From the book “Roy Rogers and Dale Evans - Happy Trails” with Carlton Stowers - 1979
In the spring of 1951 the fuse which had been smoldering on the Roy Rogers-Republic Studios powder keg began burning hurriedly toward an explosion. His contract had expired on May twenthy-seventh and he refused to sign a new one unless Republic granted him the right to do television. This relatively new entertainment field had not only gained an immediate foothold on the nation, but was turning a number of former motion picture actors into wealthy men. William Boyd had had the foresight to purchase all of his “Hopalong Cassidy" pictures, and had in turn sold them to television. Almost overnight his career rose from the ashes to an even higher level of stardom that he had enjoyed in theaters during his heyday in Hollywood.
Republic, acutely aware of the financial windfall Boyd had come into, quietly went about editing fifty-seven of Roys pictures down to fifty-three minutes of running time to fit televisions format, and Herb Yates sent a telegram to the leading advertising agencies in the country to advise them of their availability. As soon as Roy and Art Rush became aware of the studio's plan, they went to their attorney Fred Sturdy and asked that he get an injunction against Yates and Republic immediately. A unique clause in Roy's contract, stating that he retained the rights to his name, voice, and likeness for any and all commercial ventures, blocked the studio's attempt to sell his pictures to television.
But one problem led to another. Quaker Oats, evidently concerned that the Rogers movies would eventually turn up on television under the sponsorship of someone other than themselves, did not renew the contract for the weekly Roy Rogers radio show.
Suddenly, after twelve years as the motion picture industry's top-drawing Western star, Roy Rogers had no movie contract, no radio contract, and no television contract. And, as he and his business associates well knew, the roaring success of Roy Rogers Enterprises would continue only for as long as the King of the Cowboys was a familiar face and voice to the nation.
The pace of his business life, then, would suddenly pick up to a pace he had never experienced, even when he was starring for Republic by day and making personal appearances by night. There was preparation of his suit against the studio to get underway, and Art left immediately for New York to discuss the possibility of a television contract with network executives and potential sponsors. And Paramount Studios, taking advantage of Roy's sudden independent status, had signed him to make a picture with Bob Hope and Jane Russell, to be entitled Son of Paleface.
In ever-cautious Madison Avenue offices, Art soon became aware that securing a commitment for a TV show was not going to be an easy task. The concern voiced by those with whom he spoke was the outcome of the suit Roy had filed. If he failed to win and Republic was successful in getting his old pictures on television, it would hardly make good business sense to have him doing thirty-minute made-for-TV shows. The direct competition with hour-long shows, which were already filmed, edited, and just waiting for commercial spots to be dropped into the appropriate places, would just be too great.
While Rush was knocking on doors in New York, Roy was busy back in Hollywood. He had the Paramount picture to do and, perhaps more importantly, an idea first proposed by Al Rackin, Roy’s and Dale’s publicity director, to carry out Rackin had suggested the formation of their own motion picture company to produce a thirty-minute movie, to be titled Presenting Roy Rogers, King of the Cowboys, which could be taken directly to potential sponsors.
With Son of Paleface scheduled to begin production shortly, time became a major adversary to the Roy Rogers cause. Roy, Dale, Pat Brady, and a small but dedicated crew set to work and, with an around-the-clock effort, put together an action-packed film in five days. A print was hurriedly shipped to Rush.
By this time, wearied and disappointed by three weeks of negative responses, Art had decided to return to Los Angeles to rest and construct a new plan of attack. Sitting on the train, he tried to plan his client's next move, but the trying experiences in New York had so drained him that all he could think of was the bad news he was carrying home with him. He had pursued every avenue he was aware of, even going so far as to make return trips to several advertising agencies who had already given him earlier nos. The possibility of Roy's films being sold to television by Republic had defeated him at every turn.
“Out of sheer desperation," Rush remembers, "I went back to the offices of the Benton and Bowles ad agency and talked with Walter Craig, their vice-president. I knew General Foods was one of their clients, and spent an hour trying to convince him that a tie-up between his client and mine would be beneficial to all concerned. Walter said he would do some checking and let me know.
"He didn't say no, but there was little reason to get excited about his doing a ‘little checking.' What it all boiled down to was that I was returning to Los Angeles empty-handed."
The train was nearing Chicago when a porter rang the buzzer of Art Rush's compartment, awakening him to deliver a telegram. From Walter Craig, it read,
Great seeing you. Have talked with sponsors. Very interested. You must go to Battle Creek on July 11 for presentation for radio and TV. Believe deal will jell.
Art read the wire several times, and then noticed that an open Bible he had been reading when he fell asleep was still on his lap. His eyes fell on Matthew 6:8: " . . . your Father knoweth what things ye have need of, before ye ask him."
On July eighth Art was back on the train, headed for Battle Creek, Michigan, armed with the film, a projector, a screen, and several large boxes of display material with which he hoped to convince Post Cereals, one of the divisions of General Foods, to sponsor 'The Roy Rogers Show" on TV and radio.
