DALE'S STORY OUT WEST
"She'll die hard, with her head up," my grandfather had predicted when he first laid eyes on me lying in my crib. I don't know exactly what he saw, but I do believe his words were prophetic. Life has bowed my head many times, but I have always managed to find the strength to endure, then to lift up my eyes and carry on.
I had foundered miserably in Chicago when I first went there; when I returned in 1939, I was determined to succeed. I registered with every booking agent in town and auditioned every chance I got. Finally I found work as a jazz singer with an orchestra at the Edgewater Beach Hotel, which was a kind of high-society establishment along the lake shore. I was glad to do it—it was a job! But it was the wrong job. The Edgewater Beach Hotel featured a dignified ballroom that attracted a sedate clientele; my jazz songs simply didn't click; another girl, who sang pretty ballads, got all the applause.
I auditioned for Anson Weeks's orchestra and landed the job as his female vocalist. What followed was a whirlwind of one-nighters throughout the Midwest—in ballrooms, nightclubs, supper clubs, and small hotels. We were on the road constantly, sometimes traveling hundreds of miles between engagements. We even did two months in Los Angeles, at the Ambassador Hotel. While on the West Coast, I was offered the opportunity to do a screen test. I turned it down: not interested! By this time I was well up in my twenties—way too old to start a movie career. That's what I thought, or at least that's what I thought producers would think. Besides, there was Tom. He was ready to begin junior high school, which would make me an ingenue with a teenage son. Impossible. A movie career was out, as far as I was concerned. I was resolved to make it as a singer—in clubs or, if fortune smiled, on Broadway.
I missed Tom. I decided to leave the band so he could come to Chicago and visit me more often. I sang almost every evening in nightclubs such as the Balinese Room at the Blackstone Hotel, and I especially looked forward to Wednesdays in the Panther Room at the Sherman Hotel. That was the night Fats Waller sat in on piano. We did New Orleans jazz, "Honeysuckle Rose," songs that he was famous for—and let me tell you, he gave my voice a workout! Fats had a saxophone player named Cedric—a great player, just terrific—who was black, really black as night. I recall one night Cedric was up there blowing his heart out, but the lighting crew simply wasn't paying attention. It was dark in the room, and a single puny spot could not do its job on a fella with Cedric's complexion. Fats was furious to see his saxophonist in the shadows, so he stood up at his piano, grabbed a microphone, and boomed out, "Put the moon on the man!" They added plenty of light, and finally those folks saw Cedric blow.
I knew something about singing on the radio and in dance halls and country roadhouses, but I had a lot to learn about club music. When I performed at Chez Paree, which was then the jewel of Chicago's nightlife, Ray Bolger was the headliner. One night he came into my dressing room and said, "Honey, you've got a nice voice, and you've got a nice personality, but you need some special stuff. You need songs that nobody else knows, something different so people will think of you when they hear it." Well, it was leap year, when a gal can ask a guy out on a date, and I had written a little song for the occasion, called "Will You Marry Me, Mr. Larrimee." It went:
Will you marry me, Mr. Larrimee? Will you carry me far away? Will you marry me, Mr. Larrimee? Will you marry me TODAY?
It seems modest enough by today's standards, but back then it was scandalous for a woman to be so forward with a man. Ray Bolger looked at me and he said, "You can't do a bawdy lyric. You're not the type." He said, "You go home and figure out a second set of lyrics, lyrics that are just on the line. Say the same thing, but in a more demure way. A little naughty, maybe, but nice." So I did. Ray Bolger liked the new version so much he said, "I'll stooge for you." He came on stage when I sang that song and he was just great, so funny. I held his hand and pretended to propose to him while I sang. He got all red and made his Adam's apple bob up and down. That little song kept my job at Chez Paree for three more weeks, which turned out to pave the way for my lucky break. The head of the Columbia network—that's CBS—happened to come in one night and hear me sing. Their Chicago station, WBBM, needed a new singer for their staff. The executive liked what he heard, so I was hired. They called me "That Gal from Texas." I did everything: announced, talked, and sang. I wrote "My Heart Is Down Texas Way" for the show, but a lot of what I sang was in Spanish, to give the repertoire a south-of-the-border flavor. I didn't speak any Spanish, though, except what little I learned from a Cuban bartender at the Balinese Room. I sang all those songs phonetically. The show did well, and I was becoming a popular performer. I was suddenly in demand at Chicago's finest hotels and nightclubs, which were quite soigne in those days—the Balinese Room, the Drake Hotel, Chez Paree. I even did an audition for a commercial with a group of cowboy singers from California that came through town calling themselves The Sons of the Pioneers. Finally, good things were coming my way.
