Keith Hunt - Leonard Slye becomes Roy Rogers - Page Three   Restitution of All Things

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Leonard Slye becomes Roy Rogers

It was not Easy!

LEONARD SLYE BECOMES ROY ROGERS


     YOU'LL FORGIVE MY IMMODESTY if I point to the fact that each
spring something in the neighborhood of a million people - men,
women and children of all ages - visit my birthplace. But, in all
honesty, not for the reason you might think.
     The address of the old home place was 412 Second Street,
Cincinnati, Ohio. It was, I'm told, a red brick tenement building
whose best features were the facts that the roof didn't leak
unless it really came a downpour and that it was in close
proximity to my father's job at the United States Shoe Company.
The building is no longer there. For that matter, neither is the
four-hundred block of Second Street. Urban Renewal saw to that
some years back. In its place the city fathers elected to have
Riverfront Stadium built to serve as the home of the major league
Cincinnati Reds.
     And as best I can determine, the place I was born was
roughly where second base is now located. So, in reality, it
isn't the birthplace of Roy Rogers those million people I
mentioned come to see but, rather, the double plays turned by the
hometown infield. Which is quite as it should be. Still, how many
people do you know who can say they were born at second base in a
big league ball park? It's not a bad yarn to spin to your
grandkids, you'll have to admit.
     As a matter of fact, had one of my early boyhood aspirations
materialized, I just might have made one of those triumphant
returns to the old home place, not as a singing cowboy or, for
that matter, as a second baseman, but as a big league pitcher.
Though my grade school teacher and coach, a man of rare athletic
and academic abilities named Guy Baumgartner, probably doesn't
remember it exactly the way I do, my curve ball was once the
terror of the schoolground. (Granted, it has curved better and
with greater velocity with the passage of time, but then that's
the privilege of aging athletes, right?)
     Still, when you get right down to it, my abilities as a
baseball player never caused a single major league scout to come
running to our doorstep with promises of fame and fortune. No big
league pitcher ever lost any sleep worrying about having his job
stolen away by a skinny right-hander named Leonard Slye.
     But it didn't hurt to dream. My father taught me that. Andy
Slye was a small, easygoing man of incredible energy, a man with
a creative knack for building everything and repairing almost
anything. He loved life, music, the out-of-doors, my mother, and
each of his children. And he was a bit of a dreamer, a romantic,
an adventurer. I used to love to sit and hear him tell stories
about his younger days, before he met and married Mom, when he
followed the whims of youth from one marvelous adventure to
another.
     As a teenager, he once traveled across the country with a
carnival as a laborer, and later performed as an acrobat for a
while. A self-taught musician, he once worked as an entertainer
on a showboat and was a big hit with his guitar and mandolin at
square dances throughout Ohio. He used to tell about sitting on
the wharves of Portsmouth for hours on end, watching ships from
magical, far-away places as they unloaded their cargoes. He would
make up fantasies about the ships and their crews, fashioning
exciting stories in his mind. From that fertile imagination would
later come the stories lie would tell my sisters and me.
     Dad never said as much, but I've always felt that the only
thing in the world that could have made him give up his wandering
and adventure was his love for my mother. She was working in a
laundry when Dad first met her and began asking her out on dates.
A couple of years older than he was, she made it clear to him she
would never consider marrying she wimld never consider marrying
a man who was not ready to settle down, hold a job, and devote
himself to raising a family. 
     Which is not to say Mattie Slye didn't like her fun, too.
Born in Kentucky, she also had a deep-seated love for music. She
played a variety of stringed instruments and, despite having been
crippled by polio as a baby, loved to go to dances. 
     I should point out that Mom's marriage to Dad didn't exactly
shake all the wanderlust from his hsoes.

