Leonard Franklin Slye
November 5, 1911
Cincinnati, Ohio, U.S.
|Died||July 6, 1998 86) (aged|
Apple Valley, California, U.S.
|Resting place||Sunset Hills Memorial Park, Apple Valley, California|
34°33′25″N117°08′35″W / 34.5569916°N 117.1429367°W
|Other names||Len Slye|
(m. 1933;div. 1936)
Grace Arline Wilkins
(m. 1936;died 1946)
Roy Rogers (born Leonard Franklin Slye; November 5, 1911 – July 6, 1998) was an American singer, actor, and television host. Following early work under his given name, first as co-founder of the Sons of the Pioneers and then as an actor, the rebranded Rogers then became 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, Bullet. His show was broadcast on radio for nine years and then on television from 1951 through 1957. His early roles were uncredited parts in films by fellow cowboy singing star Gene Autry and his productions usually featured a sidekick, often Pat Brady, Andy Devine, George "Gabby" Hayes, or Smiley Burnette.  In his later years, he lent his name to the franchise chain of Roy Rogers Restaurants.
Rogers was born Leonard Franklin Slye, the son of Mattie (née Womack) and Andrew "Andy" Slye in Cincinnati, Ohio.  The family lived in a tenement on 2nd Street, where Riverfront Stadium was later constructed. (Rogers later joked that he was born at second base.)  Len had three sisters: Kathleen, Mary, and Cleda. 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 down the Scioto River towards Portsmouth.  Desiring a more stable existence in Portsmouth, they purchased land on which they planned to build a house, but instead the Great Flood of 1913 enabled them to move the houseboat onto their property and continue living in it on dry land. 
In 1919, the Slye family purchased a farm in Duck Run, near Lucasville, Ohio, about 12 miles (19 km) north of Portsmouth, and built a six-room house.  Andy soon realized that the farm alone would not provide sufficient 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 learned the basics of horsemanship.  Living on the farm with no radio, the family made their own entertainment. On Saturday nights, they 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 with his mother they would use different yodels to communicate with each other across distances on the farm. 
Len attended high school in McDermott, Ohio,  but after he completed his second year there, his family returned to Cincinnati, where his father worked at another shoe factory.  Realizing that his family needed his financial help, Len quit school and joined his father at the 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 his older sister Mary and her husband had moved to Lawndale, California, Len 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 again 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 spring 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 those 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 19-year-old Len's return to Lawndale, his sister Mary suggested that he audition for the Midnight Frolic radio program, which was broadcast over KMCS in Inglewood. A few nights later, wearing a Western shirt that Mary had made for him, he 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, the Rocky Mountaineers.  He accepted the group's offer and became a member in August 1931.  
By September 1931, Len hired the 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." Nolan stayed with the group only a short time, but Len and he stayed in touch. Nolan was replaced by Tim Spencer. 
In the spring of 1932, Len, Spencer, and another singer, Slumber Nichols, left the Rocky Mountaineers to form a trio, which soon failed. Throughout that year, Len 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, Len joined Jack LeFevre and His Texas Outlaws, who were a popular act on a local Los Angeles radio station. 
In early 1933, Len, Nolan, and Spencer formed the Pioneers Trio, with Slye on guitar, Nolan on string bass, and Spencer as lead vocalist. They rehearsed for weeks refining their vocal harmonies. During this time, Len continued to work with his radio singing group, while Spencer and Nolan began writing songs for the trio.  In early 1934, the fiddle player Hugh Farr joined the group, adding a bass voice to their 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, which was no longer a trio. 
By summer 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. The Sons of the Pioneers signed a recording contract with the newly founded Decca label and made their first commercial recording on August 8, 1934.  One of the first songs recorded during that first session was "Tumbling Tumbleweeds", written by Bob Nolan. Over the next two years, the Sons of the Pioneers recorded 32 songs for Decca, including the classic "Cool Water". 
From his first film appearance in 1935, Len 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, Autry demanded more money for his work, so there was a competition for a new singing cowboy (that they could pay less). Many singers sought the job, including Willie Phelps of the Phelps brothers, who appeared in early Western movies. Len ended up winning the contest and was given the stage name Roy Rogers by Republic Pictures, suggesting the western-sounding name Roy and combining it with the surname of the popular western comic entertainer Will Rogers.
