS BELONGING TO DALE EVANS, SO ALWAYS THOUGHT OF IT AS A WOMAN'S NAME. AND BEING WELSH I KNEW "EVANS" WAS A VERY WELSH NAME. I THOUGHT FOR MANY YEARS THAT DALE EVANS WAS FROM WELSH STOCK…..HER PARENTS ETC. BEING WELSH. OF COURSE IN TIME I FOUND OUT HOW SHE GOT HER NAME…..IT WAS HER STAGE NAME.