Leonard Franklin Slye was born on November 5, 1911. If you’re over fifty, you know him by another name. Need some clues?
1. Leonard grew up in Cincinnati where Riverfront Stadium (later Cinergy Field) was built. He once joked that he was born at second base.
2. He worked during the Great Depression as a transient fruit picker in California before forming The Rocky Mountaineers.
3. Seeing his singing bring joy to destitute fellow pickers around campfires helped trigger his desire to pursue a living in music (“trigger” is a huge hint).
4. He played in such groups as the Hollywood Hillbillies, Texas Outlaws, and the Sons of the Pioneers. Remember “Tumbling Tumbleweeds”?
5. He made over 100 movies and his TV show lasted from 1951 to 1957. One month, he received 78,852 fan letters. He became affectionately known as America’s “King of The Cowboys”.
6. His famous theme song, “Happy Trails”, was written by his talented wife of 51 years, Dale Evans.
7. Slye’s golden palomino stallion (“the smartest horse in Hollywood”) died in 1965 and was stuffed for posterity. In 2010, a Nebraska Cable TV Network ponied up $225,000.00 at an auction for “Trigger.”
If you don’t know his name by now, you’re probably not still reading this nostalgic post or you grew up watching a different Mr. Rogers. And you probably never ate your lunch out of a Roy Rogers lunch pail—which means you haven’t lived.
Roy Rogers loved children. He had about eight of his own, five of whom were adopted. In 1952, a daughter with Down Syndrome died of complications with mumps. Another daughter died in 1964 in a tragic bus accident. A son choked to death in 1965. Rogers once said, “If there were no valleys of sadness and death, we could never really appreciate the sunshine of happiness on the mountain top.”
Most of Roy Rogers’ “B-westerns” and TV shows catered to kids but were loved by all ages. Off-screen he made countless personal visits to children’s hospitals, orphanages and shelters over the years. In the 1940s, he started a club for children called the “Roy Rogers Riders Club.” Any child who sent Roy his or her name and address received a “Rogersgram” arriving by “Trigger Express” and an authentic membership card with the Riders Rules on it! Such an honor exceeded even that of carrying a Roy Rogers lunch pail to school.
No matter how old you get, you cannot outgrow these Rider’s Rules:
1. Be neat and clean.
2. Be courteous and polite.
3. Always obey your parents.
4. Protect the weak and help them.
5. Be brave but never take chances.
6. Study hard and learn all you can.
7. Be kind to animals and take care of them.
8. Eat all your food and never waste any.
9. Love God and go to Sunday school regularly.
10. Always respect our flag and our country.
Okay, perhaps you have ridden down some happy trails far enough to be a parent or grandparent yourself. Maybe you need to cut down on certain foods. But those rules still ride right nicely if you ask me.
Roy Rogers embodied goodness, fairness and love for God, church, community and country (or at least he tried to). Some eye-rolling fuddy-duddies and uppity aesthetic experts call much of what he did, “kitsch” or “hokie” (derogatory terms for things antiquated, simple and decent). I admit it’s not Academy Award eligible and that my nostalgia need not be yours. Still, we belittle such things probably because they are so hard to implement in our complex contemporary lives. Our trails can get rather rough and unhappy as a result.
Roy and Dale were outspoken Christians who founded and operated many children’s charities, especially on behalf of homeless and handicapped children. They paved many trails on which others found some joy and peace.
I could go on, but it’s timefor a hokie Roy Rogers farewell: “Good bye, good luck and may the good Lord take a likin’ to ya.”