He was assigned the leading role in Under Western Stars . He became a matinee idol, a competitor with Autry as the nation's favorite singing cowboy. In addition to his own movies, he played a supporting role in the John Wayne classic Dark Command (1940), which also featured one of his future sidekicks, George "Gabby" Hayes. He became a major box-office attraction. Unlike other stars, the vast majority of his leading roles allowed him to play a character with his own name, in the manner of Autry. 
In the Motion Picture Herald Top Ten Money-Making Western Stars poll, Rogers was listed for 16 consecutive years, from 1939 to 1954, holding first place from 1943 to 1954 until the poll ceased.  He appeared in the similar BoxOffice 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.  These two polls are only an indication of the popularity of series stars, but Rogers also appeared in the Top Ten Money Making Stars 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 his horse, Trigger, would go off on his own for a while with the camera following him.
With money from Rogers' films and from his public appearances going to Republic Pictures, he brought a clause into his 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.  Rogers was second only to Walt Disney in the number of items featuring his name. 
The Sons of the Pioneers continued their popularity and have not stopped performing from the time Rogers started the group, replacing members as they retired or died (all original members are dead). Although he was no longer an active member, they often appeared as his backup group in films, radio, and television, and he would occasionally appear with them in performances up until his death.
He met Dale Evans in 1944 when they were cast in a film together. They were well known as advocates for adoption and as founders and operators of children's charities. They adopted several children. Both were outspoken Christians throughout their marriage.  Beginning in 1949, they were part of the Hollywood Christian Group, founded by their friend, Louis Evans, Jr., the organizing pastor of Bel Air Church.  The group met in Henrietta Mears's home and later in the home of Evans and Colleen Townsend, after their marriage. Billy Graham and Jane Russell were also part of this group. In 1956, the Hollywood Christian Group became Bel Air Church.
In Apple Valley, California, where they later 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. Rogers was also an active Freemason and a Shriner and was noted for his support of their charities.
Rogers and Evans' famous theme song, "Happy Trails", was written by Evans; they sang it as a duet to sign off their television show. In fall 1962, they cohosted 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 owned a Hollywood production company, which produced 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 restaurants into Roy Rogers Restaurants, with which he otherwise had no involvement.
Rogers returned to Lubbock in 1970 to headline the Texas Tech University Intercollegiate Rodeo with Evans. In 1975, his last motion picture, Macintosh and T.J. was filmed at the 6666 Ranch in King County, 90 miles east of Lubbock and near the O- Bar-O Ranch in Kent County. 
In 1932, a palomino colt foaled in California was named "Golden Cloud"; when Rogers acquired him, he renamed him Trigger. Rogers also owned a thoroughbred racehorse named Triggairo, that won 13 career races, including the 1975 El Encino Stakes at Santa Anita Park. 
In 1932, Rogers met an admirer named Lucile Ascolese. They were married in 1933 by a justice of the peace in Los Angeles; the marriage failed, and the couple divorced in 1936. 
Rogers had been on tour with the O-Bar-O Cowboys in June 1933 and while they were performing in Roswell, New Mexico, a caller to a radio station, Grace Arline Wilkins, promised Rogers that she would bake him a pie if he sang "The Swiss Yodel". They were married in Roswell on June 11, 1936, having corresponded since their first meeting.  In 1941, the couple adopted a daughter, Cheryl Darlene. Two years later, Grace gave birth to daughter Linda Lou. A son, Roy, Jr. ("Dusty"), was born in 1946; Grace died of complications from the birth a few days later, on November 3. 
Rogers met Dale Evans in 1944 when they were cast in a film together. They fell in love soon after Grace'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. Together they had a child and adopted four more: Robin Elizabeth, who had Down syndrome and died of complications with mumps shortly before her second birthday; three adopted daughters, Mimi, Dodie, and Debbie; and one adopted son, Sandy.[ citation needed ] Evans wrote about the loss of their daughter Robin in her book Angel Unaware. Rogers and Evans remained married until his death. 
In 1955, Rogers and Evans purchased a 168-acre (68 ha) ranch near Chatsworth, California, complete with a hilltop ranch house,  expanding it to 300 acres (121 ha).  
After their daughter Debbie was killed in a church bus accident in 1964, they moved to the 67-acre (27 ha) Double R Bar Ranch in Apple Valley, California.  
