Roy Rogers, known as the “King of the Cowboys,” is still to this day considered one of the biggest Western stars ever. He, together with his palomino horse Trigger and co-star-turned-wife Dale Evans, remains one of the defining images of American cinema. But behind the scenes, Rogers’ life was filled with complications and tragedy.
40. Billy the Kid Returns, 1938
Born Leonard Slye, the man who would become the king of the cowboys made his first film appearance in 1935. And from there his star got bigger. In 1938 he participated in a “singing cowboy” competition and won, changing his name to Roy Rogers on advice of Republic Pictures. What followed was a long string of movies in that year alone, including Billy the Kid Returns.
39. Days of Jesse James, 1939
As time went on Rogers’ star showed no sign of fading. You see, he did nine movies in 1939, including Wall Street Cowboy, Saga of Death Valley and Days of Jesse James. Unusually for the time, Rogers would almost always play himself, blurring the lines between fiction and reality.
38. Sons of the Pioneers, 1940
Before he took the name Roy Rogers, Leonard Slye formed a band called the Pioneers Trio in 1933. Gradually, they grew in fame. A radio station changed their name to Sons of the Pioneers, and it stuck. By 1940 Rogers was the huge movie star we know today and the Sons would appear as his backup group.
37. Promo shot, 1940
In 1940 the now world-famous Rogers rearranged his contract to gain rights over his own likeness and name. By that point, his name was known all over America. It meant a child (or adult) cowboy fan could easily go out and buy Roy Rogers comics, novels, toys, virtually any merchandise imaginable.
36. Robin Hood of the Pecos, 1941
Now, Roy Rogers was a prolific actor indeed. You see, he did eight films in 1941, one of them being Robin Hood of the Pecos. In that flick, he plays an ex-Confederate soldier who defends a small Texas town from tax collectors. As with a lot of films of the era, it’s not considered to hold up very well in the modern day and age.
35. Sunset on the Desert 1942
In 1942 Rogers did the movie Sunset on the Desert alongside Lynne Carver. This one was a comedic mistaken-identity film in which Rogers’ character is accidentally taken for a baddie. It was one of Lynne Carver’s last credited films, as the outbreak of World War II considerably slowed down the acting work she got.
34. With Arlene, 1944
Come 1936 a pre-mega-fame Rogers married a woman named Arlene Wilkins. It was her who convinced him to audition for singing cowboy roles. Then in 1941 they adopted a girl, Cheryl, and two years later conceived baby Linda Lou. Furthermore, in 1946, came another biological child – but giving birth took Arlene’s life this time. Rogers was devastated.
33. Cowboy and the Senorita, 1944
After Arlene’s death in 1946, Rogers threw himself into his movies. Now, he’d already starred with actress Dale Evans in 18 Western flicks. In fact, their first had been 1944’s Cowboy and the Senorita. But she’d gotten fed up with the genre and wanted out. However, Rogers convinced her otherwise, and she stuck around to make new films with him.
32. Along the Navajo Trail, 1945
The audiences of the post-World War II era absolutely loved the team-up of Rogers and Evans. And one of their highlights included 1945’s Along the Navajo Trail with Estelita Rodriguez. Eventually, as their professional relationship deepened, so did their personal one. They embarked on a romance.
31. Riding Trigger the horse, 1945
Now, Rogers’ most beloved co-star wasn’t a human being, but his palomino horse Trigger. And he’d purchased him in 1932, renaming him from his original moniker “Golden Cloud.” The two of them were inseparable, and the younger audience were big fans of Trigger, too. Rogers would even sign off on advertisements with “Roy Rogers and Trigger.”
30. Rogers and Evans posing, 1946
By 1946 Rogers and Evans were getting pretty close – as this behind-the-scenes picture aptly demonstrates. Evans was keeping a secret from the public, however. At the age of 15 she had given birth to a boy during her first marriage, before her equally young husband ran off. Given how this would’ve looked in the film industry, she was told to pretend her son, Thomas, was actually her younger brother.
29. Rogers and his daughters, 1946
After Arlene’s death Rogers became a single parent. This image shows him inspecting pigeons with Cheryl and Linda Lou. Little Linda would grow up to be a minister’s wife, and Cheryl would author books about her famous dad when she became an adult. They seemed to have had a good childhood, despite the tragedy of Arlene’s passing.
28. Rogers with a fan, 1947
Rogers was pretty busy in 1947. For a start, he released five movies that year, and for another thing he proposed to Dale Evans that fall. However, he still took time out of his busy schedule to greet young fans. And this child-fan that the actor posed with in Cincinnati looks anything but star-struck, perhaps emulating the coolness of his idol.
