ROY and DALE
I believe with all my heart that God sent her . . .
to strengthen us spiritually and to draw us closer
together in the knowledge and love and fellowship
Dale Evans's thoughts about the baby she and
Roy shared, June 1954
Dale sat up in her hospital bed, nearly bursting with anticipation. She heard footsteps approaching her room and hoped it was the nurse bringing her baby to her. Dale's face fell when the nurse entered carrying a bouquet of flowers instead. The woman added the arrangement to the hundred that already filled the room. A young mother carrying a tiny bundle shuffled past Dale's doorway on the way back from the nursery. Off in the near distance, a baby could be heard crying. The nurse looked over at Dale and grinned. "Some little one sounds hungry," she said.
"It might be Robin," Dale offered.
The nurse smiled a troubled smile and started out of the room. Dale stopped her before she could leave. "Can I see my baby?" she asked.
The nurse walked over to Dale's bed and began fluffing the pillows and straightening the sheets in an obvious attempt to stall for time. "She's sleeping right now, Mrs. Rogers," she told her politely.
"I hope she sleeps this well at home," Dale sighed. The nurse continued to tidy the room as the happy mother shared with her the plans she and Roy and the other children had made for her homecoming.
"Are they going to let you take the baby home with you?" the nurse innocently asked.
Dale's face went pale. She had suspected something was wrong but attributed her misgivings to simply being nervous about motherhood. "Is there any reason why I shouldn't take my daughter with me?" she blurted out.
The anxious nurse studied Dale's face and suddenly realized that she had no idea what was going on. The nurse burst into tears. Dale stared back at her, overcome with worry. "I'm so sorry. I thought you knew," she cried to Dale. She ran out of the room before Dale could find out what the trouble was.
Frantic, Dale reached for the phone beside her bed and called Roy. "You said she was perfect!" she cried when Roy picked up the line.
To her mother and especially her father, she seemed flawless. When Roy bragged to Dale that their daughter had tiny little ears like her mother, he was unaware of just how sick the child was. When he looked into the cherub's face he saw perfection. Industry newspapers hailed the arrival of Roy and Dale's baby. Like Dale they believed the child was completely healthy: "Another little cowgirl was added to the Roy Rogers household yesterday when Rogers' wife, Dale Evans, gave birth to a seven pound baby at the Hollywood Presbyterian Hospital. Both mother and the baby were reported in good condition," proclaimed the Los Angeles Examiner on August 27,1950, for instance.
Robin Elizabeth Rogers was born on August 26,1950. She was seven and a half pounds with blond hair and blue almond-shaped eyes. Roy learned the truth of his daughter's condition only hours before breaking the news to Dale. He hurried to the hospital after he hung up with his distraught wife to tell her about Robin.
The Examiner's report was only half right. Dale was in good condition, but that wasn't the case with Robin. She was born with Down Syndrome, weak muscle tone, and a defective heart.
Both Roy and Dale collapsed into tears when he revealed that the prognosis for their daughter was grave. "They want us to put her in an institution," Roy told her. The overwhelmed Dale blinked away the tears. For the last nine months, she had been dreaming of carrying her baby home, rocking her to sleep and singing to her. Now doctors were suggesting she be sent away as if she had never been born. Seeing the hurt in his wife's eyes, Roy made it clear to the doctors that Robin would not be going anywhere but home with them.
Cheryl, Linda, and Dusty peered into the crib at their sister. They were fascinated by her petite features and sweet countenance. They took to heart the talk their parents had with them about her being a delicate flower who needed extra care and love. They promised to protect Robin and do whatever was asked of them.
After months of seeking help from doctors at prestigious medical clinics across the country and being told there was nothing that could be done for her medical condition, the Rogers finally accepted Robin's affliction. They decided to embrace the advice given to them by a pediatrician at the Mayo Clinic. "Shower her with love," the doctor told them. "Love will help her more than all the hospitals and medical science in the world." Roy, Dale, and the children would have no trouble doing that.
The Rogers' trusted this particular doctor's suggestion over any other's because they knew he had a Down Syndrome child himself.
