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When Cincinnati-born Leonard Franklin Slye headed west in the spring of 1931, it was as a would-be musician, working jobs ranging from driving a gravel truck to picking fruit in California's Central Valley. In less than two years, he'd co-founded the greatest Western singing group of all time, the Sons of the Pioneers, and barely four years after that, he'd started a career as a movie star under the new name Roy Rogers. Ultimately he found great fame as a movie and TV cowboy and even founded a very successful chain of restaurants.
He was born in Cincinnati, OH, the son of Andrew and Mattie Womack Slye. The entire household was musical, and by the time he was a teenager, Len could play the guitar and the mandolin. Although he later took on the role of a cowboy before the public, the closest he got to riding the range was working the family farm they had in a small town outside of Cincinnati. By age 19, he'd headed out to California, where chance led him to enter an amateur singing contest on the radio, resulting in an offer to join the Rocky Mountaineers. There he made the acquaintance of Bob Nolan. They developed a harmonious friendship that worked well within the group for several months, until Nolan exited in frustration over their lack of success. His replacement was Tim Spencer, and eventually Slye, Spencer, and another singer named Slumber Nichols quit the Rocky Mountaineers in the spring of 1932 to form a trio of their own, which never quite came off. Slye decided to push on, joining Jack LeFevre & His Texas Outlaws.
In early 1933, he got Spencer and Nolan together to form what was then known as the Pioneer Trio. Their mix of singing and yodeling, coupled with their good spirits, won them a job on radio. Within a few weeks, they were developing a large following of their own on LeFevre's show, with their harmony singing eliciting lots of mail. A fourth member, fiddle player Hugh Farr, was added to firm up their sound early in 1934. The group's name was altered by accident -- on one broadcast the station's announcer introduced them as "The Sons of the Pioneers." The group sold large numbers of records from the very beginning, with the classic Nolan original "Tumbling Tumbleweeds" cut at their very first session. Two more new members, Lloyd Perryman and Hugh Farr's guitarist brother Karl, were added, and by the mid-'30s the sextet was one of the top-selling country acts, performing to sell-out audiences and sought by radio stations and sponsors eager to back them on the air.
During this period, Slye did occasional work as a movie extra and bit player in B-Westerns under the name Dick Weston at Republic Pictures, where the reigning king of Western movies was another singer, Gene Autry, whose records outsold even the Pioneers'. In 1938, Autry entered into a contractual dispute with Republic that resulted in his failure to report for his next movie. Republic, anticipating the dispute, had put out the word -- apparently more as a ploy than a real attempt at replacing their top male star -- that they were looking for a new leading actor for their Westerns. Slye tried sneaking onto the lot with a group of extras and was caught, but a sympathetic director permitted him to take a screen test. He tested extremely well and got the part. At the time, the Pioneers had just signed a contract with Columbia Pictures to appear in and play musical support to Charles Starrett in a series of B-Westerns, and he was forced to leave the group in order to sign his own contract at Republic.
A new name was required and "Roy Rogers" was selected, the "Rogers" coming from Will Rogers and "Roy" coming off of a list. He made his debut in Under Western Stars; not only did it introduce Rogers as a new star, but also his horse, Trigger. A long-term contract followed, and for the next 13 years, he was one of the studio's mainstays, rivaling and later surpassing Autry at the box office. By 1940, Rogers was successful enough to approach Republic with a request for a salary increase. The studio was notoriously reticent on such matters, and he was denied any raise. But in lieu of the request, he extracted a much more valuable concession -- the rights to the name Roy Rogers and all merchandising that went with it. The early '40s saw Rogers turn into a national institution. His Westerns became even more popular and accessible once they were taken out of the "historic" West of the 19th century and moved into the modern West, which allowed for more freedom in plotting and dialogue. With director Joseph Kane helming his movies, Rogers became the undisputed "King of the Cowboys" after Autry joined the U.S. Army Air Force in 1942. By 1944, however, the movies and records represented only a small part of the success that Rogers had achieved. The merchandising of Rogers memorabilia and other items -- not just toys, but cereals and electric ranges -- coupled with a syndicated radio show made him one of the most familiar figures in popular culture throughout the war years.