27. Trigger and Rogers in a hotel, 1947
In this picture, the hotel staff look shocked and possibly a little annoyed to have a horse in their lobby. But really you would have thought they’d be honored to welcome such a distinguished guest. By 1947 Trigger was arguably the most famous horse in the world. There were even whole comic books about his adventures.
26. Rogers marries Evans, 1947
On the very last day of 1947, Rogers tied the knot with Evans. Yes, they got wed at the Flying L Ranch in Oklahoma, where they had previously filmed the movie Home in Oklahoma. Evans appears to not be wearing white, but since Rogers was her fourth husband, perhaps she thought it would be inappropriate, especially given the era.
25. Rogers standing with Trigger, 1950
Rogers clearly loved Trigger a lot, but generally speaking humans outlive horses. So other Triggers needed to be brought in and trained up. These were Little Trigger and Trigger Jr., who had previously been a stud named “Allen’s Gold Zephyr.” In fact, Trigger Jr. got his own self-titled movie in 1950.
24. Rogers and Evans together, 1950
In 1950 Roger and Evans had their first child together, a little girl called Robin Elizabeth. However she was born with Down’s syndrome, a misunderstood condition at the time. And the parents were told they ought to place her in an institution, but they refused. They took her home and cared for her until she died at the age of one.
23. Rogers racing on Trigger, 1950
Although he’d faced tragedies in his personal life over the years, Rogers’ strong movie output continued. You see, he did six films during 1950, including Twilight in the Sierras and North of the Great Divide. This photo shows him riding across the desert on Trigger firing his gun, being the great Western star everybody knew him as.
22. Rogers and Evans reading the Bible, 1950
This photograph shows Rogers and his wife reading a Bible together. Not long after getting married to Rogers, Evans experienced a spiritual reawakening of sorts and began devoting herself to Christianity. After that Rogers did the same thing, and by 1950 he was a sponsor of the American Bible Society’s Worldwide Bible Reading program.
21. Rogers in hospital with a fan, 1951
In this snap, Rogers is visiting a six-year-old boy named Michael Genere in St. Joseph’s Hospital in Burbank. And as you can see, he’s showing him how to fire a gun (hopefully, it’s not real). In fact, Rogers was noted throughout his life for doing hospital visits and helping out seriously ill or abused children. Indeed, he and Evans created a non-profit for this, the Happy Trails Children’s Foundation.
20. The Roy Rogers Awards, 1951
Starting in 1947, Rogers and Evans sponsored something called the Roy Rogers Annual School Safety Awards. You see, schools would submit scrapbooks filled with ideas from the children on how to improve school safety, and the top three would win a Trigger-shaped award. This picture shows Rogers with some of the tiny Triggers.
19. Rogers, Evans and their children, 1952
Five of the nine children Rogers and Evans had can be seen in his photograph. These are Sandy, Doe, Cheryl, Dusty, and Linda Lou. Three of them were from Rogers’ first marriage, one of whom he’d adopted. The other two were adopted by him and Evans, and the pair would go on to adopt two more: Mimi and Debbie. Sadly though, two of them would pass away while still young.
18. Bows and arrows backstage, 1952
Here Rogers and Evans are seen playing around with a bow and arrow backstage on NBC’s Hollywood vs. TV. Of course, as stars of the Western genre they would’ve been familiar with weapons such as that. Interestingly, Rogers and the man behind him seem to have both turned up in the same shirt. Perhaps it’s his stunt double.
17. Roy Rogers and Gene Autry, 1955
Roy Rogers and Gene Autry were essentially rivals for the crown of the Western genre. In fact, Rogers was more or less supposed to be the replacement for Autry. Yes, because when the established star began making demands about his contact, Republic Pictures swooped on Rogers instead. But this photo, at least, indicates there’s no bad blood between them.
16. Rogers and Evans smiling, 1955
By the mid 1950s, film work was starting to dry up for Rogers and Evans. You see, between 1951 and 1959 he did just one movie, Son of Paleface. But luckily, televisions were now finding their way into American living rooms. And that saw the pair become the stars of variety format The Roy Rogers Show.
15. Rogers, Evans and Jimmy Stewart, 1955
Roy Rogers and Jimmy Stewart had quite a lot in common. Both were film stars, obviously, and both were considered to portray an ideal of the American male. Furthermore, both loved horses – Stewart rode a horse named Pie in his movies and adored him. Here’s a picture of the two men together, alongside Evans and the Sons of the Pioneers.
