HAPPY TRAILS (1997)
Roy Rogers and Dale Evans
with Carlton Stowers
MY OLD PAPERBACK BOOK OF THIS 1979 EDITION OF THE LIFE STORY OF ROY ROGERS AND DALE EVANS, WAS TOO OLD, TOO DISCOLORED TO SCAN. I WAS BLESSED THAT I COULD IN AUGUST 2016 OBTAIN ONE OF ONLY A FEW ON THE INTERNET FOR SALE. HERE ARE THE CONTENTS OF THIS BOOK; IT HAS MANY THINGS THAT ARE UNIQUE IN PARTS, TO MANY OF THE THINGS OTHER ARTICLES, AND ROY AND DALE'S BOOK OF 1994, THAT HAVE BEEN PUBLISHED OVER THE DECADES - RE-ARRANGING AND BLACK EMPHASIS IS ALL MINE - Keith Hunt
To those of us eleven-going-on-twelve, it was a simpler time. Life's great challenges revolved around how to pass to the sixth grade, avoid girls, and scrape up the necessary nine cents cash each week for the Saturday afternoon matinee down at the Bijou. There in the cool, popcorn-scented darkness of our rural West Texas theater, we could escape for a few hours from the yoke of clinging little sisters and bullying big brothers and joyfully ride alongside Roy Rogers as he went about his weekly business of stomping the living what-for out of evil, righting wrongs, and singing his way into the heart of his lady-friend Dale Evans who, for a girl, wasn't too bad inasmuch as she seemed to think as highly of Roy as we did.
Indeed, if my childhood ever acquainted me with a true-life Ward of Heaven, Roy Rogers, King of the Cowboys, was that person.
Needless to say, I was hardly alone in my unabashed hero worship. In the years between 1943 and 1954 Roy Rogers was annually voted Hollywood's number one money-making Western star. Over four hundred merchandising products bearing his endorsement filled the pages of Mother's Sears and Roebuck catalog (hats, chaps, boots, toy six-guns, thirty-two different designs of belt buckles, and the first of the children's school lunch boxes). His fan mail, ofttimes addressed simply to "Roy Rogers, King of the Cowboys," found its way to Republic Studios without the slightest delay.
We Buckaroos, as he was fond of calling us, joined Roy Rogers Fan Clubs, bought twenty-eight million Roy Rogers comic books a year, and prompted publishers to produce no fewer than nineteen hardback books based on his fictional heroics. We listened to him sing and yodel on old RCA Victor 78s and devotedly read a syndicated newspaper comic strip which reached sixty-three million readers weekly. His weekly statement for his radio sponsor, "I was raised on Quaker Oats," made us want to eat Quaker Oats ourselves. And we stood ever ready to argue with the greatest conviction that our hero could ride, shoot, fight, and sing better than all the other box office cowboys you could crowd onto a movie screen.
It was a period in American life when heroics were in bountiful supply. Yet in my adolescent fantasy world there were none to compare with the silver-screen derring-do of Roy Rogers as he exposed mortgage-foreclosing bankers for the wicked men they were, rounded up scruffy bands of dastardly cattle rustlers, rescued damsels from all manner of distress, and generally championed countless underdogs trying to tame the West.
As I gained a touch of worldliness, I even came to see what Roy saw in Dale Evans. Not only was she smart, pretty, and able to ride a horse with the best of them, but she had that familiar Texas ring to her voice that would have made her a welcomed visitor in our home even if Roy had been detained at the studio.
Such was the stuff of which Saturday-afternoon heroes (and, yes, heroines) were once made. It was a different time in movie history, a time when one need not consult some alphabetic rating to be sure that Roll On Texas Moon or Under Western Stars or Along the Navajo Trail was fit entertainment for the kids. It was a time when good was good and bad was bad and the twain neer met.
To say that I was hesitant when asked to help in the writing of the book now in your hands would be a gross violation of truth in packaging. It was, on the other hand, a project not undertaken without considerable thought. I had never before done a book whose central characters I would, under different circumstances, have probably asked for autographs (no doubt lying that they were for my children). Which is to say that the opportunity to work with people I have admired for a great portion of my life, people who were and are a vital part of Americana, is equal parts humbling and challenging.
Except for an occasional paragraph here and there, the words are those of Roy and Dale. This aging, bearded Buckaroo simply served as the middleman, and therefore was spared many of the journalistic pitfalls of putting in too much color, or of dwelling too long on the movie make-believe Roy and Dale and missing the best part—the real-life people.
But if I may be allowed a final personal observation before getting on with the story, let me say that the Roy Rogers and Dale Evans Eve come to know—the husband and wife with abounding talent, the mother and father with rock-strong convictions about their God and their country—are even more courageous than those I first met back on those bygone Saturday afternoons.
The view from the upstairs balcony of the Roy Rogers-Dale Evans Museum is, to my way of thinking, one of the most beautiful scenes one is likely to find anywhere. Watching the morning sun slide over the mountains, seeing the tumble-weeds lazily rolling along the wide-open, still-free High Desert country of California, smelling the clean, smog-free air is about as close to the Great Reward as I ever expect to get in this life.
Standing there, waiting for the coffee to come to a boil, it finally occurred to me that it wasn't really such a bad idea. It might even be fun—and it is certainly a testimony to the fact that wonders, large and small, never cease.
Roy Rogers, the man who never walked across the stage to receive a high school diploma and a handshake, writing a book? It has been my good fortune in life to have done a number of things, but rest assured this isn't one I ever even dreamed of trying—not until the people at Word Books suggested the idea. Even then it sounded a little far-fetched to me. Our life story has, to my way of thinking, been told to a f are-thee-well by newspaper reporters, magazine journalists, and my own favorite writer, Dale Evans. More about her later.
