LIFE STORIES FROM ROY
From the book "Our Life Story" 1994
With Dale by my side, life's colors grew bright again. I think one of the things I loved most about her as our marriage began was the way she worked to become my kids' new Maw. It required some gumption for her to take on the family of little ones that came along with me, but she did it. Sometimes they were a handful, I suppose because they just couldn't understand why Arlene had to die. But whatever it was that troubled them, Dale was right there to roll up her sleeves and help. She is a woman who faces up to whatever comes her way, and that has always been something I've admired about her. Believe me, she had her hands full! When she married me, she didn't only get a singing cowboy and three young children. There was one other part of that bargain Dale had to learn to love: my horse. Maybe it sounds odd that I proposed marriage to her on horseback—not too romantic, you might think. But Trigger wasn't just some horse. He was my partner and my pal, and part of nearly everything I did.
Trig and I made 88 movies together and 104 TV shows, and he never once fell or let me down. He was so sharp, so eager. There wasn't anything I asked of him he wouldn't do: running mounts and dismounts, jumping over rolling barrels (that's a lot harder than going over a fence!), storming full tilt alongside speeding trains, or walking gently through the corridor of a children's hospital—whatever was required.
When I bought Trigger from the Hudkins Stables, I was twenty-six and just starting out in the movie business.
He was a looker, that's for sure. His mane and tail were full, flaxen white, and his palomino coat shone like a newly minted gold coin….. he was extremely strong and could turn on a dime and give you nine cents change. How that boy loved to run! All I had to do was shift my weight forward and he was off like a streak of lightning. Sit deep in the saddle and he'd shutter right down like the best roping horse there ever was. Most cow ponies that you see in movies are geldings because a gelding is usually calmer to work around, especially with other horses. But Trigger was a stallion, and you could tell. You could see it in the proud arch of his neck and the way he carried himself. A lot of stallions are too wild to be handled easily, but Trigger was always a gentleman. I used to put all my kids on him at one time, sitting from his ear clear back to his tail, and he was just as sweet as a lamb. There never was another horse like him. I insisted he get star billing in all my pictures. After all, what's a cowboy without a horse?
I was King of the Cowboys, Dale was Queen of the West, and Trigger got himself a title, too: the 'Smartest Horse in the Movies.' …….
I'll tell you about one time we nearly got into a real war with the promoters: at the World Championship Rodeo at Madison Square Garden in 1952. During the first rehearsal I started to practice "How Great Thou Art," a religious song that I wanted to make the centerpiece of our musical act. There's a line in that song that goes "Then sings my soul, my Savior God to Thee ..." Someone in the front office heard the rehearsal and came to me that night to tell me I wasn't allowed to mention Christ at the rodeo. "It might work for kids in Houston, Texas," he told me, "but this is New York. You can't preach to kids here." I told him I wasn't preaching, but that the Savior was part of the song, and I fully intended to sing that song in New York or anywhere else we performed. They suggested I could change the words to the song so it didn't mention Him. I'm not one for grandstand plays, but I told those fellas that if I couldn't sing "How Great Thou Art" just as it was written, Dale and I would pack up and leave town. The song stayed in the show. That year we did forty-three performances over twenty-six days and broke all Madison Square Garden attendance records.
When I think back to the late 1940s and early 1950s and the kind of schedule Dale and I kept, I get tuckered out just remembering it all. Being King of the Cowboys and Queen of the West required a morning-to-night timetable that hardly left us a minute to catch our breath. Nowadays you hear about stars having contracts that call for someone to pick all the green M&Ms out of the candy bowl or only have a certain kind of yellow rose in their hotel suites, but that sure wasn't the way it was for us. Nobody carried us around on velvet cushions; in fact, if we could find time to grab a sandwich between performances we considered it an easy day.