In 1944, with his first teaming with featured actress Dale Evans, the next major element in his screen success was in place. Their relationship was, at first, purely professional, but their chemistry on screen was undeniable, and Republic was soon pairing them up regularly. With the return of master action director William Witney from service in the war during 1945, Rogers' film career was poised for success for years to come, as Witney toughened up the Rogers movies and elevated their action sequences. All of this success, and the whirlwind of activity surrounding it, was negated by the death of Rogers' wife, Arline, from an embolism following the birth of their son, Roy Jr., on November 3, 1946. Rogers continued making movies and recording, along with his personal appearances and radio broadcast. In the course of their work together in pictures, he and Evans (who had already been designated "The Queen of the West" by Republic's publicity office) became ever closer. Finally, on December 31, 1947, the two were married. They made movies together for the remainder of the 1940s, and when the market for B-Westerns began to disappear with the advent of television, Rogers followed the lead of Western star William ("Hopalong Cassidy") Boyd and devised a television series of his own. The Roy Rogers Show, starring Rogers and Evans and co-starring Roy's Pioneers replacement, Pat Brady, went on the air on NBC in December of 1951, beginning a seven-year network run that introduced his work to yet another generation of fans.
His first solo recordings featured backup by Hugh and Karl Farr and Bob Nolan, and the complete Pioneers supported him in most of his recording sessions for the remainder of 1937 and 1938. Later on, however, Rogers was backed by Spade Cooley & His Buckle-Busters as well as various anonymous studio orchestras, although Karl Farr would turn up on his sessions as well into the 1940s. On record as a solo artist, Rogers was never as successful as the Pioneers or Autry, although he did have one promising early hit in 1938 with "Hi-Yo Silver," which reached number 13 on the charts. Even Rogers' sessions on his own recordings with the Sons of the Pioneers, however, little resembled his earlier work as a member of the Pioneers, for his was now the lead voice. And where Bob Nolan and Tim Spencer (the principal songwriters within the group) never strayed too far from some contact with the reality of the West, Rogers' music quickly took on the aura of more typical Hollywood Western songs, pleasant but not generally profound. His covers of songs such as "Don't Fence Me In" are probably the best remembered versions, thanks to his movies, and as songs like "San Fernando Valley" or "Home in Oklahoma" reveal, he had an extremely appealing tenor voice, not as memorable as Autry's voice but very pleasing to the ear nonetheless. Perhaps the most well-known of all Rogers' songs was one written by Evans and (originally) recorded by them together, "Happy Trails," which became the theme of The Roy Rogers Show. From the 1950s onward, his repertory included country music as well as Western songs and spirituals, the latter often recorded with Evans.
Rogers continued to record into the 1970s, and he scored a hit in 1972 with "Candy Kisses." He and Dale continued making personal appearances, often in the context of religious broadcasts and gatherings, as well as television broadcasts, into the early '90s. Rogers' main influence was in keeping the image of the singing cowboy alive. Along with Autry, who retired from personal appearances at the end of the 1950s, he was one of the most popular Western stars ever to record and was an influence on an entire generation of country & western singers that followed. In 1988, Rogers was elected to the Country Music Hall of Fame, giving him a second spot (the first having come as a member of the Sons of the Pioneers, who had been elected some years earlier). Two years later, the next generation of country musicians, including Emmylou Harris and Randy Travis, participated in a most unusual record, The Roy Rogers Tribute, covering Rogers' best known songs with him, including an all-star rendition of "Happy Trails." Two years later, Rogers, his wife, and eldest son recorded a new album of spiritual songs. Rogers died at his home in Victorville, CA, on July 6, 1998.
Wikipedia:For other uses, see Roy Rogers (disambiguation).
Roy Rogers (born Leonard Franklin Slye November 5, 1911 – July 6, 1998) was an American singer and cowboy actor who was one of the most popular Western stars of his era. Known as the "King of the Cowboys", he appeared in over 100 films and numerous radio and television episodes of The Roy Rogers Show. In many of his films and television episodes, he appeared with his wife Dale Evans, his golden palomino Trigger, and his German Shepherd dog Bullet. His show ran on radio for nine years before moving to television from 1951 through 1957. His productions usually featured a sidekick, often Pat Brady, Andy Devine, or George "Gabby" Hayes. In his later years, Rogers lent his name to the Roy Rogers Restaurants franchised chain.