Those WBBM broadcasts were carried on the network, which meant people heard them coast-to-coast. Out of the blue I got a telegram from a Hollywood agent who had heard me and wanted some photographs to see if I would be right for a screen test. Well, I laughed long and loud about that! I was no actress, I knew that—remember, I had turned down my first shot at a screen test. Besides, I had no desire whatever to go to Hollywood. Aside from being too old, I believed I wasn't pretty enough for movies, and furthermore, movies weren't sophisticated enough for me! All along my ambition had been musical comedy—and on stage in New York, thank you very much. Actually, I had been pretty well disabused of that goal in Chicago when I had the chance to be in Hold Onto Your Hats, a musical that came to town starring Al Jolson, Ruby Keeler, and Jack Whiting, a great dancer. Ruby and Al had a spat; she was going to leave the show, and they wanted to put me in her place. I was a good ballroom dancer, but not tap, not solo! "No problem!" they said. "You can learn her routine in three weeks." I turned them down, pretty much bidding farewell to my musical theater aspirations. Likewise, I ignored the telegram from Hollywood. But the agent didn't give up: he sent more, sometimes one each day. Finally, when I had gotten a stack of wires, my program director suggested I play along. "Go on out there," he said. "Take yourself a vacation at their expense. Have fun. Do it!"
I went to the studios of Maurice Seymour, who was the big glamour photographer in Chicago, to put together a portfolio. I sent pictures to the agent, Joe Rivkin. Mr. Rivkin and another agent out there, Danny Winkler, had been listening to me every Sunday on a show sponsored by Dairy-Rich. They were casting a movie called Holiday Inn at Paramount and needed a new face. Well, they liked mine, at least as it appeared in Seymour's glamour photos, so Mr. Rivkin wired me to take a plane immediately to California. I got tickets for the sleeper: in the air all night from Chicago to Burbank, arriving first thing in the morning.
I had never taken a long flight before. Approximately one minute after takeoff I developed a throbbing earache that lasted through dawn. In those days, cabins weren't pressurized, and stewardesses—who were all required to be trained nurses—dropped warm oil into passengers' ears to ease the pain. The oil didn't help me, though, and by the time we arrived, I was nauseated, my head was spinning, and my ears throbbed. As the plane taxied to the gate I looked out my window and saw a man pacing back and forth, looking between his wristwatch and the airplane. I had read in a book that all agents were nervous, so I knew this must be mine. I was so sick I could barely walk down the staircase to the tarmac, but I managed to drag myself over to him. "Are you Joe Rivkin?" I asked.
"My God," he gasped, looking at my greenish complexion, watery eyes, and furrowed brow. "Are YOU Dale Evans? You certainly don't look like your pictures!"
I wanted to run back on the plane, but the thought of another flight was even worse than the prospect of listening to more of his critique.