     The first time I learned about life on the farm was that no
matter if the sun was boiling hot or there was rain ciming down
in sheets or it was below freezing with snow knee deep, a cow was
still a cow and had to be fed and milked. And  that chickens
still laid eggs and needed their nests cleaned, and that hogs
still needed to be slopped.
     And I believe to this day that the wood box we kept in the
kitchen must have had a hole in the bottom of it. One of my
chores was to see that it stayed full, and it seemed forever
empty despite my efforts.
     My efforts, you should understand, weren't more than a drop
in the bucket compared to those of my father. He cleared land,
burned stumps and pulled them out with a mule; he built a barn
for the milk cows, pens for the hogs; he planted and plowed, and
somehow still had energy left after dinner for music. But he knew
that it would be close to impossible for us to make it on the
farm alone, so he went back to work at the shoe factory as soon
as he had set everything in order in Duck Run.
     That, I think, was probably the hardest thing he ever had to
do. In those days twelve miles was a long trip. So he was forced
to stay in Portsmouth during the week, coming home to the farm on
the weekends. It was lonely and hard for him and for us as well -
but it was the only way he could see to provide us with the
environment he felt was so important to his children.
     Like every other farm family I've known, we worked hard and,
when the opportunity afforded itself, played hard. It was my
responsibility to tend the animals, fill the woodbox, and do the
plowing. Admittedly, these weren't the greatest forms of
recreation in the world, but there was always the knowledge that,
once completed, there were things like fishing and swimming in
the nearby creek, hikes into the Ohio hills, picnics on warm
summer days, and more wild animals than you could shake a stick
at. It sure beat chasing the ice wagon back on Mill Street.
I had pet skunks, a groundhog, a couple of raccoons, more dogs
than I can even remember, and a rooster that I trained to sit on
my shoulder. If times were hard in those days - which certainly
they were the fact usually escaped my notice.
     Dad got paid every two weeks, and he would always come home
with presents for everyone. There was one he brought me which
I'll never forget; the afternoon he came home with Babe, a black
mare who in her earlier life had been a sulky racer, still has to
rank as one of the most memorable of my life. Never mind that she
dumped me right on the seat of my britches the first time I got
on her. It was love at first sight as far as I was concerned. I
just dusted off my pants, stroked her mane a little and talked
with her and climbed back on.
     She was quick to pick up a few simple tricks I began to
teach her as soon as we got acquainted. I thought she was,
without question, the most beautiful and the smartest animal the
good Lord had ever created. Of course, the only first-hand
comparison I could make at the time was with an ornery old plow
mule with whom I had had a running feud from the time we moved to
the farm.
     As I grew older and satisfied Mom that I was a qualified
horseman, I was occasionally allowed to ride Babe into Portsmouth
and pay a visit to Dad on weekends when he couldn't get home.
     When the budget allowed, he would treat me to a movie.
     Years later, I mentioned those trips to the movies to a
reporter, adding that my favorite star was Hoot Gibson. Shortly
after that, a story appeared, saying that while sitting there in
that little Portsmouth picture show I made up my mind that I was
going to grow up to be the "King of the Cowboys."
     Which is nothing more than a Grade-A pasteurized Hollywood
publicity story. The truth of the matter was that the only things
that seemed really important to me at that time were being able
to eat all I wanted and sleeping as late as I could in the
mornings (but the cow always had to be milked). And, in the back
of my mind, there was that dream of being a doctor. Elbowing in
on Hoot Gibsons terrain never came to mind.
     For an aspiring young Doctor Kildare, I'm afraid I wasn't
exactly an academic whiz. School, as a matter of fact, became
more and more of a problem as I went from one grade to the next.
     With Dad working in Portsmouth, the job of running the farm
demanded a great deal of my time before I went off to school and
was waiting for me when I returned. If we had had a dollar for
every night I fell asleep at the kitchen table, trying to study
by the light of a kerosene lamp, we would have been able to hire
help and probably buy a second-hand tractor.
     The fact that my grades did not reflect the same scholarly
abilities as some of my classmates worried me. No, worried isn't
the proper word. It embarrassed me. And I handled it about as
poorly as it could be handled. To draw attention from my poor
performances in the classroom, I became the class show-off, a
blue-ribbon smart aleck who did his dead-level best to be sure
the teacher earned his money.
     One morning one of my classmates was on the receiving end of
what I felt was a little too severe whipping, and I jumped up and
came to his defense. What resulted was a good country whipping
for me as well, and something close to mutiny in the little
one-room schoolhouse.
     Things didn't get much better as time passed. Once I threw a
girl's cap up on the roof of the school (after she had thrown
mine up there). The teacher, having witnessed my mischief,
demanded that I climb up and get it. I said, "Not until she gets
mine," and the teacher dashed off in search of the paddle.
The chase was on. I finally ran into a shallow creek, certain the
teacher wouldn't follow, and panicked when I quickly saw that was
not to be the case. I picked up a rock and threw it at my
pursuer, hitting him in the forehead. Scared and ashamed of what
I had done, I then ran home.
     The term juvenile delinquent had not become a part of the
nation's vocabulary when I was in the sixth grade, but, looking
back, I shudder to think of the direction I was headed.
     A man named Guy Baumgartner arrived just in time. The former
teacher, having all he wanted of Duck Run - and, no doubt, of
Leonard Slye - resigned at the end of the school year. In his
place came a middle-aged man who had a constant smile fixed on
his face, a gift for making education fun, and the patience and
ability to make me aware of the importance of learning. He even
insisted that all the students call him Guy rather than Mr.
Baumgartner.
     I've never fully understood how it is God knows when and
whom to bring into your life, but his timing was perfect in
this case. Over the years it has been my good fortune to have a
lot of wonderful people play a part in my life. None ever did so
in a more positive manner than that schoolteacher back in Duck
Run.
     To him the learning process included more than books and
blackboards and homework. He organized athletic teams, led us on
nature hikes, and established a 4H program, urging those of us
who could to purchase a baby pig and try to raise a prizewinner.
For ten dollars, I became the proud owner of a newborn black
Poland China pig which, with a little suggesting from my sisters,
I named Evangeline. She grew up to be the grand champion at the
Scioto County Fair held in Lucasville, and earned me a trip to
visit the state capitol, Columbus, Ohio. It was Guy Baumgartner,
I suppose, who gave me my first acting job - if you want to call
playing Santa Claus in the school Christmas play a first step
toward B-Western stardom. I can say without reservation that I
never made a movie or did a television show or performed on a
stage that terrified me as much as standing there in front of a
couple of dozen people at the Duck Run School, trying to
"ho-ho-ho," thinking I was going to die of sheer agony.
     I don't think I'd have even considered doing it for anyone
but Guy Baumgartner. I owed him. For that matter, I still do. No
matter how hard we worked at it, the demands of making a go of it
on the farm seemed always a step ahead of us. Oh, there were fun
times, and a sense of freedom that only that kind of lifestyle
can provide. But, looking at it from a cold, businesslike point
of view, it seemed at times like we were trying to dig a hole in
the sand. Dad, trying to divide his time between the shoe factory
and the farm, would get discouraged, and the feeling would sweep
through the family to Mom, to me, and to the girls.
     Since the Duck Run school had only eight grades, I was
enrolled in a high school at McDermott, Ohio, about four miles
from Duck Run, for my freshman and sophomore years.
     I was pretty good at sports, not bad at the clarinet, okay
with my studies, and a galloping failure with the girls. There
was this pretty auburn-haired trumpet player in the school
orchestra with whom I fell madly in love and whom, after several
weeks of practice and nerve-building, I finally asked to be my
date at a band recital. I had every intention of sweeping her off
her feet with clever and witty conversation.
     This, to the best of my recollection, was how the
conversation went that evening: After I picked her up she made
the observation that it was most certainly a warm evening, wasn't
it? I dazzled her with my reply: "Yes, it certainly is." Later,
the recital over, I took her home and she said, "It's a bit
cooler now, isn't it?" "Yes, it is," I said.
     I decided to postpone romance and work on baseball. Which
was just as well, really, since the time was nearing for the
family to make another move-back to Cincinnati.

     I was seventeen then, and felt it time for me to help Dad
carry the load of financial responsibility. Despite my mother's
reservations - she had been openly concerned about the
possibility of my dropping out of school in the early days in
Duck Run - I quit school and went to work alongside Dad in the
shoe factory in Cincinnati. The thirty-five dollars a week they
would pay me, it had finally been agreed, would help with the
family finances and still leave enough to pay for night school.
For a while it worked. I would get off at the shoe factory, have
dinner, and go off to night classes which lasted from night to
eleven-thirty. As time went on, however, it became harder and
harder to find time to get homework assignments completed on
time. Tired from the routine of working by day and going to
school at night, I wasn't exactly setting any records for
retention either.
     One evening, in the middle of class, I decided to rest my
head on the desk for a minute during a lecture. I did not awake
until a fellow sitting next to me poked me in the ribs to tell me
that class was just about over.
     Several of the students got a good laugh out of the
incident. But it would be their last at Leonard Slye's expense.
Someone else would have to grow up to heal the sick and the
afflicted. I had come to the realization that the task would not
fall to me. Embarrassed by my untimely catnap and weary of
chasing academic rainbows, I gave it up. I never went back to
school.