I figure I started living on the front burner even before they made me King of the Cowboys. After my very first picture came out, I lit off on a road trip during which I did 135 shows in twenty days through Georgia, Alabama, Louisiana, Mississippi, Virginia, West Virginia, North and South Carolina, all the mountain states, and the Southeast. It was just me and a couple of musicians. We played every little theater in every little town. They charged eight or ten cents admission in those days. We did a show, they ran the movie, then ushered the crowd out. Another audience came in and we did the show all over again. It was like that all day long. If we made a hundred and fifty dollars in a day, we were doing well. Once Art Rush became my agent, he made sure that when I wasn't filming a picture or promoting one, I was out doing personal appearances—in theaters, at rodeos, state fairs, auto races, grand openings, and parades.
I'll never forget the first time we appeared at R. H. Macy's in New York, in 1943. We weren't quite sure how we'd be received there, but when we arrived, there was a line of parents and their kids that stretched clear around the block, calling out for me and Trigger. There were so many of them there that day that we hadn't even gotten to putting on a show when it turned into a near riot. Parents started putting their kids on top of the glass display cases inside the store to give them a better view, and pretty soon glass started to shatter everywhere. Then people pushed each other out of the way, trampling one another to get to us or to get out. Macy's sent for extra police, who just cleared everyone out of there to avoid a real disaster.
That fall when we were in New York for the rodeo, I managed to get an afternoon off to see a World Series game between the Yanks and the St. Louis Cardinals. Ned Irish, president of Madison Square Garden, invited us to join him in his box, but as soon as I arrived, I realized it wasn't going to be easy to relax and watch the game. People started coming from all around to get my autograph. That was all right with me, but I felt kinda bad about the spectators around us who weren't going to be able to see the game if there was a crowd at our box. One old boy, I remember, wanted to get to us so bad that he just ignored the steps and aisles and climbed over seats, stepping on heads and hats and shoulders, calling, "Roy! Roy! Roy!" Trying to keep his balance, he mashed a hand down on the homburg hat of a gent in the next box who, I only then noticed, happened to be former President Herbert Hoover. I started to stammer an apology, but Mr. Hoover just rearranged his hat, took a long puff on his cigar, and said, "That's all right. I'm a Roy Rogers fan myself."
Much as I appreciate people wanting to shake my hand, I've got to admit that sometimes being famous can feel suffocating, and I never have felt very comfortable among strangers. For me, being with my family was like heaven because it was private. And I think one of the reasons I have always loved the woods where I went hunting was that camera lenses didn't follow. There have been a few times when Dale and I were on the road that I felt I needed a break so bad that I actually resorted to disguises. In Toronto there was a big exposition of firefighting equipment that I wanted to see, but I knew that if I went there I would spend all my time talking to fans. So I spoke to some of the firefighters, who were good enough to find a fireman's uniform in my size. I put it on, hat and all, and joined the rest of the squad; but don't you know, it took someone about two minutes to figure out it was me, then the jig was up. Another time in Ohio we were playing the state fair and I had the makeup man fit me with thick glasses and a black mustache so I could go and enjoy some of the livestock exhibitions, but again people spotted me almost at once. When I asked them how they knew it was me, they all said that my eyes and my voice gave me away.
There was one time I wasn't recognized that was one of the few occasions I lost my temper with a stranger. I'm usually polite, but this lady really got me going. I had just performed a full show with the band, and during the intermission Dale and I got out of our costumes and into casual clothes so we could stroll over to the concession stand and pick up some chicken to eat. As we walked along two women who fell in step behind us were talking loud enough for us to overhear. "Roy Rogers wears a hairpiece!" one said. Her friend disagreed. But the first lady said that she had it on good authority that Mr. Rogers was bald as a cue ball and always wore a rug. I guess my pride took over, so I spun around in front of her, took off my hat, lowered my head, and said, "Pull it! Pull my hair! You'll see it's real." Dale started laughing her head off, and the two old biddies ran way, red in the face.