In those first months Dale wore herself out tending to Robin's every need. She hovered over the infant day and night. She held her constantly and never allowed the baby to cry for more than a moment because she was afraid the strain would affect her weak heart.
Through the difficult times and struggles to care for their helpless little girl, the Rogers family grew closer. Moved by the love Cheryl and Linda saw Dale showering on their sister, any lingering doubts that the girls had about their stepmother changed. Their hearts softened tremendously for the woman who tended to a sick baby, as well as three other children, a husband, and a career. Cheryl and Linda stopped calling her Dale, and began calling her Mom all the time.
It took some doing, but Roy managed to talk Dale into accompanying him on a personal appearance tour. He could see she was wearing herself out and needed a break. After hiring a special nurse, the two were off for a six-week trip through the Midwest.
As Los Angeles faded from view, the duo were quiet. They had many pressing matters on their minds. In addition to their preoccupation with home and family, there was a potential problem with Republic Studios brewing that needed their attention. The studio had decided to edit the films the pair had made and sell them to one of the three new television networks. Republic would profit from the venture but was offering nothing to the stars. Due to an exclusivity clause in Roy Rogers's contract, however—which stated that he retained the rights to his name, voice, and likeness for all commercial ventures—the sale of the pictures to television was blocked for the time. When Roy's contract was up with Republic, the studio thus decided not to re-sign the actor.
In the six weeks Roy and Dale were on the road, they traveled more than ten thousand miles and appeared in twenty-six cities. Then they headed home. Their problems with Republic continued, however. Now the debate over who had the last say over the B westerns being shown on television had been transferred into in court.
With Roy immersed in a heated battle with Republic, and subsequently freed from making any future films with the company, Paramount Studios offered him a part in a picture starring Bob Hope and Jane Russell titled Son of Paleface. Roy was cast as a government agent sent to find Russell, who was portraying an outlaw. Trigger had a part as well. Both were included to lend a touch of authenticity to the comedy.
The time spent on the set of Son of Paleface was a joy for Roy. Bob Hope and Jane Russell were true talents who made the experience of making the sequel to Hope's 1948 hit The Paleface a delight. Roy was so impressed with Hope's professionalism and humor that he penned an article about the actor called "The Reluctant Cowboy."
Once Roy completed filming he settled back for a rest with Dale and his children. The time off was short-lived, however—he and Dale began making plans to move to a bigger home in a drier climate. The couple felt Cheryl, Linda, and Dusty needed more space to run and play, and Robin needed to be away from the damp air and smog that surrounded the Hollywood Hills. The family moved to a handsome, sprawling Spanish ranch in the San Fernando Valley. They called their new home the Double R Ranch.
Dale devoted much of her time to her duties as mother, relishing every day she was on the job. She played the piano and sang with Cheryl and Linda, drew pictures with Dusty, and nursed Robin, exercising her limbs and keeping her as comfortable as possible.
Roy Rogers's popularity was at its highest point ever. Hollywood reporters like Louella Parsons boasted, "If children were allowed to vote Roy Rogers would be President." To celebrate their popularity with the young moviegoers, Roy's handprints and Trigger's hoof-prints were cast in cement in front of Grauman's Chinese Theatre— an honor reserved for the all-time film greats like Bette Davis and Clark Gable. After the ceremony Roy confided in Dale how flattered yet humbled he was by the event.
"Honey," he said, "who am I to be the beloved hero of millions of children? I'm just a hillbilly, an ignorant farm boy from Duck Run."
Dale kissed her gracious husband on the cheek and whispered in his ear, "No, you're something special."
Art Rush now represented Dale once again as well as Roy. In the early 1950s he decided it was time to bring his celebrated stars to television in their own show. The couple agreed that it was an idea whose time had come and gave their agent the go-ahead to set something up with a network.
Rush headed to New York to find a corporate sponsor for the program. Roy and Dale quickly assembled talent and crew to begin production on a thirty-minute pilot movie to be taken to potential supporters.
Dale was preoccupied through much of the staging. Robin was so frail; even the slightest noise upset her terribly. More visits to the doctor revealed that her heart was enlarged and worsening. Roy and Dale were told to prepare for Robin to die within six months' time.