14. Rogers and Evans being romantic, 1955
Rogers and Evans were perfectly fine with showing the rest of the world how very much in love they were. For instance, this 1955 photoshoot shows a lipstick-covered Rogers greeting his smiling wife at their front door. And both of them are dressed in clothes perfectly befitting a fashionable American couple of the mid-fifties.
13. Rogers playing marbles with his children, 1955
This photo shows Rogers being a doting dad, and his surviving children have confirmed that was indeed the case. In 2019 Mimi, who here was the second child from the left, told the BBC News website, “When we were in the house we were just a family, they weren’t Roy Rogers and Dale Evans, they were mum and dad.”
12. Roy Rogers and Dale Evans playing with the children, 1955
This snap shows an idyllic scene of Rogers and Evans playing with their kids. Yet tragedy had already struck the family at that point, with Robin’s passing. And later it would strike again, twice. In 1964 their daughter Debbie died in a traffic accident at the age of just 12. The following year their son Sandy accidentally choked to death while serving in the military.
11. Rogers as Santa, 1955
Here’s a photograph of Rogers dressed as Santa Claus for Christmas, while Evans poses on his lap. They kept the Western theme up despite the festivities, though, because Evans has a cowboy hat on and a purse made out of cowhide. The couple must have liked Christmas – in 1967 they released an album called Christmas Is Always.
10. At the White House, 1956
As you’d expect, Rogers and Evans got to rub shoulders with the elite. In this 1956 snap they’re at the White House for the birthday party of David Eisenhower, the grandson of American President Dwight Eisenhower. The President himself is standing with them. And if you look at what’s on the table, you can see the party was cowboy-themed.
9. Riding a tractor, 1958
This sweet picture shows Rogers and his sons riding on a tractor. According to his son Roy “Dusty” Rogers, that was a pretty common thing for them to do. In 1987 he told People< /i> magazine, “We always moved away from the encroaching population because Dad liked his privacy. He wanted his kids raised on a ranch, where they could have horses and pigs and chickens and cows.”
8. Recording studio, 1958
By 1958 the movie work had all but dried up. However, that didn’t stop Rogers and Evans from branching out into other corners of the entertainment industry. That year Rogers performed at the Nebraska State Fair, appeared as a mystery guest on What’s My Line?, and still recorded with his wife in the studio.
7. With Roy Jr., 1959
This pic shows Rogers and Dusty sharing a nice moment together. However, when Dusty was older, he and his dad experienced a period of estrangement. Dusty wanted to follow in his father’s footsteps and become an actor, but Rogers didn’t approve. Angered, Dusty left home. It took a while, but eventually they made up.
6. With Jimmy Doolittle, 1962
Rogers played one in the movies, but sometimes he got the chance to meet real-life heroes. And in 1962 he met Jimmy Doolittle, the man who received the Medal of Honor for his leadership in World War II. Rogers, Doolittle, and vice president of ABC-TV Thomas Moore are pictured here before going antelope hunting.
5. Entertaining troops, 1966
During the Vietnam War, Rogers and Evans headed there to entertain the troops. In 2020 veteran Al Gilbert told the paper Calaveras Enterprise, “The band – with a fiddle – began playing a Western song and out came Dale Evans and Roy Rogers. Everyone began whooping and hollering and whistling. We all grew up watching them on TV and went to the Saturday movies to watch them get the ‘bad guy.’”
4. Dancing together, 1981
In 1981 Rogers and Evans celebrated fifty years in showbusiness. This photo shows them dancing together, still looking as in love as ever. That same year Rogers reminisced to Christian Science Monitor magazine, “I get a chance to kind of relive the old days. I have a little ranch with some good bird dogs. And then I have my museum where I meet the people who used to watch me.”
3. Husband and wife, 1986
The Rogers-Evans marriage lasted right up until death. And this picture shows them together in 1986, dressed up in their old Western outfits. They did of course look very different to how they looked in their heyday – and Trigger the horse had long since passed away – but the smiles were still the same.
2. With Iron Eyes Cody, 1987
This picture shows Rogers with another Western star, the man known as “Iron Eyes Cody.” He portrayed Native Americans in lots of movies, and is the man shedding a tear in the famous “Keep America Beautiful” advertisement. But he wasn’t actually Native American at all. After he died, it turned out he’d had Sicilian parents.
1. Rogers and Autry, 1992
By the 1990s, the cowboys of the classic Westerns were of course all old men. This picture shows Rogers and Autry in 1992, at the Century Plaza Hotel in California. Six years later, in 1998, Rogers died of heart failure. He was buried at Sunset Hills Memorial Park in California, and Evans too was buried there three years afterwards.