Original publish date: July 16, 2010
Roy Rogers. If you’re a baby boomer you think “King of the Cowboys”, if you’re a Gen-Xer or younger, you think chicken. Roy Rogers, born Leonard Franklin Slye on November 5, 1911, was an American singer and cowboy actor, as well as the namesake of the Roy Rogers Restaurants chain. He and his wife Dale Evans (known as the “Queen of the West”), his golden palomino Trigger, and his German shepherd dog, Bullet, were featured in over one hundred movies and The Roy Rogers Show. The show ran on radio for nine years before moving to television from 1951 through 1957.
Roy Rogers. If you’re a baby boomer you think “King of the Cowboys”, if you’re a Gen-Xer or younger, you think chicken. Roy Rogers, born Leonard Franklin Slye on November 5, 1911, was an American singer and cowboy actor, as well as the namesake of the Roy Rogers Restaurants chain. He and his wife Dale Evans (known as the “Queen of the West”), his golden palomino Trigger, and his German shepherd dog, Bullet, were featured in over one hundred movies and The Roy Rogers Show. The show ran on radio for nine years before moving to television from 1951 through 1957. Rogers was well ahead of his time in many aspects. He was one of the first Hollywood stars to realize the power of his likeness and maintaining his image. Rogers endorsed everything from cap guns, cowboy hats and comic books to clothing brands, lunch boxes and fried chicken. His “Roy Rogers Enterprises” was created in the 1950s and every item Roy endorsed was personally approved and inspected by Rogers himself and carried his “Pledge to parents” attesting to its quality.So powerful was the Roy Rogers brand that Roy was able to open the “Roy Rogers-Dale Evans Museum” near their home in Apple Valley, California in 1967 before relocating to nearby Victorville on old historic Route 66 in 1976 and finally ending up in Branson, Missouri in 2003. The museum was filled with hundreds of one-of-a-kind personal mementos from Roy & Dale’s careers as well as at least one of every product Roy or Dale ever endorsed. It seems that Roy insisted on retaining at least one example of every item bearing his likeness over the years.
Roy died on July 6, 1998 and Dale followed him on February 7, 2001, prompting the move to Branson. Sadly, the popular museum closed for financial reasons on Dec. 12, 2009. It seems that Roy’s demographic and interest in his life and career was dying with him. The museum was operated by Roy Rogers, Jr., known as “Dusty” to fans, whose decision to close the museum was like another death in the family. In a move that shocked fans, historians and preservationists alike, Dusty announced that the contents of the museum would be liquidated. What most people fail to realize is that Dusty is simply doing what his late father told him to. Roy often told his family that when interest in his career inevitably waned, sell the collection and close the museum.
According to the website: “The decision to close the Museum has come after two years of steady decline in visitors to the Museum. A lot of factors have made our decision for us. The economy for one, people are just not traveling as much. Dad’s fans are getting older, and concerned about their retirement funds. Everyone is concerned about their future in this present economy. Secondly, with our high fiscal obligations we cannot continue to accumulate debt to keep the doors open. This situation is one I have not wanted to happen. Dad always said, ‘If the museum starts costing you money, then liquidate everything and move on.’ Myself and my family have tried to hold together the museum and collection for over fifteen years, so it is very difficult to think that it will all be gone soon.”
The contents of the museum, 348 lots in all, were auctioned to the highest bidder by Christie’s auction house during a highly anticipated sale on July 14-15 in New York City. The auction included what many considered to be the centerpiece of the museum, Roy’s horse Trigger, a huge 15.3 hands high golden palomino. Perhaps the most famous horse in entertainment history, Trigger was featured in all of Roy’s movies and television throughout the 1950s. Born in 1934 on a ranch owned by Bing Crosby, Trigger entertained movie and television audiences for three decades. When Trigger died in 1965, Roy hired a taxidermist to mount the animal in a rearing position on two legs. Trigger was estimated to sell for $100,000-$200,000, the final gavel price was $ 266,000. In addition to the stuffed horse, the auction featured ornate western costumes, saddles, personal photos, musical instruments, awards and the Nellybelle Jeep from Rogers’ television show.
Dale Evans’ pearl-colored quarter horse Buttermilk, a light buckskin Quarter Horse with dark points that appeared in numerous films for over 30 years from 1941 to 1972, was estimated to sell for $30,000 to $40,000, it sold for $ 25,000, well below auction estimate and less than a tenth of Trigger’s gavel price. The Rogers’ German Shepherd Bullet was estimated to sell for $10,000 to $15,000. The final price was $ 35,000 and sold to the same man that purchased Trigger. Bullet was a master at knowing who the bad guys were, and always eager to bite a gun out of their hand or to tackle them when his human partners were outnumbered. He could run alongside Roy’s horse Trigger and keep up no matter where they went. The sale also included Roy’s back-up horse, Trigger Jr. with a pre-sale estimate of between $30,000 to $50,000. The second “other Trigger” was a registered Tennessee Walking Horse whom Roy himself called Trigger Jr. It sold for $ 18,750.
In case you’re wondering, the animal’s hides were stretched over plastic statue likenesses of each subject to obtain a realistic lifelike look. Although Trigger gained fame as Roy’s horse, his first screen appearance was as Olivia De Havilland’s mare in Warner Brothers pictures “The Adventures of Robin Hood” in 1938. In keeping with the “spirit” of the column, Roy’s beloved horse Trigger was the subject of a rather macabre incident that occurred after his death in 1965. It seems that after Trigger’s hide was removed for mounting, the remaining meat was illegally sold to several unscrupulous southwest eateries. Can you imagine the horrific prospect of eating a “Trigger Burger” ? The butcher responsible, John L. Jones, was sentenced to five years in prison.
Another highlight of the Rogers museum sale included another kind of horsepower, Roy Rogers’ personal automobile, a 1964 Bonneville convertible, adorned with collectible silver dollars and featuring door handles and a gear shift knob made from silver-plated pistols. The car’s interior is all hand tooled leather and features no less than 14 authentic guns, rendered non-firing by the designer, in its design. The hood ornament is a pair of 6 foot long Texas longhorns. It was estimated at $100,000 to $150,000 and sold for $ 254.500. The Willy’s CJ-2A Jeep “Nellybelle” used in the TV show from 1951 to 1957 to drive around Mineral City was also featured in the sale; it carried a pre-sale estimate of $ 20,000 to $ 30,000 and sold for $ 116,500.
Other items included in the auction were 60 pairs of cowboy boots, dozens of Roy & Dale’s cowboy hats and belt buckles, trophies, many of Roy’s pocket and wrist watches, musical instruments, paintings, countless movie posters and props, household furnishings (including the Roger’s family dining room table) and tools. The sale of the collection from the defunct Museum was expected to generate about $1.4 million, with all proceeds going to the family. The sale generated just under $ 3 million.
Although the museum is closed and the contents now reside in private collections all over the world, reminders of Roy & Dale are not merely confined to their old movies, songs and television shows. Their Apple Valley, California home is the final resting place for both Roy and Dale and there are reminders of the Rogers family everywhere including roads and highways named in their honor. Roy and Dale created St. Hillary’s Episcopal Church, founded a home for boys, and took in some 20-40 foster children and raised them as their own. Yes, Roy Rogers was a savvy self-promoter, shrewd personal investor and slightly unorthodox lifetime curator of his own legacy and name. But it would seem that he actually lived the life and values his character portrayed on screen and in this case, Mommas, go ahead and let your babies grow up to be cowboys.