For generations of fans, Roy Rogers remains the “King of the Cowboys” and his lovely wife, Dale Evans, will forever be known as the “Queen of the West”. Starring in hundreds of films and television episodes, Roy and Dale were the epitome of a loving, devoted, and wholesome couple in both their on-screen personas as well as in their real lives.
Both of these iconic Western stars came from simple beginnings. Roy was born into humble circumstances in the autumn of 1911 in Cincinnati, Ohio, as Leonard Slye.. He worked in a shoe factory alongside his father Andy Slye who had failed at trying to support his family on a small farm. The Skye family had no extra money for entertainment so they would spend weekend evenings singing and inviting neighbors over for square dances. Young Leonard had taught himself to play the mandolin and he also would sing and yodel to entertain family and friends.
At the start of the Great Depression in 1929, Leonard, and later his family, moved to Los Angeles. Like many families during the Depression, work was scarce and times were tough.
Young Leonard picked peaches and took any kind of hard work he could find to help make ends meet.
In 1933, he began singing on the radio with a group known as the the Rocky Mountaineeers and later toured the Southwest with the O-Bar-O Cowboys performing in small theaters and at dances. While in Texas, the group disbanded and in 1934 Leonard along with two others, formed a new musical group, the Sons of the Pioneers. Returning to Los Angeles, the Sons of the Pioneers gained popularity with appearances on radio broadcasts and, before long, the band had signed a recording contract with the Decca label. Their first national hit was “Tumbling Tumbleweeds”.
While Leonard was making a name for himself in the music world, Dale Evan’s pathway to Hollywood had been a difficult one, too. She was born Lucille Wood Smith in 1912 in the small town of Uvalde, Texas. Due to family troubles, she was raised by an uncle in Arkansas and her name had been changed to Frances Octavia Smith. While only 14, she eloped with a boyfriend and soon found herself pregnant and abandoned in Memphis. To help support her infant son, she found a job under a new name, as Dale Evans, at local radio stations where she played the piano and sang several types of popular music including jazz, swing and big band tunes.
Like many promising and talented young ladies, Dale headed to Hollywood where she garnered a screen test with the 20th Century Fox Studios. This led to her becoming a featured performer on the popular Edgar Bergen and Charlie McCarthy radio show. Dale’s life continued to be a struggle as she worked diligently to support her son and build a career for herself. In 1946, her pathway took a turn for the better when she was fortunate enough to be cast by Republic Studios to play opposite none other than Lenard Slye who was now known in Hollywood as Roy Rogers.
As Roy Rogers, Lenoard Slye had been working pretty steadily in Western films as a singing cowboy including working in Gene Autry films. Under contract by Republic Pictures, Roy proved to be a matinee idol and top box office star on his own.
Like Dale Evans, Roy Rogers had not been as lucky in his love life as he was in his career as a singer and actor. He had an early marriage which ended tragically after his then-wife died just days after giving birth to a son, Roy, Jr. in 1946.
Roy Rogers and Dale Evans had worked on a film together in 1944. As he grieved the loss of his late wife, Roy found Dale to be a comforting and trusted friend. Soon, that friendship blossomed into love and on New Year’s Eve of 1947, the two singing Western actors were married. However, their marriage and family life faced challenges which their faith in God helped them overcome including having one of the five children they had together, Robin, being born with Down Syndrome and tragically dying following complications from mumps at the age of two. Dale was inspired to write of how she and Roy had struggled with this loss in a best-selling book, “Angel Unaware”.
Roy and Dale were also long proponents of adoption and worked with agencies to find loving homes for countless boys and girls. They personally adopted four children who found a loving home at the Rogers family ranch in Chatsworth, CA. In yet another tragedy, another of their daughters, Debbie, died in an accident in 1964 while traveling in a church bus. The strong marriage Dale and Roy shared deepened every year and brought much happiness into both of their lives.. As Roy once said, “If there were no valleys of sadness and death, we could never appreciate the sunshine of happiness on the mountaintop.”
Roy Rogers and his wife Dale Evans were also active in the Family of Freemasonry. Roy had become a Master Mason in 1946 and was an active member of Hollywood Lodge F&AM No. 355. He also joined the Los Angeles Valley of the Scottish Rite, was a Companion of the Royal Arch and the Knights Templar, as well as a proud member of the Al Malaikah Shrine in Los Angeles.Dale was a member of the Order of the Eastern Star. They spent a considerable amount of time fundraising for Masonic charities including the Shriners Hospitals for Children. Roy would often bring his beloved Palomino “Trigger” to the hospitals to the delight of the young patients.
They were also active members in their church group. In 1956, the Hollywood Christian Group became Bel Air Church. In Apple Valley, California, where they made their home. Streets, highways, and civic buildings have been named after them in recognition of their efforts on behalf of homeless and handicapped children.
From the silver screen to starring in their own television show, Roy Rogers and Dale Evans were, perhaps, America’s most famous “cowboy couple” and had created a highly successful multi-media empire. Yet, neither lost sight of their values and faith. In 1962, Dale wrote what was to become their signature song, “Happy Trails”. This wonderful couple traveled along many trails together until Roy’s passing in July of 1968. Their love and legacy was rich, meaningful, wholesome, and inspiring. Not surprisingly, Dale continued to love Roy long after his passing until her own death in 2001.
Today, let’s remember this wonderful couple with lyrics from their most famous song:
Who cares about the clouds when we're together? Just sing a song, and bring the sunny weather. Happy trails to you, Until we meet again.