     WORKING FULL-TIME at the shoe factory, I soon came to
appreciate the drudgery my father had so long endured. Weeks
seemed to stretch endlessly until finally it would be Friday and
I could look forward to a weekend of freedom. As often as
possible I would return to the farm where my sister Cleda and her
new husband were living. It was good to be back in the open
spaces, to work out-of-doors by day and go hunting at night. But
there would always be a new week and time to clock in again at
the factory.
     On one particular Monday morning, as I made my way about the
house, getting ready for work as if I were locked into slow
motion, I looked in on Dad to see if he was about ready. I found
him still in bed; Mom was pressing a damp cloth to his forehead.
"Your father," she told me, "isn't going to work today. He's got
a horrible headache."
     I stood there in the doorway for a moment, looking down on
my father, saying nothing. I couldn't remember his having had a
headache before. Suddenly I was fully awake, no longer in slow
motion. In fact, there were several things running through my
mind at once. I thought of the letters from my sister Mary, who
had married and moved to California. And of the fact that our
jobs at the shoe factory were roads leading nowhere.
     "Dad," I finally said, "I've got something over ninety
dollars saved up. You ought to have right at a hundred. What do
you say we just up and quit our jobs, go out to visit Mary, and
take a look at California? She says the country's beautiful, and
it seems to me there's likely jobs to be had out there."
     You never saw a headache go away so fast. Suddenly Dad was
sitting up in bed, talking with great enthusiasm about my
proposal.
     Mom, bless her, took the damp cloth away and left the room,
silently shaking her head. Now, she was no doubt thinking, she
had two daydreaming adventurers on her hands.
     She started packing that day. We loaded our 1923 Dodge and
started the long drive west.
     The old Dodge didn't make it, but we did. We got as far as
Magdelina, New Mexico, before the bearings burned out; we fixed
them from parts of another old Dodge in a junkyard and continued
on to California. Fixing the car shot quite a hole in our
vacation budget. Suffice it to say, then, that we didn't exactly
arrive at Mary's home in Lawndale putting on any airs, packed as
we were into an aging jalopy that badly needed a paint job and
did far more shaking and rattling than it did rolling.
     But aside from being broke, hungry, and bone-weary, we were
just fine. A few days' rest took care of the weariness, Mary's
abilities in the kitchen chased the hunger, and her husband did
his part to solve our financial problems by giving us jobs
driving gravel trucks for him.
     We stayed four months before heading back for Ohio. None of
us were too anxious to leave, but Dad insisted it was time.
"Maybe," he said, "I'll just see about putting the farm up for
sale when we get back and we'll move out here for good. I'm not a
half-bad truck driver, and it sure beats being cooped up in a
shoe factory."
     Patience not being one of my long suits at the time, I was
hardly home before I found myself headed back to California.
Mary's father-in-law was going there, so I suggested going along
to help him with the driving. The following spring, the rest of
the family followed, and the old farm shifted to the shoulders of
some of our neighbors, the Hiles family, who still own it.
     Dad rented a little house near where Mary and her husband
were living, and before Mom could even get curtains hung he and I
had jobs driving trucks for a road construction operation. We
regularly took turns applauding our foresightedness in making the
move west - until the morning we reported for work just in time
to see all the trucks being towed away. Our employer had gone
bankrupt, and quite suddenly bountiful California began to look a
great deal like hard-times Ohio.


     AFTER A COUPLE OF MONTHS of nonproductive job hunting and
almost nonpaying fruitpicking, Dad got word that a Los Angeles
shoe company was hiring. There was a resignation in his eyes that
I'll never forget. He didn't say as much, but I knew how he hated
the idea of returning to that line of work. "A man takes what's
available to him, son," he told me. "You coming along?"
     A long silence passed between us. It answered him better
than I was able to. "Dad," I said, "the only thing that I really
have an honest good feeling for is music. It makes me happy, and
my playing and singing seems to make everyone else happy. If I
can talk cousin Stanley into it, I'd like to take a try at being
a musician. From what I hear, there are always a lot of social
meetings and parties and square dances to play at. Some of the
better groups are even working on the radio a lot.
     "I'd be crazy to say that I know how it'll work out," I
continued, "but I'll never know until I give it a try."

     Looking back on it now, I can see that there probably isn't
a person in the world who better understood what I felt, what I
was trying to say, than Andy Slye. What he realized, I suppose,
is that more than a little of himself had rubbed off on his son.
He wished me well and went to the shoe factory alone.
     I'LL NOT ASK for a show of hands of those of you who
remember a couple of skinny hillbilly-looking singers who called
themselves The Slye Brothers. Their debut caused not a ripple.
Their earning power was limited to depending on the generosity of
square dancers and partygoers who saw fit to drop a little
something in the hat as it was passed. We never had any trouble
lifting the hat after it had made the rounds.
     Leonard and Stanley Slye were, to put it mildly, several
light years away from being household names in the West Coast
music business.
     There were times, though, when it looked as if we were on
our way. One night, after hearing us play at a square dance, this
fellow who identified himself as an agent said a lot of nice
things about the way we were singing. He suggested we get
together for a cup of coffee after the dance. Before you knew it,
he was talking about booking us into some theaters, maybe even
working up some kind of tour.
     The few places we did work weren't exactly the Hollywood
Bowl and, as it was explained to us, the money we were earning
was somehow being eaten up by expenses. Pretty soon the "agent"
disappeared, and the not-so-famous and not-so-smart Slye Brothers
were back to passing the hat.
     "Len," Stanley finally said one day, "we've got to talk.
Let's go get a piece of pie." I had this old motorcycle then, and
we rode all the way into downtown Los Angeles to this place where
you could get half a pie for a dime.
     "We're getting nowhere fast," Stanley said - something of an
understatement. "I'm ready to call it quits and see if I can find
a job that has a paycheck to go with it. Besides, if we stick
with it we're liable to run across that 'agent' of ours somewhere
along the line, and I'm afraid they might put me in jail for what
I would do to him."
     "Being the kind of fella he obviously is," I said, "we'd
probably have to stand in a long line just to get our chance."
     We laughed, finished our pie, and with no great fanfare or
additional speeches abolished The Slye Brothers. I went in search
of the next step in my own limping musical career,
     Trying to somehow convince myself that experience was almost
as valuable as money, I played a while for a group called Uncle
Tom Murray's Hollywood Hillbillies. Uncle Tom also placed high
value on experience, and therefore never felt a need to offer me
any kind of salary for my contribution.
     A small radio station in Inglewood announced that it planned
to conduct an amateur singing contest, and Mom and Mary urged me
to enter. I decided I might as well, inasmuch as I was about as
close to an amateur singer as they were likely to find anywhere.

