OP-ED: THE IDLE AMERICAN: An era gone too soon

Published 12:09 am Saturday, October 3, 2020

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Don Newbury

The day’s twilight came with September at its best. My wife urged me to take Sailor, our rescue dog, on a walk around the block.

So away we went, thankful for a cool breeze, gorgeous sunset and sidewalks.

We chanced to walk alongside a next-block neighbor who posed a random-as-it-gets question: “Do you remember anything from 75 years ago?”

I’d already shut down deep-thinking, but memories bubbling near the top sprang forth with the ease of hummingbirds flitting to–then fro–in a well-tended flower garden.

The year was 1945. World War II was finally over. My war memories were foggy, so I answered as randomly as he asked, “Saturday mornings.”

In our “land before Legos,” Lincoln Logs provided our “go to” activity if we didn’t have a dime. If we did, we’d meet friends at the picture show for a double feature (almost always westerns), a news reel, cartoon and an adventure serial “to be continued next week.” (For 20 cents, we got four hours of entertainment, a fountain drink and a sack of popcorn.)

He remembered, too, so our common topic was set. Each of us offered trivia bits about Roy Rogers,“King of the Cowboys” and Dale Evans, his real-life wife.

Roy’s real name was Leonard Slye, and his “break” came when he joined a musical group called “The Sons of the Pioneers.” His horse’s name was Trigger, a beautiful palomino; his dog was Bullet, a sleek German shepherd.

Rogers starred also on radio and television, lived the good life, as did his steed and dog. He had serious-looking silver spurs, but Trigger never felt them, it is told, not even once.

He had several “sidekicks” to provide comic relief, including the likes of Gabby Hayes, Andy Devine and Pat Brady. Gabby’s flowing beard never saw scissors, Devine’s voice erupted as if careening off walls of sandpaper and Pat showed up in his 1946 Jeep, “Nellybelle.”

Every “flick” seemed to be set where “bad people” abided, and it was Roy’s lot to take them all on and win every time.

In virtually every movie, Roy was bound to utter the same line, hiding behind a huge boulder as darkness set in. “It’s awful quiet out here, Gabby.” His sidekick’s invariable answer was, “Maybe too quiet.” And then mayhem ensued.

Roy and Dale’s TV show was Christian to the core. It’s theme song (written by Dale) was “Happy Trails to You.” It always ended with Roy’s three-fold wish to viewers: “Good night, good luck and may the good Lord take a liking to you.”

The “Cowboy King” found Trigger on a farm owned by movie great Bing Crosby. The price was $2,500, which he paid on the installment plan. The man and his horse made 188 movies together.  One of them (Trigger) won an Academy Award for performing in Bob Hope’s 1953 movie, “Son of Paleface.”

Both Trigger and Bullet were viewed in museums for years, thanks to taxidermy.

Museums featuring Rogers’ memorabilia began in California, then moved a few years later to Branson, MO.  He decreed that if the museum ever lost money, items would be sold at auction. His son honored that wish about a decade ago.

Winning auction bids included $16,259 for one of his many shirts; $17,500 each for cowboy hats; set of boot spurs, $10,625; guitars, $27,500 each; Nellybelle, $116,500; Dale’s parade saddle, $104,500, and the Bible used at the dinner table every night, $8,750.

Trigger fetched $266,500, and Bullet (their real pet), $35,000.

Roy died in 1998 at age 87; Dale, born in Uvalde, TX, 1912, was christened Lucille Wood Smith, but her name was later changed to Frances Octavia Smith.

Their marriage spanned 51 years. He was 87 years old when he died in 1998; Dale 89 upon her death three years later. They are buried in Apple Valley, CA.

Saturday mornings, and much of yesteryear, are worth remembering….


Dr. Newbury is a long-time public speaker and university president who writes weekly.  Email: newbury@speakerdoc.com. Phone: 817-447-3872. Facebook: Don Newbury. Twitter: @donnewbury.