Two days later, a gathering of General Foods officials were telling him they were prepared to sign a contract to sponsor a Roy Rogers series. It was, in a sense, one of those good news-bad news situations. The good news, of course, was that Post Cereals was eager to associate with Roy Rogers. The bad news was that the contract would include an escape clause, which would protect the potential sponsor in the event Roy lost his court battle with Republic.
Everything hinged on the outcome of the trial.
Instead of sitting around, worrying, and waiting for the trial date to arrive, we decided to get busy with the production of the TV series, so we could be ready to go on the air if and when the judge said the magic word.
For all the time I had spent around movie lots, I really knew very little about the organization and workings of a production company. But we managed to put one together—writers, cameramen, a crew, and a cast—and got to work. We were, at best, flying by the seat of our pants, but we were flying fast. I've never seen a group of people work so hard for such long hours.
We had decided that the format of the TV show would closely follow the kinds of story lines we had used in the movies. Each episode would be a new story, with only the setting and characters the same. Mineral City, located in Paradise Valley, would be our mythical TV home. I would play the prosperous owner of the Double R Bar Ranch, and Dale would be the proprietor of the local Eureka Cafe. As in our movies, there would be no real romance—just friendship and a combining of efforts to solve the problems and right the wrongs the scriptwriters came up with.
The permanent members of the cast would include Dale, Trigger, Bullet, and Pat Brady, who had moved in to play my movie sidekick in several pictures after Gabby had left. I was tickled to death when he agreed to become one of our regulars. His mode of transportation, an old army jeep we had tricked up to do all manner of crazy things and called Nellybelle, would get almost as many laughs as Pat in the years to come.
Dale's horse Pal created something of a problem. Using two palominos in rodeo performances had worked nicely, but on film it became a little confusing since Pal and Trigger looked so much alike. So I bought her a buckskin gelding with a beautiful black mane and tail whom she named Buttermilk.
We shot our exteriors on the old Iveson Ranch, where Westerns had been shot since the days of silent pictures, and used an old Western street on the Goldwyn Studios lot for Mineral City.
We had already finished four films when it finally came time to go to court. I seriously doubt that U. S. Judge Pierson M. Hall has ever had a more unusual-looking witness in his courtroom than I was when the trial began on October 18, 1951. I was already involved in the shooting of Son of Paleface, and therefore spent my time running back and forth between the courtroom and location. On several occasions during the four and one-half weeks of hearings there on the second floor of the Los Angeles Federal Building, I took the stand in full makeup and wearing some of the gaudiest outfits I've ever worn in my life.
Judge Hall, however, wasn't one to make judgment on looks, choosing instead to deal with the facts of the case he was presiding over. He eventually handed down a ruling that granted a permanent injunction restraining Republic from selling the films to television.
I need not tell you that there was considerable celebrating in the Roy Rogers camp upon hearing the decision. Even the fact that Meyer Lavenstein, the general counsel for Republic, immediately stated that he would appeal the ruling did little to dampen our spirits.
We were back in business. Soon it was announced that in December "The Roy Rogers Show" would go on television and radio under a dual contract agreement between NBC and Post Cereals.
Dale was meeting herself coming and going and, to my amazement, seldom showed signs of tiring. How she managed to get done the things she did in the span of a single day, I'll never know. I'll never forget one day, early in our marriage, when the publicity department sent a photographer out to the house. They had asked that we dress in full Western outfits. When I finished dressing, I went into Dale's dressing room and found her, outfitted in boots, hat, Western skirt, and blouse, sitting at the sewing machine working on Easter dresses for the girls. I've thought at times that if she could figure some way to avoid sleeping she would be the happiest person in the world.
One afternoon she returned home before I did to find the doctor there—Robin had suffered a severe series of convulsions. For the next week her condition remained serious. Then finally she began to show signs of improvement.
The convulsions, however, had left her very weak; so weak, in fact, that she was no longer able to stand in our laps as she so loved to do, or to sit in her stroller outside and watch the other children play. The doctor recommended more physical therapy sessions, and said it would be necessary to fit her for braces between her feet to prevent her throwing a hip out of joint when she tried to stand. Dale managed to attend each therapy session with Robin and her special nurse, while never missing a beat in her professional life.
She had become an inspiration to us all without even knowing it. All I had to do when I felt myself falling into a state of feeling tired or discouraged by all that needed to be done was to look to her energy and enthusiasm and draw strength from her. It was Dale as much as the efforts of the doctors and physical therapists who had Robin's strength back to near normal by the time her second Christmas rolled around.
There was a warmth and sharing in that holiday season that I could never remember having experienced before. With the tribulations of uncertainty and court suits finally past, and Robin's strength returning, and relatives coming to make it a real old-fashioned family reunion, everyone was in high spirits.