Rogers was a Freemason and a member of Hollywood (California) Lodge No. 355, the Scottish Rite Valley of Los Angeles, and Al Malaikah Shrine Temple.  He was also a pilot and the owner of a Cessna Bobcat. 
Rogers supported Barry Goldwater in the 1964 United States presidential election. 
Rogers died of congestive heart failure on July 6, 1998, aged 86, in Apple Valley, California. He was buried at Sunset Hills Memorial Park in Apple Valley, as was his wife Dale Evans three years later.   
On February 8, 1960, Rogers was honored with three stars on the 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 1967, Rogers, with Choctaw blood on his mother's side, was named outstanding Indian citizen of the year by a group of Western tribes. 
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 received recognition from the State of Arkansas, appointed by the governor of that state with an Arkansas Traveler certificate. 
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. As of August 2022, he was 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". In the movie City Slickers , the Jack Palance character Curly, sings the song "Tumbling Tumbleweeds" while the Billy Crystal character Mitch is playing the harmonica.
For a number of years exhibitors voted Rogers among the most popular stars in the country:
|1970||The Country Side of Roy Rogers||40||—||Capitol|
|1971||A Man from Duck Run||34||—|
|1975||Happy Trails to You||35||—||20th Century|
|US Country||CAN Country|
|1946||"A Little White Cross on the Hill"||7||—||Singles only|
|1947||"My Chickashay Gal"||4||—|
|1948||"Blue Shadows on the Trail"|
(Roy Rogers and the Sons of the Pioneers)
|"(There'll Never Be Another) Pecos Bill"|
(Roy Rogers and the Sons of the Pioneers)
|1970||"Money Can't Buy Love"||35||—||The Country Side of Roy Rogers|
|1971||"Lovenworth"||12||33||A Man from Duck Run|
|1972||"These Are the Good Old Days"||73||—||Single only|
|1974||"Hoppy, Gene and Me"A||15||12||Happy Trails to You|
|1980||"Ride Concrete Cowboy, Ride"|
(Roy Rogers and the Sons of the Pioneers)
|80||—||Smokey & the Bandit II(soundtrack)|
|1991||"Hold on Partner" (w/ Clint Black)||42||48||Tribute|
|1991||"Hold on Partner" (with Clint Black)||Jack Cole|
The Sons of the Pioneers are one of the United States' earliest Western singing groups. Known for their vocal performances, their musicianship, and their songwriting, they produced innovative recordings that have inspired many Western music performers and remained popular through the years. Since 1933, through many changes in membership, the Sons of the Pioneers have remained one of the longest-surviving country music vocal groups.
Dale Evans Rogers was an American actress, singer, and songwriter. She was the third wife of singing cowboy Roy Rogers.
Bob Nolan was a Canadian-born American singer, songwriter, and actor. He was a founding member of the Sons of the Pioneers, and composer of numerous Country music and Western music songs, including the standards "Cool Water" and "Tumbling Tumbleweeds." He is generally regarded as one of the finest Western songwriters of all time. As an actor and singer he appeared in scores of Western films.
Lester Alvin Burnett, better known as Smiley Burnette, was an American country music performer and a comedic actor in Western films and on radio and TV, playing sidekick to Gene Autry, Roy Rogers, and other B-movie cowboys. He was also a prolific singer-songwriter who is reported to have played proficiently over 100 musical instruments, sometimes more than one simultaneously. His career, beginning in 1934, spanned four decades, including a regular role on CBS-TV's Petticoat Junction in the 1960s.
Robert Ellsworth Patrick Aloysius Brady was an American actor and musician best known as the "comical sidekick" of the popular cowboy film and television star Roy Rogers on his eponymous radio and television series.
Tom Tyler was an American actor known for his leading roles in low-budget Western films in the silent and sound eras, and for his portrayal of superhero Captain Marvel in the 1941 serial film The Adventures of Captain Marvel. Tyler also played Kharis in 1940's The Mummy's Hand, a popular Universal Studios monster film.