A fast-talking radio minister recited a passage from the book of Psalms. Dale held her baby close to her as she adjusted the volume. The sun shone brightly through the bay window, bathing the room its warm rays. She sat down at the kitchen table and propped Robin on her lap. "Blessed is he who has regard for the weak; the Lord delivers him in time of trouble," the excited preacher read. "The Lord will sustain him on his sickbed and restore him from his bed of illness."
The message was in such contrast to the cold sense of desperation that tugged at Dale's soul. She stroked Robin's head, hoping somehow her baby understood what the minister was saying. "If only you could be restored from illness," she said, kissing the child's face.
Dale rocked the tired child to sleep while humming a soft tune. Just as Robin dropped off, she jotted the song down on a nearby pad of paper. Roy's radio theme music was a tune called "Smiles Are Made Out of the Sunshine." Not only did Dale feel the song wasn't western enough, but given all she and Roy had experienced she didn't think it adequately conveyed what it truly meant for a cowboy to ride the occasional bumpy trails. In three hours' time she completed the ballad that was to become the Roy Rogers-Dale Evans theme song:
Some trails are happy ones, others are blue. It's the way you ride the trail that counts; Here's a happy one for you. Happy Trails to you until we meet again ...
As Robin's health continued to decline, "Happy Trails" served as a testament for the way the Rogers' would live their lives.
Roy decided early on that "Happy Trails" would be the theme of a series he and Art Rush had planned to bring to television. If the court case that Roy had pending against Republic ended in his favour. The Roy Rogers Show was ready to go on the air as soon as possible. The format for the series would closely follow the story lines used in the B westerns. The Rogers home, the Double R Ranch, would serve as the primary location for the program, which would feature Roy and Trigger, Dale, Pat Brady, Bullet the Wonder Dog, and a cantankerous jeep named Nellybelle.
In November 1951 a Los Angeles judge determined that Herbert Yates and Republic Pictures had no legal right to sell Roy Rogers's films to television. A restraining order was handed down permanently barring the studio from releasing any of his movies for that purpose. With the case over and the way cleared for the television series to go forward, a deal was quickly made with NBC to broadcast the program. The Roy Rogers Show debuted on December 30, 1951. Roy and Dale's popularity in motion pictures and radio translated well to the smaller screen. By the end of the first season, the pair were reigning over yet another medium.
Robin's feeble cries filled the quiet halls of the Rogers home late one hot August night. Dale was crying, too, as she lowered her feverish baby into a tub of ice water. The mumps the child had contracted had turned into encephalitis. The swelling in her head was unbearable. Her eyes pleaded with her mother to stop the pain. Dale and Robin's nurse were doing all they could to make her comfortable. Nothing seemed to work. Finally, exhausted from sobbing and hurting, she drifted into a fitful sleep.
Earlier in the day doctors had told Dale and Roy that their daughter's heart had undergone considerable strain; she couldn't take much more. The couple dozed off and on, stirring at the slightest sound. The family dog was restless as well, sensing something was wrong. He sat outside Robin's bedroom door whining.
The little girl's temperature continued to rise through the night, reaching 108 degrees before she lapsed into unconsciousness. The grieving parents stood over the child's bed watching her fade away. Dale blinked away the tears and cast a glance around the room at the beautifully wrapped presents for Robin's birthday party. She was a day away from being two years old.
At four o'clock on August 25, 1952, Robin passed away. She was laid to rest in her christening dress with a blue ribbon in her hair. "The hardest thing I ever did was look at my daughter in that coffin," Roy said later. "She looked like a small-size, sleeping angel."
As time passed, Roy and Dale's anguish subsided. Their hearts remembered the blessing their angel was and what wonderful lessons they learned from her short stay on earth.
"That little baby gave us a perspective we might never have found without her," Dale was able to say in 1993.
"We needed her, more than we ever knew when she was with us. She brought a wonderful peace to our lives. She smiled and our troubles fell away. She taught us patience and humility; and in the end, she showed us how to be of use to God."