As he drove me down the road toward Hollywood, he continually glanced at me with undisguised revulsion. "I don't like your lipstick," he said. "Don't wear it anymore. And we'll have to do something about your hair. You'll lose weight, too." Then he asked, "How old are you?" I lied and said twenty-five. "No," he answered. "You're twenty-one. Understand?" He took me to my hotel, the Hollywood Plaza, where we went straight to the beauty parlor. "Do something with her," he told an operator. "Put some blood in her face. We're due at Paramount in an hour." By this time, all I wanted was rest! I didn't give a hoot what Mr. Rivkin or anyone else in Hollywood thought of me. They tinted my light brown hair auburn and slapped and pinched and rubbed my face until I developed some color, after which I went upstairs to dress. I put on an ensemble that I thought would make a good impression at lunch: a sheer dark dress, the one fur I owned, and a pair of white gloves.
"Who died?" Mr. Rivkin asked when he saw me. "What's with the black shroud?"
Well, I should have popped him then and there, but instead I drew myself up with as much hauteur as I could muster and informed him, "Sir, this is proper dress for a business meeting at noon."
"Sister, you are not in Chicago anymore," he reminded me. "In Hollywood, you wear bright colors, flowery things, casuals." He shook his head in disgust, then grabbed my hand and dragged me toward the car. "Aw, it's too late now. Let's go!"
The commissary was filled with stars. I remember seeing Dorothy Lamour and Betty Hutton there, but most of all I remember heads craning and eyes staring to look at me—the new one—as Mr. Meiklejohn, the casting director, led me to a chair. "How old are you, Dale?" he asked.
"She's twenty-one," Joe Rivkin shouted above the din.
Mr. Meiklejohn looked long and hard at my face. "She'll photograph older," he said. Then he announced, "I'm a little worried about the nose. It's too long for the chin."
"Don't worry, we'll have some of the nose taken off," my agent volunteered.
"Dale, do you dance?" Mr. Meiklejohn asked.
"She makes Eleanor Powell look like a bum," Rivkin piped in.
Enough of this, I thought. "No, Mr. Meiklejohn, I can't dance." I confessed, "I cannot even do a time step."
I told him about turning down Hold Onto Your Hats back in Chicago. Joe Rivkin was fuming and his face was the color of a beet when I started to confess my flaws. Mr. Meiklejohn did a slow burn and looked daggers at my agent. It could not have been the first time an agent tried to sell him a bill of goods, but even so, he laced into Joe Rivkin, and good! I am not even going to tell you what he called him except to say that it had something to do with the conjectural nature of his ancestry. He then explained to me that the role they were casting in Holiday Inn was opposite Bing Crosby and Fred Astaire. Yes, indeed, they needed a new face, but they needed one that could dance up a storm.
Still undismayed, Joe promised that I would be delighted to learn all the dancing I needed in a jiffy.
Mr. Meiklejohn gave me a sympathetic glance and explained that I was not right for Holiday Inn. He did confess, though, that he liked my face, wrong nose or not. "We have a whole roster of singers here," he said. "But I'd like to test you anyway." I was taken to Wardrobe, where Edith Head outfitted me with a dress and a fur muff that Barbara Stanwyck had worn. The drama coach then selected a scene from The Blue Angel and told me I had two weeks to learn my part.
For those two weeks, Joe Rivkin watched me like a hawk eyeballing a chicken; he monitored what I ate, who I saw, what time I came home, and what time I woke up in the morning. "Work hard, go to bed early, keep yourself in good shape, and don't get mixed up in your private life," he intoned over and over again. He was right, but by the day of the screen test, I had become a nervous wreck. The deception about my age didn't sit right with me. And I had another, bigger secret that made me feel like I was about to blow up with tension. As I sat in the studio watching the crew adjust lights for the test, I suddenly got cold chills. I felt I had to come clean. I walked over to where Joe was sitting and faced him, hands on my hips.
"Mr. Rivkin, you know I am not twenty-one. I am twenty-eight. What you don't know is that I have a son. He is thirteen years old."
His jaw dropped. He shot out of his chair and began to pace, deep in thought. "Send him away to school," he said.
I told him that if Tom could not come with me to Hollywood, we would stay in Chicago.
"No, no, no, that's no good," he replied and began to pace again. Then he stopped, spun on his heel, and announced, "I've got it!" He walked right up to my face and said, "Tom is your brother. Understand? Your kid brother."
