Western movies were very popular in the early part of the last century. At first they portrayed cowboys as rugged gunslingers that fearlessly faced the outlaws in showdowns on the main streets of town. Then someone got the bright idea to add musical numbers to movies to broaden their appeal. This introduced a more personable “singing cowboy.”
The favourite of the time was Roy Rogers, and fans were delighted when he came to the CNE Grandstand Show in 1954. I didn’t know much about him beforehand, but I grew to like him because he was so open and friendly. He was great with the audience – especially children. The “Roy Rogers’ Circus” as it was billed, was wholesome family entertainment.
Roy together with his wife Dale Evans performed with the very popular harmony group, “The Sons of The Pioneers.” (There is a Canadian connection here. Bob Nolan was a founding member of the group and he wrote their most famous tune, “Cool Clear Water.”) In keeping with the theme of the show, the entire orchestra and myself were required to dress in cowboy gear. We were all directed to go to an outfitter on the NE corner of Church and Queen Streets to get fitted. (Think buckskin fringes, checkered shirts, neckerchiefs, etc.) For the duration of the show, it was a cause of much humour for the band. (In fact I’m chuckling now as I write about it.)
The thing I found interesting about this show is that every living and non-living component, had a name and personality. Roy rode a horse named Trigger; Dale rode Buttermilk. Roy’s comic sidekick, Pat Brady, drove a jeep called “Nellybelle.” It was as if these were all members of the family.
Trigger, a beautiful golden Palomino, had a career of his own. He was known as “The Smartest Horse in the Movies” because of all the tricks he could do. I can remember two of them: One was walking on his hindquarters, and the other was his ability to count. Roy would ask, “Trigger, what’s two plus two?” and the clever horse would scratch the ground four times. It was obvious how much Trigger was loved by how well he was treated and how they dressed him. He was outfitted with a gorgeous saddle, which I later found out was worth as much as that year’s Cadillac.
Roy’s theme song “Happy Trails” was actually written by Dale. She was not just a pretty face and may even have been the brains behind the act. She was also very religious. Each time she signed an autograph, she included the reference to a bible verse from Mathew. I can’t remember off the top of my head which verse it was, but I’m sure my daughters have it in their autograph books.
P.S. If you are wondering what I look like in cowboy gear, as soon as I find the photo, I’ll post it.
16 responses to “Roy Rogers & The Whole Wholesome Family”
Great post Howard!
This is great addition Howard. I well remember the “cowboy era” and even had a Roy Rogers outfit as a kid and collected Roy Rogers’ comic books. I also remember Gene Autry coming to Halifax with his horse Champion. It was a treat to see them, but I would have preferred Roy, Dale and Trigger.
We just discovered the blog, Howard, and it brings back memories of the Halifax days, your gigs with Symphony Nova Scotia and of course your singing/dancing/acting summer school with Alan Lund. We often wonder if any of those graduates went on to do good things in show business.
Stephen & Bonnie Frick
Are you sure you’ll post that picture as soon as you find it? Or are you only tantalizing us with the possibilities? Inquiring minds need to know…!
Loved this article Howard, brought back a lot of good memories. I loved watching their TV show & yes I remember Dale being very religious. Now I will be humming Happy Trails for the rest of the day!
HI John: Thanks for your comments. Just so you know, I will be doing a post on Gene Autry soon.
Hi Stephen & Bonnie:
It is so good to hear from you. I have great memories of the school. I imagine some of the students did go on to do memorable things — they certainly had the talent ! Please keep in touch.
My daughters actually brought me two pictures last night at the concert. I’ll collect a few more and then I promise to post them.
Happy trails to you, Rose. Hope things in Stratford are going well.
Thank you so much for the photos. And for setting me straight on the Dale Evans autograph. I will post them soon.
Love, Dad xx
Pingback: Dressing Up For The Roy Rogers Circus | Howard Cable Remembers
Wonderful memories. I always watched Roy and Dale in the 50s. it must have been great meeting and working with them.
Pingback: Gene Autry – Back In The Saddle, Eventually! | Howard Cable Remembers
When I was a teenager, I worked at the Grandstand as an usher, so was able to see all of the shows many times. I do remember Roy Rogers before show time riding a motorcycle quite fast around the race track that surrounded the stage. I also have a signed autograph from Dale Evans with a scripture reference. Does anyone know of a film clip of the Rhapsody in Blue performance?
Great article. I remember watching that show through a hole in the fence.
I spent a few hours with Roy at his museum in Victorville, CA in the early 90s. Great guy!
I remember that show! It was a highlight of my life at the time. I was 7 years old and my Dad took me. Roy Rogers was my hero! We probably stayed the previous night with Dad’s mother in Toronto, but we drove all the way home to London after the show, a very long way at that time, before the 401. My Dad dies in 1958, so the few memories I have of our time together are precious to me.