A singing cowboy was a subtype of the archetypal cowboy hero of early Western films. It references real-world campfire side ballads in the American frontier, the original cowboys sang of life on the trail with all the challenges, hardships, and dangers encountered while pushing cattle for miles up the trails and across the prairies. This continues with modern vaquero traditions and within the genre of Western music, and its related New Mexico, Red Dirt, Tejano, and Texas country music styles. A number of songs have been written and made famous by groups like the Sons of the Pioneers and Riders in the Sky and individual performers such as Gene Autry, Roy Rogers, Tex Ritter, Bob Baker and other "singing cowboys". Singing in the wrangler style, these entertainers have served to preserve the cowboy as a unique American hero.
Monte Hale was an American B-Western film star and country musician.
Jasper Joseph Inman Kane was an American film director, film producer, film editor and screenwriter. He is best known for his extensive directorship and focus on Western films.
In Old Santa Fe is a 1934 American Western film directed by David Howard, starring Ken Maynard, George "Gabby" Hayes and Evalyn Knapp and featuring the first screen appearance of Gene Autry, singing a bluegrass rendition of "Wyoming Waltz" accompanied by his own acoustic guitar with Smiley Burnette on accordion. Autry and Burnette were uncredited, but the scene served as a screen test for the duo for subsequent singing cowboy films, beginning with The Phantom Empire (1935), in which Autry had his first leading role.
Max Terhune was an American film actor born in Franklin, Indiana. He appeared in nearly 70 films, mostly B-westerns, between 1936 and 1956. Among these, Terhune starred in The Three Mesquiteers and Range Busters series.
Jimmy Wakely was an American actor, songwriter, country music vocalist, and one of the last singing cowboys. During the 1930s, 1940s and 1950s, he released records, appeared in several B-Western movies with most of the major studios, appeared on radio and television and even had his own series of comic books. His duet singles with Margaret Whiting from 1949 until 1951, produced a string of top seven hits, including 1949's number one hit on the US country chart and pop music chart, "Slippin' Around". Wakely owned two music publishing companies in later years, and performed at the Grand Ole Opry until shortly before his death.
Mary Lee was a big band singer and B movie actress from the late 1930s into the 1940s, appearing mostly in Westerns. She did not make any screen appearances after 1944.
Rhythm on the Range is a 1936 American Western musical film directed by Norman Taurog and starring Bing Crosby, Frances Farmer, and Bob Burns. Based on a story by Mervin J. Houser, the film is about a cowboy who meets a beautiful young woman while returning from a rodeo in the east, and invites her to stay at his California ranch to experience his simple, honest way of life. Rhythm on the Range was Crosby's only Western film and introduced two western songs, "Empty Saddles" by Billy Hill and "I'm an Old Cowhand " by Johnny Mercer, the latter becoming a national hit song for Crosby. The film played a role in familiarizing its audience with the singing cowboy and Western music on a national level.
Song of Nevada is a 1944 American musical Western film directed by Joseph Kane, and starring Roy Rogers and Dale Evans.
Bells of Rosarita is a 1945 American musical Western film starring Roy Rogers and directed by Frank McDonald.
Twilight in the Sierras is a 1950 American Trucolor Western film directed by William Witney and starring Roy Rogers and his horse Trigger, along with Dale Evans, Estelita Rodriguez, and Pat Brady.
The Old Corral is a 1936 American Western film directed by Joseph Kane and starring Gene Autry, Smiley Burnette, and Irene Manning. Based on a story by Bernard McConville, the film is about a sheriff of a small western town who sings his way into a relationship with a singer from a Chicago nightclub who earlier witnessed a murder. The supporting cast features Lon Chaney Jr. and Roy Rogers.
Don't Fence Me In is a 1945 black-and-white Western film directed by John English and starring the "King of the Cowboys" Roy Rogers and his palomino Trigger, promoted in the production's opening credits and on theater posters as "The Smartest Horse in the Movies". Also featured in the film are Roy's sidekick George "Gabby" Hayes and Rogers' future wife Dale Evans. Produced and distributed by Republic Pictures, Don't Fence Me In is part of a long-running series of singing-cowboy films released by that company to showcase Rogers' musical talents and equestrian skills, as well as Trigger's abilities at performing impressive stunts and tricks.
The Roy Rogers Show was a 30-minute Western radio program in the United States. It began in 1944, ended in 1955, and was carried on more than 500 stations. Because of demands on Rogers' time for personal appearances and making films, the show was one of the first radio series to be transcribed.