     As the date of the contest neared, everyone in the family
got very excited about attending to serve as my personal cheering
section. The more excited they got, the more nervous I got. When
the big night finally arrived, I would have gladly traded the
guitar I had bought back in Ohio for a spot on the assembly line
down at the shoe factory. Singing with Stanley at dances and
small parties or joining into the harmony with The Hollywood
Hillbillies had been one thing; going up on a stage to compete
against a bunch of other singers, each of whom I was thoroughly
convinced was far better than I, was something else entirely.
When my name was called I froze to my chair. Mary nudged me with
an elbow a couple of times, gently at first and then with a
little more enthusiasm. "Len," she finally said, making no
attempt at masking her rising anger, "we've come all the way down
here to hear you sing. I sewed that fancy shirt for you and Mama
ironed your pants. So get up right now and go up there and show
them how good you can play and sing."
     It was useless to try to explain to her that if my legs
wouldn't work - which they suddenly didn't seem to want to do -
there certainly was no reason to believe my vocal cords were
going to behave any better.
     I'll skip the O. Henry ending to this little tale by simply
stating that I did not win. I didn't even place. The truth is,
the only real applause for my efforts came from the row of seats
occupied by members of the immediate Slye family.

     The following day, however, I got a call from a man who
identified himself as the manager of a Western music group which
called itself The Rocky Mountaineers. He said he had liked my
singing and wanted to know if I was Interested in joining his
group. It had, he explained, a regular weekly program on a
station in Long Beach and, while they received no pay for the
show, they were allowed to use air time to plug the fact that
they were available for parties and dances.
     Not exactly swamped with offers at the moment, I jumped at
the chance.
     My association with the Mountaineers didn't exactly jump me
into another tax bracket, but it did provide me with my first
introduction to a couple of musicians who would later rank among
the greatest that Western music has ever known. Bob Nolan, an
outstanding baritone who had just come to California from his
native Canada and was a lifeguard at Santa Monica beach, joined
the group shortly after I did, but left when he became aware that
paydays were going to be few and far between. Though destined to
become an outstanding songwriter, he took a job as a caddy at the
Bel-Air County Club. I've always wondered if he came up with the
words and music to some of his outstanding compositions like
"Tumbling Tumbleweeds" while hauling some golfer's bag around the
plush, manicured Bel-Air course where, to be sure, never a
tumbleweed tumbled.
     Our advertisement for a baritone and yodeler to replace
Nolan was answered by Tim Spencer, one of the thousands who had
left Oklahoma's Dust Bowl in search of a more prosperous life in
California. In the years to come that prosperity would be
realized; Tim would write literally hundreds of Western tunes.
Among my favorites were "Pioneer Mother of Mine," a song I still
have trouble singing because it reminds me so of my mother, and
"Roomful of Roses," which originally stayed on the Hit Parade for
three months and is revived by someone every couple of years. In
fact, just a couple of years ago, Mickey Gilley, the
country-western singer, recorded it, and it immediately climbed
to number one on the country-western charts.
     Even with talent like that of Nolan and Spencer, however, it
was hard going. One member of the group was married, and several
of the others lived in a small house with him and his wife. The
living room floor looked like a campground every night. It was
easy to see that an arrangement like that couldn't go on forever.
And, sadly, it didn't. The time eventually came when people were
dropping out faster than we could find replacements. The Rocky
Mountaineers soon went the way of The Slye Brothers and The
Hollywood Hillbillies.

     But, to the everlasting credit of this crazy business,
there's always another group waiting to be formed, certain that
it will be the one to make it big. I was just too stubborn to
give it up; Tim hadn't been at it long enough to be completely
disenchanted; and Slumber Nichols, another holdover from the
Mountaineers, said he didn't have anything else to do but sing
and go hungry. So we joined a group which called itself the
International Cowboys and were soon back on the radio, singing
for free. How's that for progress?

     Enter another booking agent.
     Resigned to the fact that a breakthrough for a new group was
all but impossible in the Los Angeles area, where there seemed to
be a bunch of guys singing Western music on evezy streetoomer, we
talked about the possibility of trying a barnstorming tour,
hitting the smaller towns in other states. The aforementioned
agent, who to the best of my recollection was selling time on the
radio station, said he would like to add a touch of refinement to
our plan. He suggested a "Southwestern tour," taking our kind of
show to a part of the world where good western music was properly
appreciated- A rizona, New Mexico, and Texas. Once he knew that a
member of the group had an automobile, he assured us he would set
the dates for us and we could get on the road.

     WHEN YOU'RE SINGING for free and have already accumulated a
pretty sizable list of past failures, you understand, you grab at
promises. Road map in hand, five of us from the International
Cowboys hit the road to begin what has to be one of the most
unsuccessful musical tours in entertainment history. Our new
name, we decided, would be the O-Bar-O Cowboys.
     Our first stop was Yuma, Arizona, where, despite the
assurances of our "agent," not a single person in town had ever
even heard of us, much less made preparations for a show. We
never made a nickel in Yuma.

     Next stop, Miami, Arizona. They were expecting us there, but
not for another week. We were forced to take a week's vacation in
Phoenix, which we needed like we needed four heads. We got on a
radio station in Phoenix to advertise our appearance in Miami,
which was a copper mining town.
     But nobody bothered to tell us that the mines had long ago
closed and that the town was just a few stubborn souls away from
being officially a ghost town. We rode up and down main street
with megaphones announcing our appearance that evening. Again, as
in Yuma, we made no money; we were getting nowhere fast. We paid
the bill at our tourist court with my wristwatch, just to get out
of town.
     There probably aren't a lot of people in the country who can
tell you much about the little community of Safford, Arizona, but
to this day it remains one of my favorite spots. It was there,
after all our dead ends, that we found a paying job. Our
performance netted us four dollars apiece, and to the man we were
certain we had at last found the mother lode.

     Our next stop seemed like a sure thing. Wilcox, Arizona was
the hometown of one of the members of the group, so it stood to
reason that this triumphant return would provide a sizable
audience. Sure enough, when we got there, there were signs
everywhere saying, "Welcome Home Cactus Mac." "Hometown Boy Makes
Good in Hollywood," and generally proclaiming a hero's welcome.
We got our crowd all right, but the enthusiasm shown by the
citizens of Wilcox caused our leader Cactus Mac to break out in a
thundering case of homesickness. He announced to the group that
he had thought about it and had decided to just stay there in
Wilcox where he belonged and give up the music business. Our
fiddle player owned the car and wanted to return to Los Angeles,
so at three o'clock in the morning we had to talk him into going
on to Roswell, New Mexico, which was our next booking.
     It was in June of 1933 that we arrived in Roswell, short on
money and again ahead of the schedule which had been set for us.
We pooled our finances and came up with a grand total of two
dollars. I got to thinking maybe we all should have stayed in
Wilcox.
     But when in a bind you make do. We talked the manager of a
tourist court into extending us credit until after we were paid
for our show, and went to the local radio station where the
manager agreed to let us go on the air and sing a few songs to
promote ourselves. He even loaned us a rifle so we could do some
rabbit hunting, since it was unlikely that any of the grocery
stores or restaurants were going to be interested in extending
credit to a less than prosperous-looking group of musicians
passing through.

