Roy Rogers TV Cowboy Legend  by Rosemary McKittrick

Photo courtesy of Brian Lebel.

With cap pistols and stick horses kids like me in the 1950s did what we could to imitate TV western heroes like Roy Rogers and Dale Evans.  Why not?  Roy was the “King of Cowboys” and Dale Evans was his superstar wife and sidekick. 

Separating fact from fiction didn’t mean a lot to me.  As far as I could tell, this cowboy and cowgirl were the stuff of legend.

Cowboys weren’t allowed to kiss girls in pictures, so one time I gave Dale a little peck on the forehead and we got a ton of letters to leave that mushy stuff out...So I had to kiss Trigger instead.
— Roy Rogers

The plot in these early cowboy shows was simple too.  Lots of optimism and comedy.  Plus, the good guys always won.  Western television shows were made for kids.  Ten-gallon hats, fringed Western wear, hand-tooled boots, six-guns, it was the best. 

And I learned a lot about right and wrong from these folk heroes too.  It has been said that Roy and Dale were the same good guys on screen and off.    

By the time Roy Rogers made his television debut in the ‘50s he was already a veteran radio and film star.  He brought his wife Dale Evans along with him and his golden palomino Trigger, the smartest horse in the movies and on television.

“Cowboys weren't allowed to kiss girls in pictures, so one time I gave Dale a little peck on the forehead and we got a ton of letters to leave that mushy stuff out... So I had to kiss Trigger instead,” Roy said.

And then there was Bullet, Roy’s faithful German shepherd and Pat Brady his funny sidekick.  I can’t forget Nellybelle either, his quirky jeep.  Life seemed so simple then.

In a few years merchandise bearing Roy and Dale’s likeness and name made manufacturers millions.  I can remember playing with paper cutouts of this cowboy crew for hours.

Roy starred in more than 80 B westerns and his show ran on radio for nine years before moving to television from 1951 through 1957.   These episodes were translated into every major language.  At any given time they’re likely being watched somewhere around the world. The same is true of his movies.  

The “King of the Cowboys” was actually born in the city, Cincinnati, Ohio.  Leonard Franklin Slye, later to be known as Roy Rogers, came into the world on Nov. 5, 1911.

His goal when he came to California was to be a singer.  He was an original member of the cowboy singing group “The Sons of the Pioneers.”  In 1937, he signed with Republic Pictures, ultimately replacing their departing western star Gene Autry who went off to war in 1942.  He didn’t.  He did copy Autry’s singing cowboy routine and made it work for himself.

No one is more closely associated with 1950’s television western heroes than Roy Rogers.  He was what he was—a good guy.

On Jan. 29-20, High Noon Western Americana held its annual Antique Show & Auction in Mesa, AZ.  Featured in the auction was a selection of western memorabilia from television and movie greats including Tom Mix, The Lone Ranger, Matt Dillon, Gene Autry and Roy Rogers.  

Western Memorabilia

Tom Mix Director’s Chair; 1930s style director’s chair; folding wooden base; canvas seat and back; Mix name stenciled on top;  $2,588.

The Lone Ranger (Clayton Moore) Autographed Mask and White Cowboy Hat; American Hat Co., Houston; includes two autographed photos;  $2,875. 

Gene Autry’s Personal Buckle; one-of-a-kind; heavy gauge filigreed silver; features comedy and tragedy masks; plus gold horsehead with ruby eye; circa 1940s-50s;  $4,025.

Gene Autry’s Personal Lizard Boots, Stetson Hat and Scarf; beaver Stetson with Autry signature stamped inside; boots also stamped inside;  $4,600.    

Matt Dillon (James Arness) Shirt and Stetson; as he played in TV series “Gunsmoke,” includes signed photos of Arness in shirt;  $5,750.

Roy Rogers’ Rose Parade Boots; custom-made by Houston bootmaker and marksman Joe Bowman; 1940s;  $10,350.


Rosemary McKittrick is a storyteller.  For 26 years she has brought the world of collecting to life in her column.  Her website is a mother lode of information about art, antiques and collectibles.  Rosemary received her education in the trenches working as a professional appraiser.

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