(Now Roy never to my knowledge, ever talked about being "bald" and having a hair transplant. It was not long after being in Canada [arrived in May 1961] that I spotted an LP in a store's "record department" - a "religious songs LP" - it was Roy, Dale, and some of their kids on the front cover, but what stood out was that Roy was Bald except for the sides of his head. So this one women must have also seen the cover of that LP, or some other photo, to comment about Roy wearing a "hairpiece" - you do not just make up a comment about someone wearing a hairpiece out of the blue. And I well remember that LP with the photo of Roy bald except for the sides of his head. It was many years later that I saw Roy on TV with a full head of hair….. I thought "Well Roy you've had a hair transplant, and it looks very good." Keith Hunt)
I was just about the worst kind of celebrity when it came to Hollywood parties and that kind of thing. My idea of fun is to wear an old flannel shirt and shoot the breeze with some buddies. I've always been more of an outdoor guy, and have a whole lot more to say about what kind of lure a fellow ought to use if he's going for trout than about some big deal an agent is making at a studio. The truth is that when I'm at a Hollywood party I feel like the backward kid from Duck Run all over again, and usually about all I can do is stare at my feet and mumble. I just can't think of anything to say. Still, the folks at Republic used to try to get me to go to those parties because they thought it was good for their actors to hobnob with members of the press and "the right people" in the movie business. After I refused so many times I couldn't rightly say no again, I figured out a way to do what they wanted. I invited a couple of my hunting buddies to come along with me. It was great: we could hole up on a couch somewhere and talk about our coon hounds. I don't think that's what the p.r. people had in mind. After a while they got the message and pretty much gave up trying to make me into a social butterfly.
It's a funny thing: even though I wasn't much of a Hollywood type, one of my biggest supporters in town was Louella Parsons, the gossip columnist. She said she liked me because I was polite, but someone once wrote that when I walked past her into the premiere of one of my pictures, she said, "There goes the best behind in show business"!
I didn't pal around with a lot of the stars, but I can tell you one good story about Clark Gable. I got my favorite shotgun from him. He and some other guys from Hollywood came out to the skeet-shooting range we had at Chatsworth. Well, old Clark had this new gun, a beautiful Winchester with a hand-carved stock. I think he shot only eleven out of twenty-five that day, and he was really mad about it. He came off the field muttering about how bad he shot, just getting angrier and angrier. As we walked back to the clubhouse together, he called out, "Does anybody want to buy this so-and-so gun?" Well, I thought it was mighty pretty, so I said I'd buy it from him. And the next day I went out and shot my first twenty-five straight. A few months later I went to the Grand, which is the big trap and skeet match, in Ohio, and shot 199 out of 200 with that same gun!
I guess the biggest celebrity I ever met was Queen Elizabeth. When she came to America one time, she visited Hollywood, and since our pictures had always done well in England, we were invited to a dinner party that 20th Century-Fox gave for her and some movie stars. I was worried that I wouldn't have much to say to the Queen, although I had heard she was a pretty fair shot with a rifle herself, and knew her way around horses, too. We never did get to talk about hunting or horses, though. We ate papaya with bay shrimp, chicken pot pie, spinach with bacon, and a toasted coconut snowball for dessert. I concentrated on that coconut snowball and the evening sailed by just fine. It was a lot more fun for me to meet the Crown Prince of Indonesia, because he was ten years old. I'm always more comfortable around kids than adults. He came to visit us at the ranch in Chatsworth, and I think it was the thrill of his young life when I lifted him up into the saddle, and cued Trigger to prance around in a circle with him.
I've met nearly all the Presidents since FDR, and Dale and I were invited to the White House for the birthday party of Ike's grandson, David, in 1956. We sang some Western songs for the children (who were all wearing cowboy hats) and I gave little David a nice three-foot model of the President's fishing boat. But I have to admit that my favorite presidential memory has to do with something that happened to Ronald Reagan. We knew him from his days as an actor, of course, but after he became President he used to tell a story about the time he first decided to run for national office. He had already been governor of California, so he was going house-to-house to shake hands and get people to vote for him. He knocked on this one old-timer's door, but the man was a little hard of hearing and didn't recognize him. Reagan said, "I'm running for President, and I'd like your support." The old man squinted, trying to place him, and cupped a hand to his ear to try and hear. "I said, I'm running for President!" Reagan repeated. "Surely, you know me. The initials are R.R."