     We lived pretty well on cottontails and jack rabbits for
quite a while. But even the rabbits became scarce in a week or
so. One day all we could bag was a hawk, which we tried to boil
on a hotplate in the room. We were hungry, and it tasted good,
but suffice it to say it won no cooking prize, nor could it be
remotely compared to any kind of homestyle meal any of us had
ever experienced.
     So it was time to dust off the old ploy which had worked on
occasion back in California. It was almost tradition for singing
groups working on radio to make some kind of off-hand mention of
food during the course of a broadcast, hoping that someone out
there in radio-land would get the hint and drop by the station
with a cake or a pie or maybe a platefull of fresh-baked cookies
- anything but rabbit.
     Between songs on the Roswell station the subject of food
came up right on cue, and I said something like, "I'd just about
give my left arm for a piece of lemon pie like Mom bakes back
home." It would prove to be not only my most sincere but best
performance of the tour.
     No sooner were we off the air than a young lady called and
said if I would do "The Swiss Yodel" on the air the following day
she would come running with a whole lemon pie. I practiced the
song well into the night and, to hurry along delivery as much as
possible, opened the next day's show with it. It probably wasn't
the best rendition of the song ever done, but I bet it's never
been done with more enthusiasm.
     When we got off the air, however, there was no young lady,
no lemon pie. Spirits collectively fell as we loaded into the car
to return to the tourist court, and rose dramatically when, on
our arrival, we saw a woman and a young girl standing at our
door, each of them holding still-warm lemon pies.
     "I'm Mrs.Wilkins from across the street," she said, "and
this is my daughter Arlene, who called you at the station. She
loved your 'Swiss Yodel.'"
     Arlene smiled but didn't say anything. Neither did I. I was
standing there with my mouth open, having forgotten about the
pies for the moment, looking at the prettiest girl I'd ever seen.
Don't ever believe anyone who tries to convince you there's no
such thing as love at first sight.

     The next day I delivered the empty pie plates to the
Wilkins's house, came to the conclusion that she was even
prettier than I had first thought, and returned to the group with
the welcome news that we had been invited over for fried chicken
that evening. Things were looking up.

     Mrs.Wilkins's fried chicken dinner was far more successful
than the show we eventually put on. We didn't even draw enough
people to pay for our lodging. We were finally saved by the local
Lions Club, which agreed to let us do a square dance for them. We
made enough money to pay our bill at the tourist court and get
the repair work done on our car as we traveled into the Texas
Panhandle. We reached Lubbock, Texas, then, in a familiar state,
so broke we couldn't pay attention.
     The less-than-enthusiastic reception there did it. Enough,
we decided, was enough. We had made enough money to make it home,
so, canceling the remainder of our tour to nowhere, we headed
back toward California. Slumber Nichols got himself a job with a
radio station in Fort Worth, Tim Spencer went to work for
Safeway, stacking groceries, and I joined a group called The
Texas Outlaws. When I wasn't working on radio KFWB, I was writing
letters to Arlene Wilkins in Roswell, New Mexico.
     I kept thinking that it was possible to make a go of being a
musician. All you had to do to know that it wasn't impossible was
listen to the records they were playing on the radio or go out to
see live performances that had seats filled with admission-paying
customers.
     Allowing him what I considered a proper amount of time to
forget some of the hardships of our abortive past efforts, I
sought out Tim Spencer. He quickly pointed out to me that he was
fast coming to enjoy eating regularly and having a little money
in his pocket. It didn't make my mission any easier.
     "Tim," I told him, "I want to make one more try at it. I've
come too far to stop now. Let's you and me go find Bob Nolan and
try it as a trio. I believe we can make it."
     Once a musician, always a musician. Tim agreed to have a go
at it. So did Bob Nolan. The Pioneer Trio was born and began
rehearsing around the clock for its debut on an early morning
show on KFWB with Jack and His Texas Outlaws. Of course, there
would be no pay.
     But, low and behold, a man named Bernie Milligan, a
columnist for the Los Angeles Examiner, put an end to that.
Having heard us on the radio, he touted us in his "Best Bets of
the Day," and suddenly the station agreed to put us on the staff
at thirty-five dollars a week each. We left the Outlaws and soon
were working on a regular basis, earning enough money to hire
staff musicians and add a talented fiddle player named Hugh Farr.
     The Pioneer Trio soon became known as The Sons of the
Pioneers. Whatever it was we were doing was working, and none of
us was about to spoil things with a lot of analyzing. We picked
up a radio sponsor, did an occasional guest spot on even bigger
radio programs, did a little movie background work, and suddenly
weren't having to go hat in hand looking for playing dates. In
fact, we were working almost every night.
     One particular show we did comes to mind. There was a
Salvation Army benefit being held in San Bernardino where Will
Rogers, the folksy Oklahoma cowboy who had captured the nation's
heart with his homespun wit, was appearing. Having heard us
perform, he had personally asked that we do the show with him. It
was a great thrill to share the stages with him, and after the
show was over we stood around talking for quite some time.
     Finally, he said he had to be going. "Gotta get some rest"
he said. "Me an' Wiley Post are taking off for Alaska tomorrow."
Little did we know at the time that we had worked with Will
Rogers in his last public appearance. The saddening news came on
August 15, 1935 that he and his pilot Post had died in a crash
near Port Barrow, Alaska. I have since visited that spot, while
on a hunting trip in Alaska.

     THE FOLLOWING YEAR the state of Texas was celebrating its
Centennial in Dallas, and the Sons of the Pioneers were invited
by Governor James V. Allred of Texas to entertain the thousands
who would come to the State Fair Grounds in Dallas to join in the
festivities. I wrote Arlene to tell her that we would be coming
her way and offered a suggestion. En route to Dallas, then, I
stopped by the Wilkins's house - not for a piece of lemon pie but
instead a slice of wedding cake. In the living room of her
family's home we were married on June 14, 1936, and went to
Dallas to combine our honeymoon with the one-hundredth birthday
of Texas. Ol' Leonard Slye, feeling pretty good about himself,
was definitely on a hot streak.