But Floyd Thatcher at Word Books was gently persuasive. Yes, he agreed, there had already been a great deal printed about Dale's and my life. Sure, there were a lot of stories that might have a familiar ring to the people who had read about us before. But, he pointed out, they will never have read them as written by Roy Rogers.
So, call it vanity if you like. Challenging is probably a better word. He had struck a nerve. It was something to think about. And the more I thought about it, the more it occurred to me that there are some things I would like to say. And, as a fully-confessed sentimental slob, I have to admit great pleasure in the remembering. Which isn't to say all the trails have been happy. There have been a few sad songs along the way. There have been good times and bad, pain and sorrow—right along with the happiness and the rewards. Nothing unique about that, really. That's the way life is; that's what living is all about.
And that's what this book is about.
It occurs to me that I can tell you what this book isn't much easier than I can tell you what it is.
It isn't two members of the entertainment world sitting down to recreate the plots of all their old movies, relive a few glories, salute a few directors and fellow actors, admit to the thrill of being in show business, and be done with it. Neither is it a sermon. There is name-dropping only because the names happen to be those of people who played vital and important parts in our lives.
After a lot of discussion, Dale and I decided that if we were going to coauthor the story of our lives, it would not be one aimed point-blank at the nostalgia craze which seems to be sweeping the country at present.
Certainly the entertainment business has been a big part of our lives and livelihood, but it is by no means the Alpha and Omega. Aside from the fact that there was a time when we appeared on the screen about twenty times bigger than life and always did the bad guy in and came to a happy and just ending after approximately ninety minutes of running time, we are really no different from a lot of other husbands and wives throughout the country who will never be asked to write their life story. This is as much the story of Leonard Slye and Frances Octavia Smith (our original names) as it is of Roy Rogers, King of the Cowboys, and Dale Evans, Queen of the West.
It is the story of a family which, for reasons I'll probably never totally understand, had the good fortune to have been adopted, in a manner of speaking, by millions of people who were interested in who we are and what we do.
It is a very personal story—more personal, in fact, than I had planned it to be. But as I committed myself to the project I became increasingly aware of the need for it to have a strong ring of truth. Dale settled that issue before the first piece of blank paper went into the typewriter. "They're not asking you to win the Pulitzer Prize," she told me, "just tell an honest story."
It is, of course, a story which, even if I were properly gifted, I couldn't tell alone. It is not only my story. Thus the lady of the house has agreed to take an equal turn at the wheel. Like I told her, marriage and book-writing are fifty-fifty propositions.
I do, however, want to make it clear that I am not entering the field of writing completely without journalistic background. First, Dale, whose shoulder I've not only been leaning on but looking over for thirty-one years, has distinguished herself with enough best-selling books to line an entire shelf in my den. I've read them all. It seems reasonable to assume that some of that has rubbed off somewhere along the line.
And it was I, if you'll remember, who played the part of a crusading country editor in Home in Oklahoma back in 1946. Not exactly the same way Ernest Hemingway got his start, I'll admit, but, the way I look at it, you pick up your pointers where you find them.
So let's get on with it.
HE stood in the sparse shade of an ancient Texas mesquite wearing jeans, boots, and a straw Western hat, looking neither his age—sixty-three years —nor, for that matter, like the American legend he had become. His one hundred seventy-pound frame was that of an active man; there remained the familiar slight squint of the eyes, the rich baritone voice, the slightly bowed legs, and the disarming smile.
There, under a brain-baking Texas sun, on location at the 6666 Ranch, the King of the Cowboys was again making a movie after a twenty-year absence. For the constant stream of reporters who came to the sprawling cattle ranch outside the tiny Texas Panhandle hamlet of Guthrie, and for the daily visitors from surrounding communities, nostalgia had come to life. Roy Rogers was back, and they had all come to share in the welcome.
Even the cast and crew of Mackintosh and T. J. felt they were a part of something special. Veteran stuntman and actor Dean Smith, who was playing a ranch hand in this contemporary Western written especially with Roy Rogers in mind, said, "You know, when I was a kid growing up here in Texas I can remember keeping this scrapbook on Roy. I'd cut all his pictures out of the newspapers and magazines. He was the man I wanted to grow up to be. It's a great thrill for me just to be working on a movie with him."
He smiled, glancing over to where Roy stood talking with his fourteen-year-old co-star Clay O'Brien. "That boy," Smith said, "probably has no idea what an opportunity this is for him. Back in my day there were several million of us who would have gladly committed high crimes to be standing in that youngsters shoes."
Guich Kooch, another Texan who would soon establish himself as a television star with his role in the popular "Carter Country" series, also made no attempt to mask his enthusiasm. "Frankly," he noted, "I'm not all that crazy about the movie business, but when I heard they were planning to shoot this one with Roy Rogers, I caught the first plane out to California and let everyone know I had to be in it. I know Roy thinks I'm crazy, but the first thing I did when I got here was ask him for an autographed picture."
All of which Roy Rogers found amusing. "Sure," he told a collection of reporters dispatched by editors to chronicle his return to the motion picture business, "it's been fun being a hero to so many kids over the years. And I like to think that what we did was a positive kind of thing—something a little worthwhile. The movie business has been mighty good to me."
And he to it. For an Ohio farm kid whose greatest ambition in life was to one day be a doctor, the idea of being an actor began as a lark, later developed into a possible method of assuring himself and his new bride three meals a day, and finally became a way of life.
The medical profession's loss was the gain of Saturday's children throughout the world.