John Wayne once badmouthed Roy Rogers, saying he wasn’t a “real” cowboy. Then again, Wayne wasn’t a real soldier — he never served in the military.
Born in Cincinnati, Ohio on Nov. 5, 1911, the former Leonard Franklin Slye became Roy Rogers, and then became King of the Cowboys and even King of the West.
He is perhaps the most prominent and durable cowpoke in movie history — totally encapsulated by his cowboy roles. That’s all Rogers did.
He was strictly a genial, sometimes singing but always straight-shooting cowboy who starred in nearly 120 movies and tv vehicles spanning nearly a half century. He certainly ranks right up there with the likes of Tom Mix, Gene Autry, Hopalong Cassidy (aka William Boyd), Ken Maynard, Lash LaRue and Don “Red” Barry.
Take a close look at the photo of Rogers above. It’s never been seen before.
That’s because it is part of our exclusive Donald Gordon Collection of private snapshots taken in Forties Hollywood by our late pal, who at the time was serving a kind of junior-actor-in-residence at Columbia Pictures.
Donald usually took his famous-pal photos in urban settings, on the studio lot, outside restaurants or at informal gatherings at private homes. This time he went rural, to the location of 1945’s Utah, the Republic Pictures western (one of dozens Roy made at the medium-rent studio run by one Herbert J. Yates).
Cost conscious Republic, not about to actually shoot the western in Utah, filmed the picture in locations in the San Fernando Valley and in Lone Pine, northeast of Los Angeles near the Nevada border. Given what Rogers and unidentified pal were wearing, we suspect this photo was taken at the latter high-altitude location.
In any event, Donald captured the very handsome, 34-year-old Roy Rogers goofing off with a crew member between setups. It appears that one of the two just got off a ribald joke.
Utah was a pretty typical Rogers picture. The plot was frivolously simple, something about a naive ranch owner from the East visiting her Western property for the first time, and being hookwinked in a real estate deal by wily locals.
Supporting Rogers was his faithful horse Trigger, who appeared in all Roy’s pictures from 1938 until 1965, when the steed died at the ripe age of 33. Also on hand was grizzled character actor George “Gabby” Hayes and, most importantly, Dale Evans as that naive ranch owner from the East.
This was two years before she and Roy began their 50-year-marriage, which ended in 1998 when Roy was felled by congestive heart problems.
Rogers is remembered today more for the chain of restaurants that he lent his name to rather than the body of his film work. But his son, 65-year-old Roy Jr., and grandson, Dusty, continue the family’s show biz tradition via their musical band, The High Riders.