     IN THE FALL OF 1937 I stopped by a Western hat store in
Glendale to see what, if anything, could be done about getting
the only cowboy hat I owned cleaned up a bit. It was, frankly,
more than a little worse for the wear, but the price of a new one
was well out of reach of the Slye family budget. So, to borrow a
phrase from Dad, I was making do.
     While the clerk looked it over, making me fully aware that
he was not in the miracle business but agreeable nonetheless to
seeing what he could do, I admired one of the new Stetsons (a
model made popular by Tom Mix) he had on display. At that moment
a breathless young man, rangy and Westem-looking as they come,
came running into the store and told the clerk that he needed a
new cowboy hat in the worst way.
     The sudden prospect of a sale, needless to say, put my
cleaning job on the waiting list in a hurry..
     "I just heard," the excited customer told the clerk, "that
they're gonna hold tests for singing cowboys tomorrow over at
Republic. I'm gonna give it a whirl, so I need me a really
good-looking hat."
     For a brief moment I considered offering him a little
friendly advice, but then thought better of it. Even if he knew
that having a screen test could end up being one of the biggest

disappointments of his life, he would go through with it anyway.
So he bought his hat and left, filled with great aspirations.
That, folks, is show biz.
     A few months earlier I had traveled down the same pie-in-
the-sky dream road. The Sons of the Pioneers had steadily grown
in popularity and had had a pretty good list of movie credits
working. I had even landed a few bit parts here and there in
Westerns and comedies - never really doing much acting but, like
just about everyone who gets a taste of the movie business,
thinking I probably could if the chance ever came along.
     I was serious enough about it to adopt a screen name which
sounded a little more Western than Leonard Slye. For the life of
me I can't tell you why the name Dick Weston was chosen, but
you'll have to admit it sounded a little more like a guy who
could ride and shoot than the one I was given at birth.
     While my parts were generally about as minor as you can get,
I did manage to rub elbows with some pretty famous people - Bing
Crosby, Dick Foran, Joan Davis, Charlie Starrett, Jo Stafford,
Phil Regan - who were among the biggest box office attractions of
the thirties. It was pretty heady stuff for a boy from Duck Run,
Ohio.

     If someone held a gun to my head I wouldn't be able to
repeat a line of dialogue or give you the plots of many of the
early-day film appearances of Dick Weston, such as they were, but
suffice it to say I wasn't riding around on a golden palomino,
winning the West, and getting the girl.
     For example: In December 1936 Republic Studios gave me a
singing part in a movie entitled The Old Corral, starring Gene
Autry. The plot escapes me, but I do remember having this fight
with Gene (guess who was the good guy in that one!). Okay, so
Gene wins the fight and then forces me, at gunpoint, to sing him
a song. Being a bad guy and all, it was something I was supposed
to be completely humiliated by.
     Such roles caused no great stir among the members of the
Motion Picture Academy, to be sure, but they did serve to
reinforce my enthusiasm for the business. Thus when Universal
Studios offered me a screen test I was quick to accept. I was
sure that Dick Weston, future movie star, was on his way. A fella
named Bob Baker also tested, however, and I finished second in
the two-actor race - Trim Carr, the producer, said I photographed
too young-looking. I'm afraid I didn't waste a great deal of
energy in the next couple of months trying to convince others
that I wasn't disappointed about the missed opportunity. I moped
around, generally felt sorry for myself, and gradually came to
grips with the fact that Leonard Slye by any other name was still
Leonard Slye - one of those people destined to go just so far and
no farther. I privately lectured myself on the matter and decided
that it would be in the best interest of all if I accepted my
particular position in life and made the best of it. I vowed to
quit looking to greener pastures and courting disappointment.
It wasn't a bad lecture, if I do say so myself. The Pioneers were
making headway, I had a pretty lady in my life, and there were
still the bit parts in movies from time to time. 

     After our successful engagement in Dallas at the Texas
Centennial we had been invited to join Peter Potter's "Hollywood
Barn Dance" radio show as regulars. Things were beginning to look
pretty satisfactory to me.
     Until that young cowboy came barging in to see about buying
himself a new hat.
     The discussion I had with Arlene that evening is proof
positive that time heals the wounds of disappointment. I found
myself eagerly telling her of the conversation I had overheard
and of my plans to be at Republic Studios the following day.
To her everlasting credit she offered no reminder of the earlier
disappointment at Universal. Looking back on it, I guess she saw
in me what I had seen a few hours earlier in that young cowboy in
the hat shop, Republic was calling and, whether Republic knew it
or not, Dick Weston was ready to ride.
     It never occurred to me that I would have trouble even
getting on the lot. To show you how schooled I was in the ways of
Hollywood, I arrived at the Republic gates early the next morning
with neither a gate pass nor the foresight not to admit to he
guard on duty that I had no appointment. The guard, I have to
say, was jealously devoted to his job. No amount of persuading
would soften his stance. No, he had never heard of Dick Weston.
Never heard of the Sons of the Pioneers. And, nope, he didn't
recollect ever seeing me before, even though I had gone
through that gate dozens of times.
     I got the distinct impression that should I have broken and
run for the gate he might well have dry-gulched me even before I
had a chance to strum a note. Fresh out of ideas and unwilling to
return home and admit to Arlene that I hadn't even managed the
opportunity to fail this time around, I waited. And waited.
For several hours I stood outside that gate, hoping to see a
familiar face or, better yet, devise some brilliant plan for
getting past the guard. The familiar face, alas, never
materialized; finally a plan did. Its brilliance, however, is
subject to question.
     As a large group of studio employees returned from lunch,
strolling past the guard without so much as a wave or show of
identification, I fell in with them, head down, trying to look as
casual as a trespasser can hope to. I had made it roughly ten
yards before my adversary spotted me and called out for me to
stop.
     Then fate, bless her, took over. Just as I was about to
receive my escort off the lot - and, no doubt, out of the motion
picture business - I heard a friendly voice. Sol Siegel, the
producer, recognized me and came over to say hello. In all the
movies I would later make I can't think of a rescue I made that
was any more timely than that of Mr.Siegel's.
     "Something you want to see us about?" he asked. Literally
with hat in hand, I explained to him about hearing of the screen
testing. "I'd like to stay around and try," I said. If the truth
were known, I probably was digging the toe of my boot into the
ground as I made my pitch. Suffice it to say it probably
wasn't the most forceful job application Sol Siegel had ever
received.
     "Let's go into my office and talk," he said. Once seated, he
lit a cigar and pointed out to me that he had already tested a
dozen or so cowboys that day. "I don't know why I didn't think
about you," he said. "The job's still open. Where's your guitar?
It's a singing cowboy I'm looking for, you know."
     In another stroke of the genius which seemed set on
sabotaging my own chances, I had left the guitar in my car a
couple of blocks away. "Well, go get it," Siegel said. I hurried
to the door and then turned to speak.
     "Don't worry," he said, reading my thoughts, "I'll see that
the guard lets you back in."
     I ran all the way. I hit the doors of Siegel's office
singing. Actually, about all I was able to do was pant and heave
to the beat. Siegel smiled and motioned toward a chair. "Sit and
get your breath back," he said, "then let's hear you sing."
     After a few minutes I sang Bob Nolan's "Tumbling
Tumbleweeds," the theme song of the Sons of the Pioneers, then a
couple more that we did in just about all our shows, plus some
yodeling. Siegel said nothing until I finished, then after what
seemed like an eternity to me, rose and smiled. "I think," he
said, "you just might be what we're looking for. We'll test you
first thing tomorrow."
     Then, as something of an afterthought, he said, "You aren't
tied up with any other studio, are you?"
     The fact of the matter is that I was tied up. Along with the
rest of the Sons of the Pioneers, I was under contract to
Columbia Studios to do background music for their Charles
Starrett pictures. I explained it as best I could to Mr.Siegel,
and he suggested that there might be some way I could talk them
into releasing me.
     The people I most needed to talk to, though, were the
Pioneers. The problem as I saw it was finding a replacement for
myself. Columbia didn't want Leonard Slye or Dick Weston under
contract; it simply wanted the background music provided by the
Sons of the Pioneers. If they could be assured that my absence
wouldn't affect the music, I didn't see any problem. Which is
basically what they told me when I told them of the opportunity.
The Pioneers told me not to worry about things, that the chance
was too good to pass by. Still, I felt a need to be sure my spot
was filled. It was time to take a drive down the Coast Highway
and have a talk with another old Ohio boy I had come to know and
respect since moving to the West Coast. Pat Brady was not only a
good man to go to for advice, but just might be the solution to
the problem.
     He played in a string quartet at a restaurant called Sam's
Place on Sunset Beach, a spot we often stopped in after a
performance.
     More often than not, we would wind up in a hot jam session
after closing time. There were a number of things that impressed
me about Brady. First of all, anyone from Ohio couldn't be all
bad. Second, he was an accomplished musician, and had been in
show business of one form or another since he was just a toddler
following his mother and father, traveling tent show performers,
from town to town. And third, I guess if I had ever run across
anyone more shy than myself at the time, it was Pat Brady.
     I came straight to the point with him after completing the
fifty-mile drive. I outlined the situation and then said, "Pat, I
can't guarantee that things will work out between you and the
Pioneers, but if you would give it a try it would be a big favor
to me. With you as my replacement, I would be free to test for
the Republic contract."
     He agreed. The Pioneers agreed. Columbia agreed. And on
October 13,1937, I signed a contract with Republic Studios.

