Roy Rogers & Dale Evans - Happy Trails

To those of us eleven-going-on-twelve, it was a simpler time. Life's great challenges revolved around how to pass to the sixth grade, avoid girls, and scrape up the necessary nine cents cash each week for the Saturday afternoon matinee down at the Bijou. There in the cool, popcorn-scented darkness of our rural West Texas theater, we could escape for a few hours from the voice of clinging little sisters and bullying big brothers and joyfully ride alongside Roy Rogers as he went about his weekly business of stomping the living what-for out of evil, righting wrongs, and singing his way into the heart of his ladyfriend Dale Evans who, for a girl, wasn't too bad inasmuch as she seemed to think as highly of Roy as we did.

Indeed, if my childhood ever acquainted me with a true-life Ward of Heaven, Roy Rogers, King of the Cowboys, was that person.

Needless to say, I was hardly alone in my unabashed hero worship. In the years between 1943 and 1954 Roy Rogers was annually voted Hollywood's number one money-making Western star. Over four hundred merchandising products bearing his endorsement filled the pages of Mother's Sears and Roebuck catalog (hats, chaps, boots, toy six-guns, thirty-two different designs of belt buckles and the first of the children's school lunch boxes). His fan mail, ofttimes addressed simply to "Roy Rogers, King of the Cowboys," found its way to Republic Studios without the slightest delay.

We Buckaroos, as he was fond of calling us, joined Roy Rogers Fan Clubs, bought twenty-eight million Roy Rogers comic books a year, and prompted publishers to produce no fewer than nineteen hardback books based on his fictional heroics. We listened to him sing and yodel on old RCA Victor 78s and devotedly read a syndicated newspaper comic strip which reached sixty-three million readers weekly. His weekly statement for his radio sponsor, "I was raised on Quaker Oats," made us want to eat Quaker Oats ourselves. And we stood ever ready to argue with the greatest conviction that our hero could ride, shoot, fight, and sing better than all the other box office cowboys you could crowd onto a movie screen.

It was a period in American life when heroics were in bountiful supply. Yet in my adolescent fantasy world there were none to compare with the silver-screen daring-do of Roy Rogers as he exposed mortgage-foreclosing bankers for the wicked men they were, rounded up scruffy bands of dastardly cattle rustlers, rescued damsels from all manner of distress, and generally championed countless underdogs trying to tame the West.

As I gained a touch of worldliness, I even came to see what Roy saw in Dale Evans. Not only was she smart, pretty, and able to ride a horse with the best of them, but she had that familiar Texas ring to her voice that would have made her a welcomed visitor in our home even if Roy had been detained at the studio.

Such was the stuff of which Saturday-afternoon heroes (and yes, heroines) were once made. It was a different time in movie history, a time when one need not consult some alphabetic rating to be sure that Roll On Texas Moon or Under Western Stars or Along the Navajo Trail was fit entertainment for the kids. It was a time when good was good and bad was bad and the twain never met.

To say that I was hesitant when asked to help in the writing of the book now in your hands would be a gross violation of truth in packaging. It was, on the other hand, a project not undertaken without considerable thought. I had never before done a book whose central characters I would, under different circumstances, have probably asked for autographs (no doubt lying that they were for my children). Which is to say that the opportunity to work with people I have admired for a great portion of my life, people who were and are a vital part of Americana, is equal parts humbling and challenging.

Except for an occasional paragraph here and there, the words are those of Roy and Dale. This aging, bearded buckaroo simply served as the middleman, and therefore was spared many of the journalistic pitfalls of putting in too much color, or of dwelling too long on the movie make-believe Roy and Dale and missing the best part -- the real-life people.

But if I may be allowed a final personal observation before getting on with the story, let me say that the Roy Rogers and Dale Evans I've come to know -- the husband and wife with abounding talent, the mother and father with rock-strong convictions about their God and their country --are even more courageous than those I first met back on those bygone Saturday afternoons.

Carlton Stowers