ContentsBiography1.1 Early life1.2 Music career1.3 Film career1.4 Personal life1.5 Death
Rogers (Leonard Slye) was born to Mattie (née Womack) and Andrew "Andy" Slye in Cincinnati, Ohio. The family lived in a tenement building on 2nd Street, where Riverfront Stadium would later be constructed (Rogers would later joke that he was born at second base). Dissatisfied with his job and city life, Andy and his brother Will built a 12-by-50-foot (3.7 m × 15.2 m) houseboat from salvage lumber, and in July 1912 the Slye family traveled up the Ohio River towards Portsmouth, Ohio. Desiring a more stable existence in Portsmouth, they purchased land on which to build a house, but the Great Flood of 1913 allowed them to move the houseboat to their property and continue living in it on dry land.
In 1919 the Slye family purchased a farm in Duck Run, located near Lucasville, Ohio about 12 miles (19 km) north of Portsmouth, and built a six-room house. Andy Slye soon realized that the farm alone would provide insufficient income for his family, so he took a job at a Portsmouth shoe factory, living in Portsmouth during the week and returning home on weekends bearing gifts following paydays. A notable gift was a horse on which young Len Slye learned the basics of horsemanship. Living on the farm with no radio, the family made their own entertainment. On Saturday nights, the family often invited neighbors over for square dances, during which Len would sing, play mandolin, and call the square dances. He also learned to yodel during this time, and he and his mother would use yodeling calls to communicate with each other across distances on the farm.
After completing the eighth grade, Len attended high school in McDermott, Ohio. After completing his second year in high school, his family returned to Cincinnati, where his father began work at another shoe factory. Realizing that his family needed his financial help, Len quit school and joined his father at the shoe factory. He tried to attend night school, but after being ridiculed for falling asleep in class, he quit school and never returned.
By 1929, after Len's older sister Mary and her husband moved to Lawndale, California, he and his father quit their factory jobs, packed up their 1923 Dodge, and drove the family to California to visit Mary. They stayed for four months before returning to Ohio. Soon after returning, Len had the opportunity to travel to California with Mary's father-in-law, and the rest of the family followed in the spring of 1930. The Slye family rented a small house near Mary, and Len and his father found employment driving gravel trucks for a highway-construction project.
In the spring of 1931, after the construction company went bankrupt, Len traveled to Tulare, California where he found work picking peaches for Del Monte. During this time he lived in a labor camp similar to the ones depicted in John Steinbeck's novel The Grapes Of Wrath. The economic hardship of the Great Depression was just as severe in California as it was in Ohio.
After returning to Lawndale, Slye's sister Mary suggested that he audition for the Midnight Frolic radio program, which broadcast over KMCS in Inglewood. A few nights later, wearing a Western shirt that Mary made for him, Slye overcame his shyness and appeared on the program playing guitar, singing, and yodeling. A few days later, he was asked to join a local country music group called The Rocky Mountaineers. Slye accepted the group's offer and became a member in August 1931.
By September 1931, Slye hired Canadian-born Bob Nolan who answered the group's classified ad in the Los Angeles Herald-Examiner that read, "Yodeler for old-time act, to travel. Tenor preferred." Although Nolan stayed with the group only a short time, he and Slye stayed in touch. Nolan was replaced by Tim Spencer.
In the spring of 1932, Slye, Spencer, and another singer, Slumber Nichols, left the Rocky Mountaineers to form a trio, which soon failed. Throughout that year, Slye and Spencer moved through a series of short-lived groups, including the International Cowboys and the O-Bar-O Cowboys. When Spencer left the O-Bar-O Cowboys to take a break from music, Slye joined Jack LeFevre and His Texas Outlaws, who were a popular act on a local Los Angeles radio station.
In early 1933, Slye, Nolan, and Spencer formed a group called the Pioneers Trio, with Slye on guitar, Nolan on string bass, and Spencer on lead vocals. The three rehearsed for weeks refining their vocal harmonies. During this time, Slye continued to work with his radio singing group, while Spencer and Nolan began writing songs for the trio. In early 1934, fiddle player Hugh Farr joined the group, adding a bass voice to the group's vocal arrangements. Later that year, the Pioneers Trio became the Sons of the Pioneers when a radio station announcer changed their name because he felt they were too young to be "pioneers". The name was received well and fit the group, who were no longer a trio.
By the summer of 1934, the popularity and fame of the Sons of the Pioneers extended beyond the Los Angeles area and quickly spread across the country through short syndicated radio segments that were later rebroadcast across the United States. After signing a recording contract with the newly founded Decca label, the Sons of the Pioneers made their first commercial recording on August 8, 1934. One of the first songs recorded by the group during that first August session was "Tumbling Tumbleweeds" written by Bob Nolan. Over the next two years the Sons of the Pioneers would record 32 songs for Decca, including the classic "Cool Water".
