Tuesday, February 26, 2013

A HAPPY TRAILS ROMANCE




The story of Dale Evans and Roy Rogers might read “Queen of the West marries King of the Cowboys to travel Happy Trails together.” But no matter how famous they became, their lives were plagued by heartache as well as happiness.

Dale Evans and Roy Rogers
Queen of the West and King of the Cowboys

Like many youngsters, I admired Roy Rogers and Dale Evans. My plan was to edge out Dale after I grew up and have Roy all to myself. I pictured us riding the range as we rid the West of bank robbers and rustlers. Imagine my anguish when I learned Dale had long ago married Roy and he wouldn’t be waiting for me. Don’t worry, I’m almost over it.

Strangely enough, Dale’s story starts similar to my own. She remembers sitting on the banks of the Uvalde River south of San Antonio and dreaming about Tom Mix (instead of the far superior Roy Rogers about whom I dreamed). She planned to grow up and marry Tom Mix, and of course, she believed he would remain the same while she aged. Little girls and their fanciful imaginations, right? But that’s where any resemblance disappears.

Dale began life as Frances Octavia Smith on October 31, 1912 in Uvalde, Texas, the daughter of a Baptist minister and his wife. She was the first grandchild and received plenty of attention. She loved being “on show.” The precocious Frances eloped at the age of fourteen with a boy four years older, Thomas Fox, by lying about their ages. A year later, living with her husband’s parents, she gave birth to Tom, Jr. But Tom asked for a divorce when Frances was sixteen, insisting they married too young.

Dale Evans circa 1930's
Frances’ name was changed by one of her producers because he said Dale Evans sounded good on the air. During a career as a radio and band singer, Dale remarried briefly and divorced. Her singing took her to Hollywood where eventually she was signed for movies. She envisioned herself as a grand musical star, but learned she needed more than ballroom dancing to do the extensively choreographed tap and ballet routines of the 1930's movies.

Roy Rogers, King of the Cowboys


Roy was born Leonard Slye on November 5, 1911 at 412 Second Street in Cinncinatti, Ohio. He loved singing and playing the guitar and traveled in several musical groups, including the famous Sons of the Pioneers, before signing as a western star. A producer changed his name. Will Rogers’s popularity accounts for Roy’s last name, and the producer found the alliterative name Roy Rogers held appeal, citing that Roy means king in French.

Dale’s acting career was less than spectacular until cast opposite Roy Rogers in “The Cowboy and the Señorita.” Since she was from Texas, casting thought she could ride a horse. As she galloped down a hill behind Roy, she bounced so hard her caps actually flew off her teeth. Her experience convinced her to take riding lessons, and Roy also gave her pointers.

Dale Evans, 1940's Sweater Girl
She wanted to be a “serious actress” and westerns didn’t fit her career plan. After bouncing back and forth between popular westerns and serious flops, she realized that westerns starring opposite Roy Rogers might be her forté.

At the time, Roy was happily married to Arlene (nee Wilkins.) Eight days after giving caesarian birth to their third child, Arlene died of an embolism. Roy was grief stricken and left to raise Cheryl, Linda, and Dusty (Roy Jr.). Over a year later, as the featured entertainers at a Chicago rodeo, Roy proposed to Dale while on horseback in the arena. 

They were married New Year’s Eve, 1947 at the home of Bill and Alice Likens’s Flying L Ranch in Oklahoma. They hoped to avoid the spectacle a Hollywood wedding would create, plus that was close enough for Dale's Texas relatives to attend. They neglected to take into account Oklahoma weather and other disasters. Snow and sleet made the minister two hours late. Roy and his best man were late coming downstairs due to extinguishing a fire in a bedroom they passed. Someone had tossed a cigarette into a wastebasket and started a blaze.