"Well, I'll be darned!" the man said with a big smile, turning back into the house and shouting, "Honey, you'll never guess who's here. It's Roy Rogers, and he's running for President!"
One of our closest friends in Hollywood was Gabby Hayes, who played my sidekick in more than forty pictures. I've already told you what an elegant guy he really was, sitting like an English lord behind the wheel of his Continental when he cruised into the studio every morning. His wife was a refined person, too. She was a former Ziegfeld girl, tall and willowy, who used to work at a Lerner dress shop when Gabby wasn't earning enough to make ends meet. He absolutely adored her. Gabby didn't care what critics thought of him in movies and he didn't care what the director said, or even Mr. Yates. If Gabby's wife liked his performance, he was overjoyed. If she had the slightest criticism about the way he handled a role, it ruined his day. I remember we were doing a live radio show for NBC that was sponsored by Alka-Seltzer. During a break, he called her from backstage to find out if she liked what she was hearing. She must have had something bad to say because I watched him collapse onto the steps near the pay phone, grabbing his heart like someone had plunged a knife into it.
When Gabby's career began to blossom, his wife quit her job at the dress shop. He bought her a nice condo in Palm Desert, and furs and jewelry and everything. And then she got cancer and died. The two of them had never had any children, and I remember one time after she was gone when he was visiting us at our ranch in Chatsworth. He used to come to the house regularly. He wrestled with our sons, and teased Dale all the time, calling out to her, "Come on, butter-butt, give us a hug!" One night at supper, he looked around that big round table of ours with all the kids causing a commotion and fighting over the mashed potatoes, and tears started to roll down his face. Dale got up and put her arm on his shoulder.
"You okay, Pappy?" I asked.
Gabby said, "Roy, you don't realize how lucky you are." It almost broke our hearts. He lived to be eighty-three, but he was never the same after his wife died. The spark went out of him, and he seemed so lonely. Not a day goes by when I don't think of ol' Gabby. He was a real friend.
There was one fellow I'm proud to say was a pal, even though he made me madder than almost anyone I've ever known. Alfie, we called him; everybody knew him as Alfalfa, from the Little Rascals, though his real name was Carl Switzer. Alfie was like my son, we had so much fun together. He was cute as can be, real nice, and very big-hearted, but he could also be troublesome as a swarm of bees on a summer afternoon. He would do anything to get a laugh out of someone; he would tease you until you screamed; he concocted practical jokes that would make a preacher want to curse. He was always gettin' into trouble somehow, and it seems like I was always figuring ways to bail him out. He was about sixteen when we first met, so it was long past his days as a Rascal, and like a lot of former child stars, he was having a hard time making a go of things. But he sure did like to hunt; in fact, for many years Alfie was my best hunting partner. It seemed like the only time he was happy was when we were out in the woods trailing hounds.
The problem was that he just couldn't resist pulling tricks on people—especially me! There was one time when I had just bought a brand-new red pickup truck and he stopped by the house to visit. I knew he'd like it, so I invited him to come outside and have a look. We walked over to the garage, and as soon as I opened the door of the vehicle, smoke started pouring out. I thought the truck was going to blow up, so I screamed for Alfie to duck and made a dive for cover myself. Alfie stood there laughing and jumping up and down with glee. It turns out he had sneaked over an hour before and planted a smoke bomb on the front seat. When I figured that out, I chased him all the way down the street.
