Last month my blog was how famous western historical legends died and where they "rested in peace." When doing the research I also found myself reading with nostalgic interest about three 20th century legends. All were born well before our time, but I know some of us western enthusiasts remember them with fondness from listening to their songs and seeing reruns of their movies & TV shows when we were children.
The Singing Cowboy, The King of the Cowboys & The Queen of the West: Can you guess who they were?
Yep, Gene Autry, Roy Rogers & Dale Evans. Do you remember their horses' names? Champion, Trigger, Buttermilk & not to forget Roy's dog, Bullet!
Born in 1907 in Tioga, Texas, Orvon Grover "Gene" Autry became an actor, singer and major league baseball team owner. In 1928 he began singing for a local radio station and within three years had his own radio show and was making records. His movie films in the 30's & 40's defined the B-western movies, despite cars, airplanes and other modern devices in them.
In World War II, he served as an officer in the Army Air Corps as a pilot. After the war, he returned to making movies and during the 1950's had his own television show. He wrote over 200 songs, best known for his theme song, "Back in the Saddle Again." His rendition of the popular Christmas song, "Rudolph the Red-nosed Reindeer" was a favorite along with the song he wrote, "Here Comes Santa Claus."
Few are aware of Autry's longtime involvement in professional rodeo. He owned a company that provided livestock for most of the major rodeos in Texas, Colorado, Montana, and Nebraska. When the company was sold in 1968, he continued to be active in rodeo. For his work as a livestock contractor, Autry was inducted into the Professional Rodeo Cowboys Association's ProRodeo Hall of Fame in 1997.
A shrewd businessman, he retired from show business in the late 1950's, a self-made millionaire. In the late 1980's he built a museum to showcase his personal collection of authentic western memorabilia. He has five stars on the Hollywood Walk of Fame for Recording, Movies, Television, Radio and Live Theater.
Gene Autry died of cancer in Los Angeles, California in 1998 and is buried at Forest Lawn Memorial Park in Hollywood Hills, Los Angeles, CA. Married twice, he had no children.
Born in 1911, Leonard Franklin Slye (Roy Rogers) was born in Cincinnati, Ohio to a musical family. At nineteen, he moved to California and formed a band which became known as the Sons of the Pioneers. Soon they were on the radio and sang their way to stardom. Their recording "Tumbling Tumbleweeds" became a number one hit on the charts.
Leonard began working as an extra at Republic Pictures and after winning a singing cowboy contest, the Republic Pictures staff suggested he use the stage name, Roy Rogers after Will Rogers and the shortening of Leroy. He teamed up with his Palomino horse, Trigger and under contract with Republic Pictures, became a "matinee idol" making a total of 37 movies. During World War II, Roy made numerous USO tours with Trigger, raising millions of dollars through the sale of War Bonds.
He began making movies with Dale Evans (who also changed her name from her birth name, Francis Octavia Smith) which led to marriage in 1947 and a partnership which lasted the rest of the lives. The Roy Rogers TV Show lasted seven years while the song written by Dale, "Happy Trails" became a hit and the Rogers theme song. In 1988 Roy was elected into the Country Music Hall of Fame and he also received three stars on the Hollywood Walk of Fame for TV, Radio and movies.
The couple remained favorites through their connection with Christian programs and the Roy Rogers Museum in Victorville, CA. Another popular song Dale wrote was "The Bible Tells Me So." They had five children and adopted four.
In 1998 Roy Rogers died at 86 in his home in Apple Valley, CA from heart failure. Fitting of an American legend, Roy's public funeral was held at the Church of the Valley with a western theme. Sons of the Pioneers sang his western songs while his body was conveyed in a glass enclosed 1898 hearse drawn by a single Clydesdale to his final resting place, many attendees wearing western style clothing. Dale Evans died three years later and was buried next to Roy at Sunset Hills Memorial Park in Apple Valley, CA.
Trigger who lived to be 33, Dale's horse, Buttermilk and even their dog, Bullet were mounted with places of honor in the Roy Rogers-Dale Evans Museum. However, the history of the museum doesn't end there ….
The stuffed animals as well as the museum, with attendance dwindling, was moved from Victorville to Branson, Missouri in 2003. Then in 2010, a Nebraska cable TV network purchased the stuffed and mounted Trigger at an auction in New York City for $266,500. The network also purchased Bullet for $35,000 and both are on display at their main offices. Many other items and memorabilia were sold to people well above estimates.
Rogers' son Roy Jr. cried at the beginning of the sale as he spoke of the family's decision to auction Roy's belongings. "We hope you get a piece of Roy and Dale to take home and pass it on to your children."
I hope you buckaroos enjoyed reading about these three American legends.
I'll end my post with "Happy trails to you, until we meet again," … I bet some of you can remember with fondness hearing Roy & Dale singing that song. I know I can!
For more information about Cheri Kay Clifton and her books, visit her web site at www.cherikayclifton.com You can also find her on Facebook.