ROY ROGERS AND DALE EVANS
FAITH IN A STORM
Today there are movies and television shows that I wouldn't even let my horse Trigger see. Kids still like to see the good guy win and the bad guy lose. When the roles are reversed, as in many of today's
movies, kids get their thinking in trouble.
Los Angeles Daily Times, interview with
Roy Rogers, September 15, 1976
Roy Rogers rides hell-for-leather on Trigger up the main street of an Old West movie set. Extras for his television series stand on either side of the dusty thoroughfare, watching the cowboy perform spectacular, dangerous feats of horsemanship. The bright sun dances off the U.S. Forest badge pinned to Roy's pocket and off the silver on Trigger's saddle. Dazzling in the natural light, horse and rider personify the great American cowboy hero. Dale rides in behind them, dressed in her best, and Bullet follows her into the scene as well. The couple hop off their horses, turn, and look into the camera.
"Well, Buckaroos, it sure was swell getting a chance to be with you" Dale waves to the viewers and steps out of the shot. Roy removes his hat, takes a step closer to Trigger, and bows his head.
"Oh Lord, I reckon I'm not much just by myself; I fail to do a lot of things I ought to do. But Lord, when trails are steep and passes high, help me to ride it straight the whole way through. And in the falling dusk when I get the final call, I do not care how many flowers they send. Above all else, the happiest trail would be for you to say to me: 'Let's ride my friend,' Amen."
An efficient director yells "Cut!" and the cast and crew begin wrapping up the program. A few excited children, diehard Roy Rogers and Dale Evans fans, scurry out from behind a roped-off area and race over to their heroes, thrusting pens in front of the pair. Autographs are quickly scrawled on scraps of paper and returned to their excited owners. These boys and girls represent a handful of the 1.75 million registered Roy Rogers-Dale Evans Fan Club members in the world in 1953.
I WAS NEVER A MEMBER OF THE ROY ROGER FAN CLUB; DID NOT KNOW IT EXISTED; BUT THERE WAS NO GREATER FAN THAT MYSELF, WHEN IT CAME TO ROY ROGERS AND TRIGGER [ROY AND THE ORIGINAL TRIGGER]. I DID NOT KNOW ROY AND DALE WERE "CHRISTIANS" BUT YEARS LATER WHEN I FOUND OUT, I WAS NOT SURPRISED, THERE WAS SOMETHING ABOUT THEM ON THE SILVER SCREEN THAT SHONE OUT….. IT WAS THEIR LOVE FOR GOD AND JESUS CHRIST - Keith Hunt
That fan base invested heavily in Roy Rogers-Dale Evans products; in addition to personal autographs they bought a variety of items embossed with the Roy Rogers brand.
Forty-seven manufacturers across the United States turned out more than 360 different items—from binoculars to boots. The success of the television show made the pair America's best-known and best-liked cowboy couple and increased sales for their merchandise tremendously. In a single year consumers purchased 408,000 pairs of felt Roy Rogers slippers, 900,000 lunch kits, 1,203,000 jeans and jackets, and 2 million comic books and records. Roy Rogers was second only to Walt Disney in sales and licensing.
During the first year after Robin's death, the duo found comfort in their children and an abundance of work. They divided their time among their family, taping their television show, voicing their radio broadcasts, cutting records for RCA, and touring with their rodeo. Roy Rogers's shrewd business sense, and Roy and Dale's combined wholesome image, generated $20 million a year for Roy Rogers industries. The Rogerses also ventured into the restaurant business, adding 600 eateries to their franchise coast to coast before eventually selling the chain to Hardee's Fast Foods.
Whenever there was a lull in the constant activity that was their lives, sorrow over the loss of their daughter overcame them. Dale ached for her child; at times the pain seemed like a great boulder crushing her heart. Roy struggled, too, but found great solace in reading his Bible and praying. After Robin's passing, magazine and newspaper editors had approached Dale about contributing an article on how she and Roy handled the tragedy. She wasn't ready to share such a personal experience with the public just yet but knew in time it might be beneficial. Still, Dale decided to work through her grief by writing privately about Robin's life. Between rehearsals and recordings, she captured her thoughts and feelings about her child on legal pads, envelopes, and napkins. She set the events of her daughter's life down solely for her own edification and that of her husband and their children. Roy respected Dale's decision to keep her feelings private for the present, but he chose to share the difference his faith had on his life in times of crisis the moment he was asked by evangelist Billy Graham.
Thousands of people sat shoulder to shoulder at Houston's Rice Stadium. They were all there for a Billy Graham crusade. Thirsty souls hung on every word the evangelist said. Roy Rogers sat behind the zealous preacher, waiting for his time to speak.
After a kind introduction, Roy stepped up to the microphone and waited for the cheering and applause to die down.
"The Lord has really had his hands full with me, but I'm grateful," Roy began. "You see, Dale worked with God to bring me something I had longed for all my life. Peace. Materially speaking, for years I had nothing. Then for years I had much. But I soon learned that having too much is worse than having too little. Nothing ever seemed quite right. I was restless, confused, unsatisfied. But the power of prayer, and the feeling of spiritual blessedness, and the love of Jesus have no price tag."
At the conclusion of Roy's talk, he waved to the crowd and thanked them for their attention and ovation. He turned to his seat on the dais and saw Dale standing there. She'd had a change of heart and decided it was time to share her testimony. She reached out for her husband's hand and gave it a loving squeeze. She was so proud of him; tears stood in her eyes. When it was her turn to speak, she told the audience about Robin's illness and of the shock and outrage they felt when they were informed of her condition. "God's love, his compassion, and unfailing kindness do not prevent him from shaping us in ways that at the time are painful indeed," she told the crowd.