He just loved seeing people be the victim of his jokes; but on occasion, somebody would turn the tables and get him back good. Lee Greenway, our movie makeup man, had suffered one too many times at Alfie's hands. So one day, in seemingly casual conversation, Lee got to talking with Alfie about hunting, which he knew was a favorite subject. He asked Alfie if he had ever trapped a willow bird. "Oh, they're very rare," he said, "very hard to trap." As he spoke, he drew a detailed picture of this fabulous big black bird with sparkling eyes. He explained to Alfie that the only way to nab one was to sneak up to it when it was on the ground and throw a hat over it. Once the hat was in place, all the hunter had to do was slip his hand under the hat and grab hold of the bird. The next day, one of the horses on the set let drop a big, steaming manure pile and Lee placed a ten-gallon hat on top of it. He called for Alfie, who came running over with great excitement. Thinking a willow bird was waiting to be caught, he slipped his hand under the hat and grabbed a mess of horse plop instead. He was so mad he was livid, and he lit out after Lee and chased him near to the horizon.
In truth, Alfie wasn't the easiest guy to be friends with. One time when I was making a movie he asked if he could borrow my hunting dogs. He said a big group of hunters was willing to pay him a lot of money to lead an expedition, and all he needed was the dogs. I wanted to help him out, so I agreed, suggesting he take my Jeep, too. A week or so later, I came home to discover that Alfie had fallen in love with a woman somewhere along the trail, abandoned his hunting party, and sold my Jeep and my best dog so he would wine and dine his new sweetheart. I just couldn't believe it; he was like my own son.
Sometime in 1959 Alfie borrowed another friend's dogs to go hunting, and this time he lost them on the hunt. It wound up costing Alfie thirty dollars to get them back. He went to get the thirty dollars from the friend who had lent him the dogs. The two of them got into a fight, and during the fight, Alfie was fatally shot. He had told me he didn't have a nickel to his name at the end of his career. When he turned twenty-one, he found that all the money he had made as a child star was gone. He was broke, and had to struggle. You can see why they've passed laws to protect kids like that.
Pat Brady, my sidekick after Gabby Hayes, was another dear, close friend; in fact we made him and his wife, Fayetta, our daughter Dodie's godparents. How they liked to spoil that girl! Pat was a practical joker, too, but the kind of guy you just couldn't get mad at. He'd make me laugh no matter what kind of mood I was in. His rubber face was enough to get me going, but he would also do some of the dangdest things just to see me react. Part of our act on the road was target shooting: Pat tossed clay pigeons in the air and I shot them. One time he managed to stuff a clay pigeon with a pair of pantyhose, so after I shot it the stockings came drifting down from the sky. I couldn't help but laugh over that one myself. Another time, he put a miniature parachute inside and all the kids in the audience cheered when it came floating down. Once he really got me good when he substituted an aluminum pigeon for the clay one, so no matter how accurate my aim, the blasted thing wouldn't break. The audience groaned with disappointment when I missed, but when I went over to examine the pigeon, I discovered what he had done and started chasing him around. He was making faces and I was hollering, and I'll tell you, the kids liked that a whole lot more than my marksmanship. In fact, we kept it in the act for a while.
Pat met a sad end too, after he lost Fayetta after being married to her for thirty-five good years. He married a much younger woman, and they had a baby, but something was wrong with the child. It just tore him up emotionally, and he was so upset that he had a serious car wreck while he was driving somewhere in Colorado. They sent him to the hospital and it looked like he might make it, but in the morning he was dead. We still miss him so much.
One other old boy I used to enjoy going hunting with was Nudie Cohn, better known as Nudie of Hollywood. Nudie got famous for outfitting all the movies' rhinestone cowboys; he even made Elvis Presley's gold suit in 1956. Back when I met him in 1940, though, he had just set up a little tailor shop in Hollywood. He had come West after failing in his career as a flyweight prizefighter known as "Battling Nudie Cohn" of Brooklyn. I liked the kind of clothes he was making so much I helped bankroll that tailor shop. I think maybe Gene Autry and I might've been his first customers.
I had always liked to wear stage clothes that set us apart. Even in the early days of the Sons of the Pioneers, I used to make leather vests for us to wear with fringe along the sleeves and a "Sons of the Pioneers" brand on the back. When Dale and I started working together in the 1940s, she sketched ideas for a lot of the clothes we wore and gave her pictures to Nudie, who went wild with them. He made shirts with embroidered Trigger heads on them and pictures of Bullet the Wonder Dog, cactuses, Indian heads, horseshoes, stars, and fringe and sparkles galore. Dale has always said I was the original rhinestone cowboy. Those loud outfits were designed more for personal appearances than for movies. When we rode into the arena, we looked like glittering flags, which made it easy for kids in the last row of the balcony to see the show.