We had long discussions about what Robin's present should be. Finally, we settled on Dusty's suggestion that she be given a toy piano which she could play with in her crib. Cheryl asked for the responsibility of writing Robin's letter to Santa.
On Christmas Eve, Dale and I went to church and said a prayer of thanks for Robin—a thanks for the joy and love she had brought to our household. We both knew that she would have all too few Christmases with us, that maybe even this one would be the last, but we had decided not to dwell on the future, to instead enjoy the time given us.
As the new year got underway, it became immediately obvious that the pace would not slow. Art had booked us to do eighteen performances in twelve days at the Houston Fat Stock Show in late January. Dale, always hesitant to leave Robin, agreed more readily this time, since the trip to Texas would afford her an opportunity to stop by Italy and pay a visit to her parents.
And it would give me a chance to meet a man named J. B. Ferguson. Before we left California I had received a telegram from him, offering me two hundred thousand dollars for Trigger. A wealthy Texas oilman who already owned an impressive stable of thoroughbreds and quarter horses, he had indicated in his telegram that he wished to buy Trigger as a birthday gift for his young son. Frankly, I didn't even think about it again after reading the message, and as we were busy preparing to leave I didn't even get around to answering it. In years past I had received numerous offers to buy Trigger and never considered any of them. And, it seemed to me, any offer of that kind of money had to come from someone with a rather broad sense of humor.
I found out upon our arrival in Texas that it was no joke. Hundreds of children, brought to the train station by their parents, were waiting, all voicing concern over the possibility that I was going to sell my horse. The whole crazy thing had blown completely out of proportion before I even knew what it was all about.
A story in the Houston paper had told of the offer, quoted Mr. Ferguson to the effect that he was deadly serious, and gave the impression that I was seriously considering the offer. Trigger was almost nineteen, the reporter pointed out, and now I had Trigger, Jr., a beautiful seven-year-old Tennessee Walker which we had used in several of our movies, so the sale of Trigger would hardly leave me without a horse.
I made it as clear as I knew that Trigger was not for sale at any price, but that didn't calm the storm. When we reached our hotel, there were stacks of telegrams and telephone messages urging me not to go through with the sale. Back in California, letters would soon arrive from kids throughout the country, filled with pennies and nickels and dimes. The gist was, if ol’ Roy was in such a financial bind that it looked necessary to sell his horse, maybe the contents of piggy banks from sea to shining sea could provide the needed financial help.
Hoping to set the issued to rest, I met with J. B. Ferguson in a giant press conference at my Shamrock Hotel suite, thanked him for his generous offer and told him I would not sell Trigger for all the money in Texas. The crisis passed, and back in Los Angeles secretaries shook their heads at the task of returning money to loyal Trigger fans.
FROM THE AGE ROY GIVES, THIS MUST HAVE BEEN TRIGGER1 THE FELLOW WANTED TO BUY…..ROY NEVER SOLD ANY OF HIS 3 TRIGGERS [Trigger1, Trigger2, and Trigger Jr.]. Keith Hunt
At their highly successful 1952 performances in Houston, the concern Roy and Dale have for children, as well as their commitment to their faith, was strongly in evidence. As stated in the contract they had signed with the promoters of the affair, four thousand underprivileged and handicapped children were in the audience for the opening performance.
When trainer Glenn Randall asked Roy what had prompted him to begin stationing Trigger and his trailer outside the showgrounds for two hours prior to each show so that youngsters could see the horse and ask Randall questions, Roy's explanation was simple: "If those kids had the money, they would be inside where they could see the show."
The stock show officials had agreed to allow the show to be televised and later shown on a General Foods-sponsored show for the benefit of shut-ins and children who had been unable to attend.
And for the first time, Roy Rogers strayed from the traditional Western music his fans had become so familiar with, closing each performance with an inspirational God-and-country finale.
Then, there was the matter of a letter he had recently received from a young fan, saying that he liked to go to church but that some of his friends had tried to convince him it was a "sissy" thing to do. He asked Roy's opinion. "Dale," Roy said, "I'm not much of a speaker, but I'm thinking seriously about answering that youngster's question publicly. What do you think?"
"I think," she said, "it would be wonderful." The following Sunday, at a matinee performance, he did so, and prompted the following report by Houston Chronicle writer Charlie Evans:
One of the best sermons we have ever heard was delivered Sunday. And it wasn't from the pulpit of a church. It was from the center of the Coliseum rodeo arena, delivered by cowboy star Roy Rogers.
At the Sunday matinee Rogers asked how many of the youngsters in the stands had been to Sunday school or church that morning. Then he advised, All you little cowboys and cowgirls out there, be sure to go to Sunday school. You might hear some of your little friends say its sissy to go to Sunday school. But don't you believe 'em. Going to Sunday school is the best way in the world to get started right in life," Roy told the youngsters.
When he had finished, we heard a couple of youngsters sitting next to us talking. Said one: "You see, we better start going to Sunday school again. Roy Rogers said for us to."
And we imagine many others thought the same thing.