At least that scheme would permit Tom to be with me. "If it's all right with Tom, it will be all right with me," I said. I rationalized the deception by telling myself that the money I might make in Hollywood would buy Tom a fine education. Besides, chances were good that nothing would come of the screen test, so why worry? It wasn't easy to tell a thirteen-year-old boy that he would have to masquerade as his mother's brother. I had always tried to teach Tom the importance of honesty. When I told him the plan, he said that it sounded pretty silly, but he would play along just as long as he didn't have to out-and-out lie.
The test was a short scene in which I played opposite Macdonald Carey. I was supposed to get angry at him, slap his face, and storm off camera in a huff. The problem was, I didn't know anything about a screen slap. So when the director called "Action!" we went into our dialogue and I hauled off and really let him have it—hard. His face began to throb. I was so embarrassed, I about died on the spot.
Paramount was not impressed. They rejected me. Joe Rivkin managed to take the test over to Fox, where Darryl Zanuck liked what he saw. He offered me a year's contract at four hundred dollars a week—more than twice what I was making in Chicago. Unheard of! In 1941 I packed my bags and left Chicago for good. I was accompanied by Tom and my mother. She brought along some words of advice from Dad: "Don't let anybody kiss you on the screen and don't show your legs." My husband and his parents drove out from Chicago later.
When I arrived in Hollywood they wanted me to do another screen test. Tom Moore, a kindly old-time actor from the silent-film era, was to direct it. He was the dramatic coach at 20th Century-Fox. For my test, he decided I ought to read selections from The Hound of Heaven, by Francis Thompson. I asked him why he chose this particular material and he said, "Dale, there's a spiritual quality about you. I want to capture it in the test." I didn't know what the heck he was talking about. I was just all gung-ho, career-wise; I certainly wasn't thinking about anything spiritual. So I read the words about fleeing the Hound of Heaven down the arches of the years and the labyrinthine ways of my own mind . . . Well, the test was miserable, a big goose egg. I didn't know what I was saying. The words signified nothing to me. I had not suffered enough at that time to know what Mr. Moore saw in my face . . . and probably in my future. Much later, after I became a committed Christian, someone anonymously sent me The Hound of Heaven. I read it once again, this time with many more of life's tears having been spilled, and it meant so much to me. But at that time, I didn't know about the Hound.
Darryl F. Zanuck had a fetish about women's teeth. He wanted every woman to have a smile like Jeanette MacDonald's. I was sent to the dentist, where I spent my first week's salary having my front upper teeth shaved perfectly even and buying temporary caps—the kind they paste on—to put on the top of my teeth. I was then shipped off to a health club where I was pummeled, pounded, massaged, steamed, and exercised until I lost twelve pounds. I was then ready for my first starring role.
The studio announced that Dale Evans would play the lead in a college musical called Campus in the Clouds. I truly was walking on air; all my reservations about a movie career had evaporated. Dale Evans, movie star, was about to set the world on its ear. Then the Japanese bombed Pearl Harbor and World War II began. Frivolous movies were out of fashion for the time being. Campus in the Clouds was shelved, and I was left to twiddle my thumbs. I took the opportunity to study with Flossie Friedman, the well-respected British voice coach. Well, she just about keeled over when she gave me some Rudyard Kipling to read. ''Darling, you have got to be kidding with that accent!" she declared. "I'm afraid we shall never be able to eradicate it." She did her best, and I dropped enough of my drawl that my parents didn't even recognize my voice when they heard me on the radio after those lessons. But you know something funny: as soon as I got into Westerns, it came right back. I guess Texas is the sound of my true self.
I did nearly five hundred shows during the war for the USO and the Hollywood Victory Committee. Before each one, I liked to survey the audience, hunting for a bashful-looking serviceman toward the front. When I came out on stage, I called him up and began my act by singing "Will You Marry Me, Mr. Larrimee." The proposal and his red-faced reaction were always a great icebreaker. The boys really liked that.
