Leonard Franklin Slye was born in Ohio Nov. 5, 1911. He died as Roy Rogers on July 6, 1998. This year was the 20th anniversary of his death, which got me to thinking…..
Len Slye was born in a tenement in Cincinnati, Ohio. After reaching manhood, and a meager existence in Ohio, doing factory work, singing at square dances, and finally moving on to, hopefully, greener pastures, he ended up in California. His singing was enhanced by learning to yodel from his mother who used yodeling as a communication to call Len to her when he was needed. Our mothers sure have a lot of influence on us!
His first big break was when he, Tim Spencer, and Bob Nolan decided to start a singing group hoping to eventually end up in the movies as background singers. They called themselves the Pioneers Trio, which eventually led to being called the Sons of the Pioneers. Hugh and Cal Farr, two brother musicians became part of the group later on. Some well-known men, who at one time were part of the group, were Ken Curtis of Gunsmoke fame, Pat Brady, who played in several movies with Slye, after he became known as Roy Rogers. Who wanted a cowboy around with the name Slye? One of Roy’s early roles was in a Gene Autry film. The Sons of the Pioneers were singers in quite a few westerns before being used in Roy’s films as back-up singers and actors.
This, not being the recollection of Dale Evans, I will only say that her real name was Frances Octavia Smith and she was from Texas. She began her career as a USO type singer during the Second World War. She and Slye, now known as Roy Rogers, met in the making of a movie in which they both had parts. They married after a short courtship, and remained married until their deaths parted them.
One of the things that did not sit well with many veterans of the military was that when Gene Autry was inducted into the military, Roy Rogers was given his place as King of the Cowboys. As time heals all wounds, the veterans eventually got over the fact that Roy became King of the Cowboys at the expense of Gene Autry serving his country with honor as a Transport pilot.
Trigger first appeared in the early black and white movies of Roy Rogers. We kids did not know that he was indeed a beautiful Palomino stallion until the first color films of Roy were circulated. We also did not know that there were several ‘Triggers’ that were used to do the different tricks that Trigger did on screen. This was somewhat of a disappointment, but as we say, time heals all wounds, especially in the minds of really impressionable hillbilly kids whose only entertainment was to travel to the old Raven, Virginia theater to see our favorite cowboy stars. One week we would like Lash Larue, but next week would feature Roy Rogers, then he again became our favorite, and on and on!
Bullet became famous in Roy and Dale’s venture into the small screen called television. As with Trigger, it took several German Shepherds to do all the things that Bullet did to assist Roy in the capture of the bad guys. He also did his share of rescuing Dale and Roy from perilous situations. Pat Brady, of Sons of the Pioneer fame, gave comic relief in the days of the Roy Rogers Show on television. He, with his wonderful jeep, Nellybelle, did some wonderful things in the days of yesteryear. Lest we forget, Dale Evans’ beautiful horse, Buttermilk, did a lot of deeds, of which it would take many volumes to record.
When Roy and Dale were inducted into the Western Performers Hall of Fame, I wrote a poem and sent it to them hoping to hear from them. Much to my chagrin, at the time, they never acknowledged that I had even written. (Jimmy Stewart both acknowledged my poem to him regarding his reception of the Silver Star for his service in WW2, and also sent me several autographs.) Some are congenial, some are not. This was a lesson I had to learn the hard way.
Roy did not do badly, rising from his beginnings in a tenement in Cincinnati. He became famous as a singer, songwriter, actor, restauranteer, and humanitarian. He was connected to several well-known actors of Hollywood: John Wayne, George ‘Gabby’ Hayes, Andy Devine, and last but not least, Gene Autry. He has been honored by songwriters Lyle Lovett, Elton John, Toby Keith, Randy Travis, and a host of others. He made his mark in California, not by being just plain, Len Slye, but under an assumed name, Roy Rogers! Wonder who will be the next, “King of the Cowboys?” Meantime, I wish you a “Happy Trails,” Roy!