Entertaining troops in Vietnam
At age thirty-seven, Dale learned she and Roy were expecting a baby. Trouble dogged the pregnancy: Dale contracted German measles in her second month, had to be bed fast twice, and developed anemia. On top of that, she was Rh-negative and Roy was Rh-positive. On August 26, 1950, Robin Elizabeth Rogers arrived. She had Mongolism, or what is now called Down syndrome. Robin lived only three years.  Their acceptance of Robin's disability and Dale's book also won many fans--fans who faced similar challenges. Instead of sheltering or hiding their children at home as was the custom of the time, parents brought them to concerts where they cheered Dale and Roy.

Dale’s book about Robin’s life and death, ANGEL UNAWARE, sold hd over a million copies and had gone through twenty-nine printings by 1994. The title is based on the verse in Hebrews: “Be not forgetful to entertain strangers; for thereby some have entertained angels unawares.” Dale also authored eighteen other Christian-themed books. With Roy, she co-authored two books about their life. 

Readers will probably recognize two of Dale’s many published songs, “The Bible Tells Me So” and their theme song of “Happy Trails.” After hearing and squawking (my version of singing) out "The Bible Tells Me So" as long as I can recall, I admit I believed it an old-time gospel song. I don't believe I ever saw actual sheet music, so I hadn't a clue that Dale Evans was credited as sole songwriter.

After Robin’s death, Dale and Roy adopted several children. They toured together and frequently visited hospitalized children, who always held a soft spot in their hearts. Roy said, “No amount of money or fame can equal the feeling of watching sick children’s faces light up when I walk in their hospital rooms.”

In addition to Robin, Dale and Roy lost two of the children they’d adopted: Debbie, their half Korean/half Puerto Rican daughter from Korea died in a bus crash at age twelve; and Sandy, a formerly abused son from the US who died while he was in the Army stationed in Germany. Their other children grew and married, Dodie, the youngest in 1989. 

Then Dale and Roy were left in their large home alone, except for the time they spent playing with their grandkids, and entertaining at a few special guest appearances, such as with Billy Graham's Crusades. They opened the Roy Rogers museum across the road from their Apple Valley Ranch. Roy made his last movie, “Mackintosh and T.J.” in 1976. Dale had a faith-based radio show for many years after that and continued her writing. 

Dale and Roy in front of Trigger
Dale thought Trigger should be buried with a
headstone and threatened to have Roy
stuffed when he died and mounted on Trigger.
The Roy Rogers Museum moved to Branson. But in 2009 it closed and the items were auctioned off. I almost cried when I heard the closing announced. How I would have loved to have anything that had belonged to the duo. But after 42 years, attendance had declined. Roy had told Roy Jr. that if the museum ever started costing money, he should close it and move on. 

Roy Rogers Museum, Branson, Missouri
Not all their dreams came true, but in fifty years of marriage, their love and high standards still serve as an example for their fans. 

Roy and Dale at the 61st Oscars
In the 1994 book HAPPY TRAILS, by Jane and Michael Stern, Roy said, “I think maybe the most important thing Dale and I have in common, along with our faith, is our love for children. Both of us wanted a big family; and our roles in cowboy movies made other kids, as well as our own, an endless part of our lives.” 

Thanks, Dale and Roy, for all the pleasure you brought me an countless others. 
Happy Trails! 



Caroline Clemmons is the Amazon bestselling author of western romances. Her recent release, BLUEBONNET BRIDE, is book three in her acclaimed Men of Stone Mountain series.She and her husband live in Texas cowboy country.

When a tornado provides Rosalyn with the opportunity to escape the gallows, she collects her daughter Lucy and flees. They travel far enough West that Rosalyn believes she’s gone to the ends of the earth. She hopes she and Lucy will be safe in this remote North Texas town where she embarks on a new life as a dressmaker. If only she could avoid contact with people, especially the handsome sheriff who pops up every time she turns around. What if she and her chatterbox daughter slip and reveal too much? 

To celebrate Sweethearts Month at Sweethearts of the West, Caroline will be giving away a copy of BLUEBONNET BRIDE to one commenter.