I always wore a white Stetson hat, but back in the 1940s I changed from a high crown and pitched crease to a special kind of "horseshoe" crease that I kinda invented. The way I like it, my hat is peaked high in the front and slopes easy down toward the back. At the top, I put a kind of double crease all around. I guess a hatmaker could do it, but I like to take my own hat into the shower, get it good and steamy, and shape it myself.
I was known for wearing cowboy boots with a spread-eagle design on them, most made by Nudie and by the Hyer Boot Company in Kansas, but I think just about every bootmaker in America sent me free pairs to wear back then. I would hate for you to see some of those nice boots, because if a pair I had didn't fit just right, I used to take out my pocket knife and cut a big hole on the right side to give my toes a little air. I used to nag Nudie and other bootmakers about making them wider at the toe, but they almost always sent them back to me the way the most cowboys like them—too tight. I limped around all summer while my feet swelled and my boots shrank. One time I went into a boot store and got the widest pair of boots they had on the shelf and I was fine. Actually it was better than buying custom boots for hundreds of dollars and then making them look like Swiss cheese. Another thing that I would gladly have taken a knife to were those dang woolen cowboy shirts I used to wear. They were hot as an oven and liked to itch me to death but they didn't get wrinkled and always looked nice.
Dale and I dressed pretty fancy, but our outfits were nothing compared to what Trigger wore. Trig's best saddles were made by Edward H. Bohlin, whom people used to call the Michelangelo of saddlecraft. He had started in the business out here making tack for Tom Mix's horse, Tony. Eddie Bohlin's saddles were covered with the most intricate silver and gold work and some of them weighed up to a hundred and fifty pounds each. He also made gun belts, holsters, belt buckles, chaps, and spurs, and he did some of the most beautiful gun engraving you ever saw. To this day, I still like to wear my Bohlin belt buckles, and a nice ring he made for me shaped just like a little Western saddle. But I'll tell you one thing he made I don't wear much: the silver-trimmed busca-dero gunbelt and twin holsters that used to be part of my King of the Cowboys outfit. For fun recently, I strapped that big rig on, and I couldn't believe how much it weighs! I swear I can hardly stand up in it, much less do a running leap onto Trigger.
Gene and Hoppy and I were known for wearing some pretty fancy duds, and I guess it was only natural that a lot of little partners would want to imitate us. Nowadays, some of those old movie-cowboy souvenirs are worth near as much as the real silver saddles Eddie Bohlin used to make! There were Roy Rogers gun belts, sweaters, boots, galoshes, hats, pants, shirts, sweaters, wristwatches, and just about everything else you could think of wearing or playing with or using to decorate a little buckaroo's bedroom. You could even buy Roy and Dale lookalike masks! There were altogether nearly four hundred different products with our names on them, and not only stuff for kids. We had full-size adult stoves, dog food, and car parts, too. That kind of merchandising is pretty common in movies today, but back when we were doing it in the 1940s and 1950s, it hadn't really been done much before. A lot of what we sold went right through the Sears catalogue, which was a family market that suited us just fine.
All those commercial tie-ins came about in a funny way. Nowadays, studio bosses are plenty savvy about how much money a star's name can mean, and contracts all have lots of clauses about royalties from souvenirs with a character's name or picture on them. But when I started out in the business, that kind of thing wasn't done much. Early on, when I had gone to Herb Yates at Republic to beg for a raise, he put his foot down, as usual. As we talked about it, I mentioned to him that I had a chance to do some commercial tie-ins for products using my name. He said, 'Fine, do all the endorsements and products you want; just don't ask me for any money."
