With the issuance of the “Cowboys of the Silver Screen” stamps, the U.S. Postal Service honors four extraordinary performers who helped make the American Western a popular form of entertainment. Film stars from the silent era through the singing era are featured on the stamps: William S. Hart, Tom Mix, Gene Autry, and Roy Rogers. The stamps go on sale April 17.
Roy Rogers was so much more than an extraordinary performer. Born Leonard Slye on November 5, 1911, on a quiet street in Cincinnati, Ohio, where Cinergy Field, home of the Reds, now stands; “right where second base is now” according to Roy.
Though Roy was city born, he was farm raised. His family bought a small farm near Duck Run, OH, when Roy was seven. On Saturday nights, Roy was the musical entertainment, singing, yodeling, and playing mandolin while the family and their neighbors danced. His yodeling abilities were self-taught, and he, his mother, and sisters used the musical form to communicate when they worked in different areas of the farm.
The Roy Rogers we know best was a silver screen cowboy who sang his way to stardom. He always played the Western hero, with a warm smile, good character, and strong values.
Thanks to Gene Autry and his wildly successful films, every movie studio in Hollywood wanted a singing cowboy. Columbia Pictures signed the Sons of the Pioneers to appear in a series of westerns. Here, give ’em a listen.
Sons of the Pioneers ~ Tumbling Tumbleweeds, written by band member Bob Nolan
When Gene Autry, who’d grown unhappy with his contract with Republic Pictures, threatened not to report for the start of his next film, Republic held auditions for another singing cowboy, just in case. Roy heard about the auditions: “I saddled my guitar the next morning and went out there, but I couldn’t get in because I didn’t have an appointment. So I waited around until the extras began coming back from lunch, and I got on the opposite side of the crowd of people and came in with them…” It worked, and Republic signed him to a sever year contract. And when Autry left the studio, they put Len Slye, who had been renamed Roy Rogers, into the lead role in Under Western Stars. When the film was released in April 1938, it became an immediate hit, and Roy Rogers was a star.
In preparation for filming of Under Western Stars, several of the stables that provided horses to Republic brought their best lead horses to the studio so Roy could select a mount. The third horse Roy got on was a beautiful golden palomino that handled smoothly and reacted quickly to commands. Roy used to say “he could turn on a dime and give you change.” Roy named him Trigger, and the horse became synonymous with Roy Rogers.
As Roy’s popularity grew he never failed to give Trigger credit for much of his success. Roy was proud of the fact that through more than 80 films, 101 episodes of his television series, and countless personal appearances, Trigger never fell.
Trigger wasn’t his only sidekick. Smiley Burnette was Roy’s sidekick in his first two films, followed by Raymond Hatton, who worked with him in three films. Early in 1939, Gabby Hayes was cast as Roy’s sidekick in Southward Ho. Although Gabby had already made a number of films with John Wayne and William (Hopalong Cassidy) Boyd, he is probably best remembered today for the many films he made with Roy Rogers.
Roy Rogers & Gabby Hayes ~ We’re Not Comin Out Tonight
In 1943 Roy was voted the #1 Western star at the box office, and Republic began billing him as the King of the Cowboys. A few months later he made a guest appearance in the Warner Bros. all-star wartime musical film Hollywood Canteen, in which he and the Pioneers introduced the Cole Porter song Don’t Fence Me In.
Here’s another one I think you’ll enjoy: Roy Rogers & Sons of the Pioneers ~ Cowboy Ham and Eggs
By 1944, Roy had starred in 39 films and had worked with almost as many leading ladies. Then the studio cast Dale Evans in The Cowboy And The Senorita. The immediate chemistry between Roy and Dale lit up the silver screen. Dale’s intelligence, strong will, beauty and talent earned her the moniker “the queen of the West.”
Did you know that Happy Trails to You, the song that became a Roy Rogers trademark, was written by Dale? Here are the two of them singing it together: Happy Trails to You
Children across America who grew up on The Roy Rogers Show wanted to be just like him and tried to live by the Roy Rogers Riders Club Rules:
- Be neat and clean.
- Be courteous and polite.
- Always obey your parents.
- Protect the weak and help them.
- Be brave, but never take chances.
- Study hard and learn all you can.
- Be kind to animals and care for them.
- Eat all your food and never waste any.
- Love God and go to Sunday School regularly.
- Always respect our flag and our country.
Roy Rogers died on July 6, 1998, at the age of 86. Although Roy was a huge success in show business, he remained a down-to-earth country boy that Americans couldn’t help but admire. “Roy Rogers was a man who unashamedly loved his God, his family, and his country. He was that rare public figure who was just the same on screen as he was off. He just wouldn’t have known how to be anything else.” — from Happy Trails: The Life of Roy Rogers by Laurence Zwisohn (www.royrogers.com/roy_rogers_bio.html)
“Goodbye, good luck, and may the good Lord take a likin’ to ya.” – Roy Rogers