From his first film appearance in 1935, he worked steadily in Western films, including a large supporting role as a singing cowboy while still billed as "Leonard Slye" in a Gene Autry movie. In 1938, when Autry entered the United States Army Air Force, Slye was immediately rechristened "Roy Rogers". Slye's stage name was suggested by Republic Picture's staff after Will Rogers and the shortening of Leroy, and he was assigned the lead in Under Western Stars. Rogers became a matinee idol and American legend. A competitor for Gene Autry as the nation's favorite singing cowboy was suddenly born. In addition to his own movies, Rogers played a supporting role in the John Wayne classic Dark Command (1940). Rogers became a major box office attraction. Unlike other stars, the vast majority of Rogers' leading roles allowed him to play a character with his own name.
In the Motion Picture Herald Top Ten Money-Making Western Stars poll, Rogers was listed for 15 consecutive years from 1939 to 1954, holding first place from 1943 to 1954. He appeared in the similar Box Office poll from 1938 to 1955, holding first place from 1943 to 1952. (In the final three years of that poll he was second only to Randolph Scott.) Although these two polls are really an indication only of the popularity of series stars, Rogers also appeared in the Top Ten Money Makers Poll of all films in 1945 and 1946.
Rogers was an idol for many children through his films and television shows. Most of his postwar films were in Trucolor during an era when almost all other B westerns were black-and-white. Some of his movies would segue into animal adventures, in which Rogers's horse Trigger would go off on his own for a while, with the camera following him.
With money from not only Rogers' films but his own public appearances going to Republic Pictures, Rogers brought a clause into a 1940 contract with the studio where he would have the right to his likeness, voice and name for merchandising. There were Roy Rogers action figures, cowboy adventure novels, and playsets, as well as a comic strip, a long-lived Dell Comics comic book series (Roy Rogers Comics) written by Gaylord Du Bois, and a variety of marketing successes. Roy Rogers was second only to Walt Disney in the amount of items featuring his name.
The Sons of the Pioneers continued their popularity, and they have never stopped performing from the time Rogers started the group, replacing members as they retired or passed away (all original members are deceased). Although Rogers was no longer an active member, they often appeared as Rogers' backup group in films, radio, and television, and Rogers would occasionally appear with them in performances up until his death. In August 1950, Evans and Rogers had a daughter, Robin Elizabeth, who had Down Syndrome and died of complications with mumps shortly before her second birthday. Evans wrote about losing their daughter in her book Angel Unaware.
Rogers and Evans were also well known as advocates for adoption and as founders and operators of children's charities. They adopted several children. Both were outspoken Christians. In Apple Valley, California, where they made their home, numerous streets and highways as well as civic buildings have been named after them in recognition of their efforts on behalf of homeless and handicapped children. Rogers was an active Freemason and a Shriner, and was noted for his support of their charities.
Rogers and Evans's famous theme song, "Happy Trails", was written by Evans; they sang it as a duet to sign off their television show. In the fall of 1962, the couple co-hosted a comedy-western-variety program, The Roy Rogers and Dale Evans Show, aired on ABC. It was cancelled after three months, losing in the ratings to The Jackie Gleason Show on CBS. He also made numerous cameo or guest appearances on other popular television shows, starring as himself or other cowboy-type characters, such as in an episode of Wonder Woman called "The Bushwackers". Rogers also owned a Hollywood production company which handled his own series. It also filmed other undertakings, including the 1955–1956 CBS western series Brave Eagle starring Keith Larsen as a young peaceful Cheyenne chief, Kim Winona as Morning Star, his romantic interest, and the Hopi Indian Anthony Numkena as Keena, Brave Eagle's foster son.
In 1968, Rogers licensed his name to the Marriott corporation, which converted its Hot Shoppes locations to Roy Rogers Restaurants, with which Rogers otherwise had no involvement.
Rogers owned a Thoroughbred racehorse named Triggairo, who won 13 career races including the 1975 El Encino Stakes at Santa Anita Park.
In 1932 a palomino colt foaled in California was named "Golden Cloud"; when Len acquired him, he renamed him "Trigger". Len then went on tour with the "O-Bar-O Cowboys" and in June 1933 met Grace Arline Wilkins at a Roswell, New Mexico radio station. She traded Len a lemon pie for his singing "Swiss Yodel" over the air. They were married in Roswell, New Mexico on June 11, 1936 after having corresponded since their first meeting. In 1941, the couple adopted a girl, Cheryl Darlene. Two years later, Arline bore daughter Linda Lou. She bore Roy Jr. ("Dusty") in 1946, but died of complications from the birth a few days later, on November 3.