When I walked out of his office that day, he was happy because he didn't have to pay me any more than the $150 a week I was already getting. I had really wanted a raise, and I was feeling kind of bad that all I got was the right to use my name and likeness for products. I thought I had lost the fight with Mr. Yates. As it turned out, the 'Toy Rogers" label he let me keep was worth a whole lot more than any raise he would have given me. We learned that the hard way: when I had to sue Republic Pictures for the right to use my own name.
In happened in May 1951, when my second seven-year contract expired. In talking with Mr. Yates about another contract, Art Rush insisted that the studio grant me the right to do some television shows. Yates refused. William Boyd, who played Hopalong Cassidy, had been smart enough to get the rights to all the pictures he made in the 1930s. When he sold them to television, he became a bigger star than he had ever been. Gene Autry was going into television, too. About the time my contract expired, Mr. Yates instructed his people at the studio to start trimming all my old pictures to fifty-three minutes so they would fit an hour-long TV slot. Well, that got my back up! He didn't want me to do television because he was planning to sell all my old pictures to TV himself! But thanks to that clause in my contract, giving me the right to use my name and likeness, I was able to get a court order that stopped the studio from selling my pictures. That was good for me, but of course it meant the end of my job at Republic. Suddenly there I was in 1951, a movie cowboy without a movie contract—after being chosen as the exhibitors' favorite Western star every year since 1943!
Television was new, but we were certain it was the way to go. Along with Dale and Pat Brady and a small group of the fellas from the old Republic crew, we made a thirty-minute movie, what you'd call a TV pilot today, called "Presenting Roy Rogers—King of the Cowboys." In the fall of 1951, after the courts stopped Republic from selling my old pictures to TV, General Foods' Post Cereals agreed to sponsor our show. On December 30, "The Roy Rogers Show" went on the NBC network. The premiere was a grand affair broadcast from the El Capitan Theater, starting with a live half hour featuring songs by Dale and the Whippoorwills, a novelty music act by Pat Brady, and Bob Hope promoting a picture we had just made together, called Son of Paleface. We did a sketch in which Bob, I, and Trigger were all supposed to be playing poker together. When Trigger spots Bob trying to pull an ace from his sleeve, he knocks over the table with his nose and pushes him offstage. After that, we showed our movie, which established the setting and the characters for the TV series.
"The Roy Rogers Show" took place in Mineral City, located in Paradise Valley. It wasn't the old West—we had cars and telephones—but most of the action was on horseback. I owned the Double R Bar Ranch; Dale ran the Eureka Cafe; and just like in our movies, there wasn't a whole lot of mushy stuff between us—more like good friendship. The plot of the first show had to do with Dale helping a falsely accused man escape from jail. Pat Brady played my sidekick, along with the stubborn old army Jeep that he called Nellybelle. Of course, Trigger was part of the series. We got Dale a spirited buckskin quarterhorse named Buttermilk because Pal, the palomino she used to ride in movies and live shows, looked too much like Trigger on the little television screen. Our German shepherd, Bullet ("the Wonder Dog"), was always part of the action, too. The show originally ran on NBC at 6:30 p.m. on Sundays. We made a hundred episodes through 1957, then went into syndication and over to CBS for four years.
We heard from people of all ages who liked that program. When it was broadcast on Sunday nights, whole families used to sit around and watch it together. I guess the thing that tickled us most about going to television was how much closer kids felt to us. TV made us more like their pals, people they really knew rather than someone in a movie. I know this from the way audiences at rodeos and live shows reacted to us in the 1950s. "Roy! Dale!" boys and girls cried out, like they had been our friends forever.
I also know how strong the effect of TV was from all the kids who started showing up on our doorstep asking us to take them in after that show went on the air. Each one would put on a big, sad face and tell us how their mean ol' ma and pa made them do awful things like take out the garbage and clean their room and wash their hands before supper. From seeing Dale and me on TV, they figured that being the child of the King of the Cowboys and the Queen of the West had no such hardships. They believed that our life was nothing but happy songs, fast horses, and exciting adventures—a child's dream come true.