Weekly Wire
Austin Chronicle TV Eye

By Margaret Moser

JULY 13, 1998: 

Say goodbye to Leonard

Slye. Maybe you knew him better as the King of the Cowboys, Roy Rogers. Roy Rogers died on Monday, July 6 at age 86.

The Roy Rogers Show had already been on the air a few years when parents of the Fifties discovered television's babysitting abilities. Among the first shows I recall watching were Roy Rogers, The Mickey Mouse Club, Circus Boy (with future Monkee Micky Braddock, better known as Dolenz) and ñ don't ask ñ Liberace.

As I remember the show, Rogers and his wife Dale Evans (born Frances Octavia Smith in Uvalde, thank you very much) were some sort of law enforcers in a modern Western town even though they donned fancy Western duds just to hang out with Pat Brady (who replaced Rogers' film sidekick Gabby Hayes). Here's the standard trivia on the show: Dale Evans composed their theme "Happy Trails." You know Rogers' horse was named Trigger, but did you remember Evans' was named Buttermilk? Their dog was named Bullet, and Brady had a decrepit Jeep he called Nellie Belle. And Trigger, who died in 1965, is most definitely stuffed and mounted in a rearing posture, and on display in a museum he and Dale opened in 1967 in Apple Valley, California.

Rogers didn't intend to become a TV star. He'd signed on with Republic Studios in 1937 at age 26 as a singing cowboy, and was paid $75 a week. He soon officially replaced the other "singing cowboy," Gene Autry, and became one of Hollywood's best-loved Western stars, starring in 87 films throughout his career. Rogers was one of the first actors to ask for studio profits in films sold to television and ultimately lost a legal battle with Republic Studio chief Herbert Yates in the U.S. Supreme Court.

Rogers married Dale Evans in 1947; his first wife Arlene had died two years earlier. While Rogers seemed like an easygoing person, Evans seemed much more driven to stardom. They toured the state fair circuit, appeared on variety shows, and he even went into the restaurant business. Long after their TV show was off the air and out of syndication, Evans and sometimes Rogers would often make the rounds of the Christian talk shows and hang out with the usual suspects of the evangelical world.

One of the great legacies of Roy Rogers is that his name alone evokes so much ñ another time, another era, another place. Throughout most of the time I was thinking about this column and Roy Rogers, I was humming "Happy Trails." Somewhere along the way, my train of thought derailed. I was thinking about Roy Rogers, but I was now humming Lucinda Williams' "Too Cool to Be Forgotten." I thought of a late evening about six years ago that Lucinda and I thumbed through a photo essay book of Southern jukejoints. One of the photos featured a jukebox, and on the wall behind it was scribbled this little bit of graffiti, "2 kool 2 b 4got10." Lucinda was enchanted by the verse and used it in a song she was writing. I've been listening to Car Wheels on a Gravel Road nonstop, and now the yearning of her flat Delta lilt makes me think of the King of the Cowboys. Hey, hey ... too cool to be forgotten. ...

Roy Rogers was cool. Too cool to have to make himself hip like Johnny Cash or Tony Bennett, even though he recorded a duet with Clint Black. Too cool to worry about whether the record company will promote the next album right, too cool to bother with greedy studio chiefs or wonder if his next film will die because Matt Damon's is being released the same week. Too cool to be anything but what he was -- the King of the Cowboys. So happy trails to you, Roy. Until we meet again.


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