BLUEBONNET BRIDE is available as an e-book at Smashwords:

and in print and e-book at Amazon

Thanks for stopping by!

Sources:
HAPPY TRAILS: Our Life Story, Roy Rogers and Dale Evans, by Jane and Michael Stern, 1994, Simon and Schuster
Wikipedia and other online sites

13 comments:

  1. Hey Caroline,

    What a lovely story to start my day. I didn't know Dale Evans was a songwriter, or that she'd had so many trials in her life. But we often forget that the people we put on platforms are people same as the rest of us.

    I was a Roy Rogers fan too, and I learned to ride on a pony named Trigger. Unlike his famous namesake, my cousin's Trigger would lay down and try to roll you off, and he was known to kick up his heels if he was feeling his oats. Ah, those glory days of youth.

    I very much enjoyed your post, and your new book sounds wonderful. Pretty cover, by the way!

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  2. Fascinating stuff I never knew about Roy Rogers and Dale Evans!

    Morgan Mandel
    http://www.morganmandel.com

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  3. I loved Roy Rogers. When my dad was on ocean weather way back when I was three, I told everyone that my dad was just a man that came to visit and that Roy Rogers was my real dad. They didn't believe the Roy Rogers part, but they did believe the part about my dad. My mom was most unhappy with me. LOL
    I did not realize that Roy and Dale had been married before they met or that they had suffered so much tragedy. I loved them.
    Great blog.

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  4. I always love Roy and Dale when I was growing up. I wanted to be just like them and have a horse like theirs. The closet I got was a horse head on a stick. Believe me when I say I road that horse head on a stick. Thanks for the great post.

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  5. They are so inspiring. And I loved Dale's book "Angel Unaware" about their disabled daughter Robin. I bawled when I read it in sixth grade, and every time since.

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  6. I remember my parents told me they took my older sisters to see the movies with Dale Evans & Roy Rogers. Big age difference - my oldest sister was 21 when I was born but anyhow I loved reading ANGEL UNAWARE in 5th grade. Little did I know that it would be a bigger blessing than I ever imagined because when I was 26 years old I gave birth to a daughter with DS, and later to another daughter with DS. So I read this book again to my 4 typical children and it was a special time. I wanted them to feel free to talk to me anytime about their siblings with sp. needs and ask me any questions they might have.

    Roy Rogers and Dale Evans was an interesting and wonderful post! Thanks, Caroline. Btw, I love your book covers - they are gorgeous.

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  7. Beautiful people. I remember several years ago a child dying of cancer had a wish to have a horse like Trigger. Dale attended a Make-A-Wish function with a horse for the little boy. What a beautiful caring woman she was.

    Thanks for the memories your blog brought to mind. My brother and I used to watch their TV show on Saturdays. Roy was one of my heros.

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  8. I remember loving them all through my childhood. Thank you so much for this beautiful story deb

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  9. i forgot dgaud12@sbcglobal.net thank you

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  10. I too loved Roy and Dale. They were an inspiration. I remember when I was very young, probably 10 or 12 my grandmother handed me Dales' book, Angel, Unaware when I was out at her house. Of course it was a real tear jerker for me.

    Love the sound of your book. Can't wait to read it!

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  11. Caroline--whew. Barely made it. I knew a lot about them, but not everything, as I see. The book Angel Unaware is one I read as a girl, and will never, ever forget the story and how sad I was. I knew they adopted numerous children after Robin died. They were very Christian and big-hearted.
    I love those older photos of Dale. She was gorgeous, wasn't she?
    Thanks for their love story...what a wonderful tale it is.

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  12. I too adored Roy when I was little. He was my favorite singing cowboy. He and dale were a shining example for many of us.

    Thanks for the memories, Caroline.

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  13. Caroline, I loved this story. You did a wonderful job capturing the magic of both Dale and Roy and how they brought many smiles to a lot of people. There used to be a Roy Rogers museum out my way in Victorville, CA but I don't know if it's still there.

    Smiles
    Steph

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