"But the pain of the shaping is always matched by the Master Potter's skill in healing the wound."
Roy and Dale's appearance at the crusade helped them to begin healing the hurt, and their honesty about their grief further endeared them to the public. Dale continued to write about life with Robin and slowly came to see that her story could not be contained in a single article, but must be in a book.
With Roy's blessing Dale began the process of finding a publisher for the book she titled Angel Unaware. Roy busied himself with planning their upcoming performance at the Madison Square Garden World Championship Rodeo. Just how much their faith was influencing every aspect of their lives became evident in the preparation for their New York appearance.
Three key members of the management staff at Madison Square Garden paraded into Roy and Dale's dressing room, all wearing worried expressions. Roy invited them to sit down and talk with Art Rush and him about what was on their minds. "We understand you're going to do a religious number in your show?" one of the men asked. Roy smiled and nodded.
The men shifted uncomfortably in their seats and exchanged serious looks.
"We've talked about this, and we're not so sure this is the proper place for that kind of music," the spokesman reluctantly said. Roy and Art listened patiently to their arguments against Rogers's choice in doing a religious song. The performance was sold out, and management felt that mixing anything of a religious nature with the rodeo show would be a financial liability. They were worried that people might want their money refunded. Even merchants who sold various Roy Rogers products were leery of bringing elements of their faith into the act. "I know you're still mourning the death of your daughter, and that this might seem like a good way to deal with that," the manager went on, "but this might offend some people." Roy said nothing. The men took another approach: Roy stood to net more then $100,000 for forty-three rodeo performances in twenty-six days—surely he wouldn't want to jeopardize his percentage of the gate receipts.
Roy wasn't dissuaded. His cool blue eyes were trained unflinchingly on the managers. The scene was reminiscent of one from a B western with the hero cowboy squaring off against the wealthy, influential landowners.
"Dale and I have talked this thing out," Roy said without smiling. "If we can't do our religious number, we won't go on at all."
The response threw the executives. It was uncharacteristic for Roy Rogers to take such a stance, but he believed it was the right position to take.
When the lights in the rodeo arena dimmed and the announcer introduced the King of the Cowboys, Madison Square Garden executives were nervous about the sold-out crowd's reaction. They could only hope the decision to give in to Roy's demands was not financial suicide. Spotlights flooded the stadium, forming a huge cross on the center of the field. A hush filled the audience. Roy's voice broke through the quiet as he walked Trigger out into the darkness and began singing "Peace in the Valley." The spectators were riveted to their seats during the performance, and once the song had ended Roy received a standing ovation. The cheers were sustained for a full three minutes.
Years later, in 1972, Roy told the Dallas Morning News, "I admit it's hard at times to be a Christian in show business. But I guess it's hard to be a good Christian no matter what business you're in. I happen to have been thrown into show business. It's a job. One doesn't always get to do just what he wants to do most, but he can usually find a way to make his life worthwhile if he wants to."
Sitting in Central Park days after her performance in Madison Square Garden, Dale found herself disappointed, her faith slipping. Dale had shopped her book about Robin to several publishing houses and had been turned down by all of them. Roy encouraged her to be persistent, but she was beginning to question the entire pursuit. "It's a sad story that will make people cry," one editor told her. "People don't want to cry." Written as if Robin herself were telling the story of her life, Dale hoped the book would make readers aware that God's strength is found in weakness. "Why did you guide me to write this book, Lord, if no one is going to read it?" she asked sincerely. Holding her manuscript in her hands, she prayed for God to confirm that this was something he wanted her to keep at. The sunlight assaulted her eyes after having them closed for a time in prayer. She shaded them with her hand and surveyed the landscape before her. The grounds were busy with office workers and tourists enjoying the outdoors. Dale spied a group of children running and playing in and out of the sunbeams that streamed through the trees. A little girl stood near them, but she wasn't watching the other children; she was watching Dale. The child was about six years old, and her features were consistent with those who have Down Syndrome.
Her mother was standing beside her, with a face that seemed strained and troubled. Dale recognized the look. She wanted to reach out to the woman and let her know she empathized. "If only she knew what a blessing God has given her," she thought out loud. The mother and daughter joined hands and headed out of the park. Dale watched them until they disappeared from sight.
Believing that the little girl was the confirmation she needed, she continued the search for a publisher. After two more rejections, a publishing house agreed to print the manuscript. Angel Unaware was in bookstores by Easter 1953.
Dale Evans became a much-sought-after author once the book was in wide release, and the reviews were excellent. Angel Unaware became a best seller. Wrote the Chicago Sunday Tribune, "Angel Unaware is a message of hope and courage; awakening millions to a more sympathetic understanding of retarded children." And Norman Vincent Peale added, "It is a story to be read and cherished, not only by the countless youthful admirers of Dale Evans and Roy Rogers, but by mature people of all ages as well."
Dale Evans and Roy Rogers contributed all the royalties from Angel Unaware to the National Association for Retarded Children.
TODAY THEY WOULD NEVER USE "RETARDED CHILDREN" - JUST NOT THE WAY TO PUT IT; TODAY THEY WOULD SAY SOMETHING LIKE "PHYSICALLY" OR "MENTALLY" CHALLENGED CHILDREN - Keith Hunt