Working alongside some of Hollywood's best talent in the USO shows taught me about the obligation real entertainers feel toward their audience. I remember once working with Marlene Dietrich at a camp in Northern California. It was far from Hollywood's movie studios, on a poorly lit stage in a muddy field. The weather was miserable that day, and we were all dog-tired from a rugged travel schedule. Yet Miss Dietrich prepared herself for the show as if she were giving a royal command performance: false eyelashes, slinky sequined gown, the works. When she went on stage to sing, she gave it everything she had. She was a performer who simply didn't know how to give less. And let me tell you, those boys appreciated it. Many years later when I went to Vietnam to entertain the troops, there were so many occasions when I was so exhausted I felt I couldn't go another step. Then I would meet a young soldier who so desperately needed comfort from home. In those boys' longings I found my strength.
During my year's tenure at Fox I got exactly two walk-on roles—blink and you'll miss me—in movies. The trouble was, if you can believe this, they told me I looked too much like Betty Grable—even to the legs. I was told, "You'll never get anywhere on this lot because there is only one queen, and that is Miss Grable." That was very bad news indeed. The four hundred dollars a week they were paying me was way too much for a bit player. I grew certain that when the contract was over it wouldn't be renewed. I was right.
At the same time, my home life was turning ever more painful. Tom, bless his heart, was growing into a very wise, very good boy. Playing my kid brother didn't suit him. Whenever there was studio-related publicity going on around our house in West Los Angeles, he quietly disappeared. He understood that my deceit about him was hard for me to bear, but the only way I then knew to cope with the situation. He was willing to be invisible, he said, but not to lie. "I am a Christian," he told me. "Christians do not lie." Oh, Lord, that stung; but my ambition burned hot enough to overwhelm my guilt; and I continued to rationalize that I was doing it out of love for him, to insure his future. My self-deception was not entirely successful. My nerves were ragged; I felt a deep emptiness. I began to read every book I could find about peace of mind and help for nervous tension: psychology, Eastern mysticism, self-help galore. Nothing touched what ailed me, certainly not my perfunctory Sunday visits to church, where I considered I was doing the Lord a big, fat favor by taking time out of my busy schedule to be there. I reasoned that once I became successful, then I would be able to devote more attention to my son and to my faith. Until then, though, my career came first.
Dr. Harold Proppe, our minister at the First Baptist Church in Hollywood, didn't make it easy for me to delude myself with such logic. He would deliver a sermon about people with God-given musical talents who used them out in the world, but not in God's house. I've always said that at such moments I felt Dr. Proppe was throwing out spiritual shoes, saying, "If the shoe fits, wear it!" Well, sir, those shoes did fit—so tightly that my toes ached. I left church pouting and angry, resentful that neither Dr. Proppe nor the Lord seemed to understand just how demanding show business is.
I yearned to get back to radio, where I believed I was better appreciated. Joe Rivkin had gone into the army, so I found a new agent named Art Rush. Art was a strange man indeed for an agent. He had once planned to be a minister, and his conversation was laced with references to the Bible, whose lessons he tried to apply to his work. We talked religion all the time; and although my heart and soul weren't really in it at this point in my life, I talked a pretty good game. I didn't know it at the time, but those talks and Art's true spirituality were helping to keep me afloat; I had so little sense of bearing on my own.
Art found me a terrific audition: for the girl singer on "The Chase and Sanborn Hour," starring Edgar Bergen and Charlie McCarthy as well as Don Ameche and Ray Noble. I knew I had the job after I sang a number and heard Charlie McCarthy let out with a long, appreciative whistle through his wooden mouth. I did forty-three good weeks with that show. Edgar Bergen was a master of comedy, and I learned so much about timing watching him. Later, when I was in all those Westerns with Roy and Gabby Hayes, I was able to put it to use in the funny scenes: slow takes, pregnant pauses, little bits of business that perk up a scene. "The Chase and Sanborn Hour" was a great experience, but I was dropped after an advertising executive wanted to play footsie with me. I refused. He warned that I would never get anywhere in the business if I didn't go to lunch with him. I stuck to my guns and, sure enough, I was fired.
