royHe was born Leonard Franklin Slye in a Cincinnati tenement to a part Choctaw-Indian shoe-factory worker and his wife.  He grew up on a houseboat in Portsmouth, Ohio, and on a farm in rural Duck Run.  In 1930, the Slyes migrated to California in a ’23 Dodge, Grapes of Wrath style.  He drove a truck, picked fruit, and sang around campfires.  He barnstormed the Southwest with country-western bands, and by the time he made a movie, Under Western Stars in 1938, he had become Roy Rogers. 

He became, as People magazine said, “the gentlemanly, plainspoken hero with virtues as solid as the fists he used in fights he never started—and never lost—and a smile as ready as his six-shooters.”  His boyish backwoods grin graced 86 films, 100 TV episodes, and more than 400 products bearing his name, racking up $1 billion in sales.  In the course of it all, he lost his first wife and three of his ten children to illness or accident.  “Well, Lord,” he said as he lay dying, “it’s been a long, hard ride.”

I heard the news and thought, “My God!  Even Roy Rogers is gone!”  Jack Benny and Red Skelton were gone, and Eddie Cantor, and Bing Crosby with his “White Christmas.” And Gene Kelly singing in the rain, and Durante, exiting from spotlight to spotlight with his “Good night, Mrs. Calabash, wherever you are!”  And now—my God!—even Roy Rogers was gone.  One by one, we lose those familiar lights and romantic heroes, the fires of our youth that linger like embers through the “long, hard ride.”   

They stuffed Trigger and put him in the Roy Rogers museum in Victorville, California, to rear up forever.  I thought, “maybe they’ll stuff Roy.”   

We were immortal, Roy and I.  He made his first movie the year I was born.  And now he was dead.  Even Roy Rogers was dead.

It wasn’t just somebody’s name.  It was RoyRogers.




  1. Pete Reed says

    A true hero in my childhood. I sat through many Roy Rogers films on Saturday mornings wishing I could have two six-shooters hanging from my hips. Cost to see the film was only a quarter and you got some kind of toy on your way out of the theater. A wonderful time of life and as Gabby Hays would say, “Yer durn tootin.” Happy Trails to all.

Speak Your Mind