     There are varying theories as to why Republic would sign me
or, for that matter, any other singing cowboy, to a contract when
it did. It already had Gene Autry, who in 1937 was solidly the
number-one box office draw among Western stars. Already a veteran
of twenty-four movies, he was as familiar a name as Hollywood had
to offer. To introduce a new singing cowboy, some said, would put
the studio in competition with itself.
     But others suggest that Autry's success had motivated
Republic to increase its production of Westerns and therefore
command an even larger income. Then there was the theory that
Gene was becoming dissatisfied with some of Republic's policies,
and was threatening to strike for higher wages if the studio did
not agree to some of his demands.
     To this day I'm not sure what the basic motivation in hiring
me was. I do know, however, that the hardest part of my new job
in the early days was sitting around waiting for something to
happen. Not only did I spend the first several months just
reporting to the studio to stand around and do nothing, I found
out that just about everything about me was wrong. Someone, for
instance, decided that my shoulders weren't broad enough, so I
was placed on a routine which called for a hundred handstands a
day. The fitting department put extra padding into my shirts.
They even talked about some kind of drops for my eyes to make me
squint less.
     I did finally sing a solo in a film entitled The Three
Mesquiteers, the first of a lengthy series of Three Mesquiteers
Westerns which starred Ray Corrigan, Robert Livingston, and Max
Terhune. It sure beat doing a hundred handstands a day, but the
fan mail didn't exactly start flooding in. I was a long way from
being King of the Cowboys.
     Then Gene Autry declined to show up on the first day of
shooting a new picture. In his own biography, Back in the Saddle
Again, Gene points to a number of reasons for his decision. His
contract included a clause which entitled Republic Studios to
half the money he received from things like endorsements, radio,
or public appearances. And then, he was quite upset over the fact
that the studio had begun to confront film distributors with a
block buying proposition - to get one of Gene's pictures they had
to agree to take a number of other Republic films. For a number
of the smaller distributors this jumped the price of the package
to an amount their relatively slim budgets could not stand. Some
were no longer able to purchase the Autry movies that their
customers, the movie houses, wanted.
     It was, according to Gene, the block buying scheme which was
the final straw. He reportedly confronted Republic owner Herb
Yates with his list of grievances - he wanted the block buying
practice stopped, the clause allowing the studio to pocket half
his nonmovie earnings removed, and, while he was at it, a fairer
share of the profits from his increasingly successful films.
     But Herbert J. Yates was not a man who had gotten where
he was by bowing to the wishes of those he had under contract. At
one time he owned Consolidated Film Labs, a processing plant
which was developing the majority of films shot by Hollywood
studios. It was pretty common practice in those days for Yates
and Consolidated Film Labs to develop film for smaller
studios - companies like Monogram, Mascot, Liberty, Majestic,
Imperial, and Chesterfield, whose main fare was lowbudget serials
and adventure movies - on promise of payment later.
     Then one day in 1935 came the announcement of a merger - the
aforementioned studios would form a new corporation to be known
as Republic Pictures, Inc. Merger it wasn't. Consolidated Film
Labs had simply made an immediate demand for all money owed it,
and Yates was suddenly in the motion-picture business in a big
way. He inherited Mascot's North Hollywood studio and the
contracts of a couple of pretty valuable properties - Ann
Rutherford and Gene Autry. From Monogram he got the contract of a
young Western star named John Wayne.
     There are those who credit Herb Yates with the foresight to
add a new twist to the standard Western movies being produced;
the idea of a singing cowboy, I'm told, was that of Mr.Yates. And
while he and I would have our own misunderstandings in the years
to come, be aware that he was a man who well knew how to turn all
the keys to success in the movie business.
     Word got around pretty quickly that Yates was in absolutely
no frame of mind to lose out in a power struggle with Gene Autry
or any other person whose check he signed. Not wishing to get
involved, and unaware that the incident would have any effect on
my career - such as it was - I just kept my mouth shut and did my
one hundred handstands a day.
     When I was given another bit part in a Gene Autry movie
entitled The Old Barn Dance, I had no way of knowing it would be
his last for Republic for over six months. The meetings in
Yates's office had evidently resulted in both parties refusing to
budge. When Gene failed to show up on the first scheduled day of
shooting for a movie to be called Washington Cowboy, he was
suspended. The studio even took out an injunction to prevent his
appearing on stage until his contract with Republic had been
fulfilled.
     Like I said, Herb Yates drove a pretty hard bargain.
I don't mind telling you I was more than a little nervous when I
was summoned to his office. And I couldn't tell you what I said
when he informed me that I was going to play the lead in the
movie Gene had failed to show up for. The truth of it was that I
was speechless.
     Washington Cowboy was something of a Western's answer to 
Mr.Smith Goes to Washington. The script had a cowboy take the
Dust Bowl story to the men in Congress, appealing for help for
the ranchers whose cattle were dying and farmers whose crops were
burning up in the fields. And there was also a nest of local
politicians who had been bought body and soul by the evil and
oppressive water company to be dealt with. So, quite naturally,
the powers-that-be decided to change the name of the picture to
Under Western Stars. In my years in the movie business I feel
like I have learned a few things here and there. But, for the
life of me, I have never managed to come to an understanding of
the manner in which film titles are decided upon.
     At that particular time, though, I wasn't in the least
concerned over what title would eventually be flashed across the
screen. The simple fact that I was going to actually start
working for my seventy-five dollars per week made everything else
quite secondary.
     But before the shooting finally got underway, there were
still a few details to be ironed out. My physical appearance was
evidently finally satisfactory (they even gave up on the idea of
the drops for my eyes), but it was decided that my name was still
wrong. Dick Weston, it was decreed, wasn't all that much of an
improvement over Leonard Slye. So the Republic brain trust went
into a huddle. Yates gathered several of the studio's top men -
Bill Saal, and Moe and Sol Siegel - into his office and began the
search for the proper name for Republic's new singing cowboy. Sol
Siegel, I was later told, pointed to the fact that the late Will
Rogers remained one of the most familiar and best-loved figures
in America. "Rogers is a good, solid name," Siegel said. "To
 the public it represents honesty and integrity and trust. I say
let's go with it. The first name has to be something short, easy
to remember, but something with some meaning."
     "What about something that might offer a little bit of an
alliterative ring to it?" Yates suggested.
'Roy' means king,'"Siegel suggested. "How does the name Roy
Rogers strike you?"
     "I like it," Yates said, rising from the chair behind his
desk. That was It. Roy Rogers it was. If anyone had ever bothered
to ask, I would probably have said I liked it too.
     If nothing else, that particular brainstorming session
brought an end to the name game I had already grown tired of
playing. Of course, the new name took a little getting used to.
But later, in 1942, I went down to the court house and went
through the process required by law to have my name legally
changed to Roy Rogers.