To make matters worse, Art Rush didn't seem to have much time to think about me anymore. I needed guidance, I needed help, I needed a job! All he wanted to do was talk about this wonderful client of his, a fast-rising young singer named Roy Rogers. Earlier, Art had introduced me to his pet star during a USO show at Edwards Air Force Base. We shook hands and said hello. I thought Mr. Rogers was a very attractive guy, but awfully shy. I probably would have forgotten all about him, except for Art talking about him so much. After a while Art's enthusiasm started to really grate on me and I began to hate the very mention of Roy Rogers's name. So I did what seemed like the logical thing: I told Mr. Rush that I was fed up with him and his singing cowboy. As far as I was concerned, he could devote all of his attention to his favorite client. I was leaving him. I intended to find myself an agent who put me and my career first. Even at the time, I knew I was losing a good friend—Art was so much more than an agent to me—but I was too hungry for success to have second thoughts.
In 1943 my new agent, Danny Winkler, got me a year's contract at Republic Studios, and two weeks after signing, I starred in a country musical called Swing Your Partner with Lulu Belle and Scotty from the "National Barn Dance" and Vera Vague from the "Bob Hope Show." I liked Republic. It was a small studio, and it felt like a family place; you were part of a crew there, all working together, and nobody had the time or energy to play prima donna. I worked so hard I met myself coming and going; and after a year they picked up my option. In twelve months, I made nine pictures including Here Comes Elmer and Hoosier Holiday. I wasn't in the running for an Oscar yet, not by a jugful, but I was busy, and I always had hope that my big break was just around the corner.
Things were going along swimmingly until Herbert Yates, the head of the studio, went to New York to see Oklahoma! That stage show put a bee in his bonnet: he wanted to produce Westerns with the full Oklahoma treatment—not just songs, but production numbers with dancing, choreography, a big cast, and a female lead who had more to do than just be a pretty damsel in distress. He said he thought I would be just right to star in such a picture. He planned to cast me opposite my old nemesis Roy Rogers. Danny Winkler didn't like the idea of my doing a Western. In fact, I had been slated to be in one of Roy Rogers's earlier pictures, right after I made Swing Your Partner, but Danny had gone to Mr. Yates and gotten me out of it. "She's not going to look well," he argued. He was worried about those big, horrible reflectors they use out on location; he was certain that I would be unable to keep my eyes open in the glare, and that they would make me look sick and pale.
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. Yates, 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 sounded like ''Si, si, you'all!"
Of course, Mr. Yates and everyone else just assumed I knew my way around a horse, being from Texas and all, but 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 Zanuck had made me buy. And Big Boy Williams's 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. He taught me how to take the action in my knees when I galloped, and how to take a deep seat and lean back when we shuttered to a stop. After some time I got to the point where I could sit a horse pretty well. I had to ride well by the time I got Buttermilk, that pearl-colored quarter-horse with black mane and tail. He became mine, just as Trigger was Roy's; but let me tell you, that was one feisty cayuse. He had a head on him that was something else. He had been used for roping quite a bit, so he was nimble and could turn on a dime— which he sometimes did without any forewarning; why, one time he dumped our horse trainer Glenn Randall just to prove he could do it. Buttermilk grew camera-wise, and as soon as he heard the buzzer go off—the one that sounds when they say "Roll 'em"—he'd be on the move. I remember that Pat Brady, who was a darn good horseman himself, had to gallop somewhere on Buttermilk in a scene in one of our pictures. After he got off he came over to me and said, "Shoo, girl, you gotta ride every minute you're on that horse."
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 dialogue, 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 movie cowboy was ever as heroic as Roy Rogers appeared to me at that moment.