Leonard Franklin Slye (November 5, 1911 - July 6, 1998), who became famous as Roy Rogers, was a singer and cowboy actor. He and his third wife Dale Evans, his golden palomino Trigger, and his German shepherd, Bullet, were featured in over one hundred movies and The Roy Rogers Show. The show ran on radio for nine years before moving to television from 1951 through 1957. His productions usually featured two sidekicks, Pat Brady, (who drove a jeep called "Nellybelle"), and the crotchety Gabby Hayes. Roy's nickname was "King of the Cowboys". Dale's nickname was "Queen of the West." For many Americans (and non-Americans), he was the embodiment of the all-American hero.
Rogers was born to Andrew ("Andy") & Mattie (Womack) Slye in Cincinnati, Ohio, where his family lived in a tenement building on 2nd Street. (Riverfront Stadium was constructed at this location in 1970 and Rogers would later joke that he had been born at second base.) Dissatisfied with his job and city life, Andy Slye and his brother Will built a 12-by-50-foot houseboat from salvage lumber and in July 1912 the Slye family floated up the Ohio River towards Portsmouth, Ohio. Desiring a more stable existence in Portsmouth, Rogers' parents purchased land on which to build a home, but the flood of 1913 allowed them to move the houseboat to their property and continue living in it on dry land.
In 1919 the Slyes purchased a farm about twelve miles north of Portsmouth at Duck Run near Lucasville, Ohio. They there built a six-room home. Rogers' father soon realized that the farm alone would provide insufficient income for his family and he took a job at a shoe factory in Portsmouth, living there during the week and returning home on the weekends, bearing gifts for the family following paydays, one of which was a horse on which Rogers learned his horsemanship.
After completing the eighth grade, Rogers attended high school at McDermott, Ohio. When he was seventeen his family returned to Cincinnati, where his father began work at a shoe factory. Rogers soon decided on the necessity to help his family financially, so he quit high school, joined his father at the shoe factory, and began attending night school. After being ridiculed for falling asleep in class, however, he quit school and never returned.
Rogers and his father felt imprisoned by their factory jobs. In 1929 Rogers' older sister Mary was living at Lawndale, California with her husband. Father and son decided to quit their shoe factory jobs. The family packed their 1923 Dodge for a visit with Mary and stayed four months before returning to Ohio. Almost immediately, Rogers 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 Slyes rented a small house near Mary. Rogers and his father immediately found employment as truck drivers for a highway construction project. They reported to work one morning, however, to learn their employer had gone bankrupt. The economic hardship of the Great Depression had followed them West and the Slyes soon found themselves among the economic refugees traveling from job to job picking fruit and living in worker campsites. (Rogers would later read John Steinbeck's The Grapes of Wrath and marvel at its accuracy.) One day Andy Slye heard of a shoe factory hiring in Los Angeles and asked Rogers to join him in applying there for work. Rogers, having seen the joy that his guitar and singing had brought to the destitute around the campfires, hesitantly told his father that he was going to pursue a living in music. With his father's blessing, he and cousin Stanley Slye went to Los Angeles and sought musical engagements as The Slye Brothers.
In 1933, Roy married Lucile Ascolese, but they were divorced just three years later. The couple had no children.
Rogers moved to California at eighteen to become a singer. After four years of little success, he formed Sons of the Pioneers, a western cowboy music group, in 1934. The group hit it big with songs like "Cool Water" and "Tumbling Tumbleweeds".
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 temporarily walked out on his movie contract, Slye was immediately rechristened "Roy Rogers" and assigned the lead in Under Western Stars. Rogers became a matinee idol and American legend. A competitor for Gene Autry was suddenly born. In addition to his own movies, Rogers played a supporting role in the John Wayne classic Dark Command (1940), a harrowing fictionalization of Quantrill's Raiders directed by Raoul Walsh, who had discovered Wayne in 1929 and changed his name while casting him in The Big Trail, Wayne's first leading role. Rogers became a major box office attraction, and Dale Evans was cast in a movie with him in 1945. The next year, Roy's wife, Arline, died of a massive brain embolism from a bloodclot following the birth of Roy Rogers, Jr. (called Dusty).
Roy and Dale fell in love, and Roy proposed to her during a rodeo at Chicago Stadium. They married on New Years Eve in 1947 at the Flying L Ranch in Davis, Oklahoma where a few months earlier they had filmed Home In Oklahoma.
It was Dale's fourth marriage. Roy and Dale lived together until his death.
Rogers was an idol for many children through his films and television show. Most of his films were in color in an era when almost all other B-movies were black and white. There were Roy Rogers action figures, cowboy adventure novels, a comic strip, and a variety of marketing successes. Some of his movies would segue into animal adventures, in which Roy's horse Trigger would go off on his own for a while with the camera following him.
The Sons of the Pioneers continued their popularity through the 1950s. Although Rogers was no longer a member, they often appeared as Rogers' backup group in films and on TV.
Rogers and his second wife, Arlene (Wilkins) had three children: an adopted daughter, Cheryl, and two biological children, Linda Lou and Roy Jr. Dale and Roy had a daughter, Robin Elizabeth, who died of complications of Down Syndrome at age two. Evans wrote about losing their daughter in her book Angel Unawares.
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. Roy was an active Freemason and a Shriner and was noted for his support of their charities.
Roy and Dale's famous theme song, which Dale wrote and they sang as a duet to sign off their television show, was "Happy trails to you, Until we meet again...".
For his contribution to the motion picture industry, Roy Rogers has a star on the Hollywood Walk of Fame at 1752 Vine Street, a second star at 1733 Vine Street for his contribution to radio, and a third star at 1620 Vine Street for his contribution to the television industry.
Roy and Dale were inducted into the Western Performers Hall of Fame at the National Cowboy & Western Heritage Museum in Oklahoma City, Oklahoma in 1976 and Roy was inducted again as a member of the Sons of the Pioneers in 1995. Roy was also twice elected to the Country Music Hall of Fame, first as a member of The Sons of the Pioneers in 1980 and as a soloist in 1988.
Rogers died of congestive heart failure on July 6, 1998 at age 86. Rogers was residing in Apple Valley, California at the time of his passing. He was buried at Sunset Hills cemetery in Apple Valley, CA.