Rogers had met Dale Evans in 1944 when they were cast in a film together. They fell in love soon after Arline's death and Rogers proposed to her during a rodeo at Chicago Stadium. They married on New Year's Eve in 1947 at the Flying L Ranch in Davis, Oklahoma, where they had filmed Home in Oklahoma a few months earlier. They stayed married until Rogers's death in 1998.
Rogers was a Freemason and was a member of Hollywood (CA) Lodge #355, the Scottish Rite Valley of Los Angeles, and Al Malaikah Shrine Temple.
When Rogers died of congestive heart failure on July 6, 1998, he was residing in Apple Valley, California. He was buried at Sunset Hills Memorial Park in Apple Valley, as was his wife, Dale Evans, three years later.Zwisohn, Laurence. "Happy Trails: The Life of Roy Rogers". Roy Rogers. Retrieved April 29, 2014. Green, p. 74. "Sons of the Pioneers". Country Music Television. Retrieved April 29, 2014. Green, p. 75. "Sons of the Pioneers". Encyclopedia.com. Retrieved August 27, 2011. http://www.imdb.com/name/nm0001678/ Hardy, Phil (1984). The Encyclopedia of Western Movies. Minneapolis, MN: Woodbury Press. ISBN 978-0-8300-0405-8. "Motion Picture Herald and Boxoffice Polls". B-westerns.com. Retrieved October 31, 2011. "Top Ten Money Making Stars". Quigleypublishing.com. Retrieved 2013-08-09. Phillips, 38 Enss/Kazanjian, 132 "Wonder Woman : Pilot: The New Original Wonder Woman". Thewb.com. Retrieved October 31, 2011. "Triggairo Horse Pedigree". Pedigree Online Thoroughbred Database. Retrieved October 31, 2011. Phillips, 13-15 "Famous Masons". MWGLNY. January 2014. Brooks, Patricia; Brooks, Jonathan (2006). "Chapter 8: East L.A. and the Desert". Laid to Rest in California: a guide to the cemeteries and grave sites of the rich and famous. Guilford, CT: Globe Pequot Press. pp. 235–7. ISBN 978-0762741014. OCLC 70284362. Roy Rogers at Find a Grave
Honors and awards
On February 8, 1960, Roy Rogers was honored with three stars on Hollywood Walk of Fame: for Motion Pictures at 1752 Vine Street, for Television at 1620 Vine Street, and for Radio at 1733 Vine Street. In 1983 he was awarded the Golden Boot Award, and in 1996 he received the Golden Boot Founder's Award.
In 1976, Rogers and Evans were inducted into the Western Performers Hall of Fame at the National Cowboy & Western Heritage Museum in Oklahoma City, Oklahoma, and in 1995 he was inducted again as a founding member of the Sons of the Pioneers.
Rogers was also twice elected to the Country Music Hall of Fame, first as a member of the Sons of the Pioneers in 1980, and again as a soloist in 1988. To this day, he remains the only person elected to the Country Music Hall of Fame twice. In 2001, a Golden Palm Star on the Palm Springs, California, Walk of Stars was dedicated to him and Dale Evans.
Rogers' cultural influence is reflected in numerous songs, including "If I Had a Boat" by Lyle Lovett, "Roy Rogers" by Elton John on his 1973 album "Goodbye Yellow Brick Road", and "Should've Been a Cowboy" by Toby Keith. Rogers himself makes an appearance in the music video for the song "Heroes and Friends" by Randy Travis. Rogers is referenced in numerous films, including Die Hard (1988) in which the Bruce Willis character John McClane used the pseudonym "Roy" and remarks, "I was always kinda partial to Roy Rogers actually." In the television series American Dad, the character Roger uses "Roy Rogers" as a pseudonym in the episode "Roy Rogers McFreely"."Hollywood Star Walk: Roy Rogers". Los Angeles Times. July 7, 1998. Retrieved April 29, 2014. "Legacy". Golden Boot Awards. Retrieved April 29, 2014. "Great Wwstern Performers". National Cowboy & Western Heritage Museum. Retrieved April 29, 2014. "Roy Rogers". Country Music Hall of Fame. Retrieved April 29, 2014. "Palm Springs Walk of Stars". Palm Springs Walk of Stars. Retrieved August 9, 2013.