“The King of the Cowboys” has a special place in the heart of the RFD-TV family. For years, re-runs of the “The Roy Rogers Show” were a staple of our viewing line-up. (You can still check them out: airing daily on our sister network, The Cowboy Channel.) Our TV studio from which “Market Day Report,” “Rural Evening News,” and “RURAL AMERICA LIVE,” all originate is dubbed the Roy Rogers Studio. And Roy Rogers’ beloved horse Trigger and faithful dog Bullet live on as taxidermal effigies, having recently moved to their new home at The Cowboy Channel’s new broadcast facility in Fort Worth, Texas.
Believe it or not, the man the world would come to know as Roy Rogers didn't just show up in Hollywood one day, having ridden in on horseback from mysterious origins somewhere the desert southwest. Rather, he arose from humble beginnings further east and followed a somewhat unexpected pathway to American Icon status.
Here are the the Top 10 Need-to-Know Facts about the life of Roy Rogers:
1. Roy Rogers was born east of the Mississippi River – in Cincinnati, Ohio, as a matter of fact, on November 5, 1911. Most of his youth was spent in rural Ohio.
Rogers's boyhood home at Duck Run, near Lucasville, Ohio
2. His given name at birth was Leonard Franklin Slye. (Family and friends called him “Len.”) He dropped out of high school after his sophomore year to take a factory job so he could help support his family.
3. His first appearance on radio was in 1931, shortly after 19-year-old “Len” and his family had re-located to California. This appearance, for a locally broadcast radio program, soon led to stints with various traveling country and western music acts over the next several years, including the Rocky Mountaineers, the O-Bar-O Cowboys, and the Sons of the Pioneers (of which “Len” was one of the founding members). “Tumbling Tumbleweeds” was one of the first songs recorded by the Sons of the Pioneers, after they signed a recording contract with Decca records in 1934.
4. Roy Rogers’ first starring film role was in “Under Western Stars,” 1938. “Len” Slye had already been featured in dozens of films as a member of the Sons of the Pioneers, but in 1937 he was offered his own contract as an actor for Republic Pictures (who was looking for a singing cowboy star to compete with Gene Autry), and given the stage name by which the world remembers him.
Signed publicity photo of Roy Rogers and Trigger
5. Roy Rogers became one of Hollywood's earliest super-successful merchandising magnates after he had the foresight to negotiate an addition to his 1940 contract which gave him rights to all wares featuring his likeness, voice, or name. Untold numbers of Roy Rogers action figures, games, and comic books were sold in the ensuing years.
6. Roy Rogers married Dale Evans (born Lucille Wood Smith) in 1947. The couple had first appeared on film together in 1944. They remained married for over 50 years (until Roy's death in 1998), adopted and raised several children (their only biological daughter died before her second birthday), and were noted for their support of various charities and Christian ministries.
Roy Rogers & Dale Evans in a TV broadcast from Knott's Berry Farm, 1970s
7. “The Roy Rogers Show” ran for 100 episodes on NBC, from 1951 through 1957. The show’s theme song, “Happy Trails,” was written by Dale Evans and sung by the couple as the credits rolled at the end of each episode. (Catch re-runs on The Cowboy Channel!)
8. Trigger, Roy Roger's famous Palomino stallion, had more than his fair share of “horse sense:” he was highly intelligent, reportedly knew 150 trick cues, and could walk up to 50 feet on his hind legs! Rogers bought the horse – foaled on July 4, 1934 and originally named Golden Cloud – in 1943, after the pair had already appeared in numerous films together. Trigger died on July 3, 1965 – just one day shy of his 31st birthday! (Though a life-long stallion, Trigger was never bred and has no descendants – an unfortunate loss for the species!)
Roy Rogers and Dale Evans at the 61st Academy Awards, 3/29/1989
9. Bullet the Wonder Dog – the German Shepherd, unlike all the other stars of the family, really was named Bullet from the beginning and was Roy and Dale’s household pet before he went on to co-star in the television series for its entire run.
10. Roy Rogers Restaurants came into being after Rogers licensed his name to the Marriott Corporation in 1968. The company soon thereafter began rebranding their former chain of “Hot Shoppes” restaurants.