     Once the problem of a name was settled, it was the publicity
department's turn. I posed for more pictures than I'd ever posed
for in my life, and was repeatedly informed that I had to have
what was called a proper "image." Roy Rogers, it was decided, was
a true-blue son of the West, born in Cody, Wyoming, and raised on
a sprawling cattle ranch. He even was supposed to have labored as
a ranchhand in New Mexico for a while before finally making his
way to the bright lights of Hollywood. Pictures and press
releases soon began going out, introducing the studio's "newest
Western star" even before he had gotten far enough down the road
to stardom to learn his lines for the movie in which he would
debut.
     It didn't take long for some of the publicity to backfire.
There came a letter to the studio from a complaining group in
Cody which seemed far more concerned with historical accuracy
than Hollywood hype. Their research, they claimed, revealed
absolutely no evidence of anyone named Roy Rogers having ever
been born in the whole state of Wyoming, much less Cody. To the
best of my knowledge, the calling of the publicity department's
hand did little if anything to slow the flow of advance stories.
They had a product to sell, and if it meant a slight alteration
of fact; and the nation's history now and then, so be it. After
all, that, in a nut shell, was what B-Westerns were all about in
the first place, so why should the folks in the publicity
department tamper with success?  


(Here we see clearly that Republic owners were not Christians,
certainly not in any serious way, for if they had of been there
would never have been any "made up story" of this new cowboy
coming from the real ranching community in some town in some
state. The truth of the matter would have been as it was, IF it
needed to be stated at all. There is no need to make up untrue
stories for publicity sake just to try and sell more tickets, or
compete with other companies, to try and "out-do" them in some
fashion. You can still be a success in whatever field you are in,
and be up-front, honest and jenuine - Keith Hunt).


     During the filming of Under Western Stars I did everything
you can think of that an actor is not supposed to do. I forgot my
lines, I repeatedly made a mess of my make-up jobs, and I seemed
to have a special knack for doing the wrong thing at the wrong
time. If the script called for me to draw my gun and say,
"Reach!" more often than not I said "Reach!" and then drew my
gun. I marveled at the patience of not only Joe Kane, the
director, but of the film crew and experienced performers like
Carol Hughes and Smiley Burnette, my leading lady and sidekick in
the movie. No doubt there were times when they all collectively
wished I had stayed on that Wyoming ranch the publicity
department had invented for me.

     But we got it done and, to the surprise of even the
over-optimistic Herb Yates, the movie was a roaring success. In
addition to doing very well at the box office, Under Western
Stars would eventually be voted the Best Western of the Year.
And I kept learning my lessons about show business. Making a
movie is only part of the work for an actor. The next step is to
pack your bags and follow it all over the country, making public
appearances and promoting it. I would soon learn that my previous
musical travels were little more than short distance warm-ups for
the travel involved in promoting a movie.

     Under Western Stars, a movie made in Hollywood, starring a
so-called Wyoming cowboy who goes to Washington, premiered in
April of 1938 at the Capitol Theater - where else? Dallas,
Texas. Figure that bit of logic out.
     I'll have to admit, though, that if the people of Dallas did
see illogic to our being there, they hid their feelings very
well. It was red carpet every step of the way. Smiley and I were
presented the keys to the city by the mayor. There were elaborate
receptions for us everywhere we went and, best of all, a
standing-room-only crowd at the theater.
     The studio had hired the Sons of the Pioneers, Pat Brady and
all, to make the trip with us since the group had been a great
success at the Texas Centennial, and we put on a lengthy stage
show before the initial showing of the movie.
    
     The reporters turned out in force for interviews and
pictures. And it was in the Dallas Morning News that I got my
first review. If I wasn't already hooked on the movie business,
the reviewer did the trick.
     "The movie," the reviewer wrote, "introduces young Mr.
Rogers as a new cowboy hero, real out-west and not drugstore
variety. This lad isn't the pretty-boy type, but a clean-cut
youngster who looks as if he had grown up on the prairies, not
backstage with a mail order cowboy suit. An engaging smile, a
good voice and an easy manner ought to put him out in front
before very long."

     Pretty heady stuff, you'll have to agree, for a farm boy
from Duck Run, Ohio.

                           ....................

Taken from "Roy Rogers and Dale Evans Happy Trails with Carlton
Stowers," 1979


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