Roy Rogers or The King of Cowboys was a stage, radio, screen, music, and television icon throughout the 1930’s, ‘40’s, and ‘50’s. Having appeared in over 100 films often alongside his wife Dale Evans, he was the most popular western star of his era as before he was a television and movie star, Rogers also had an extremely popular show on the radio.
Roy Rogers grew up Leonard Slye with his parents in Cincinnati, Ohio; desiring a better life for his family, Rogers’ father relocated the family to a farm outside Portsmouth, Ohio in 1919. Having bought a farm in Duck Run, the family soon realized that the farm would provide insufficient income for the family and thus Rogers’ father took a job at the Portsmouth Shoe Factory and would come home on the weekends often times with gifts for the family. During these weekends visits the family would also have other local families to the farm to dance and play music of which Roy was always the center of attention. It was also living on the farm that he would develop his skill in yodeling where often times his mother and him would use it to communicate with each other across fields.
It wasn’t until 1931 when looking for a better opportunity for his family that they all picked up and moved out to California searching for a better life. This proved to be an extremely fortuitous move for Rogers as his sister asked him to go and try out for a local radio show; she made him a western shirt so he could fit the part of western yodeling and singing. Instantly impressed, a group called The Rocky Mountaineers found Rogers and in August 1931 Roy Rogers found his first professional gig. However in the spring of 1932 Rogers, and two other members of the Rocky Mountaineers would leave the group to form a trio which would soon there after fail.
Rogers and one former member of the Rocky Mountaineers would bounce between various country-western acts at the time and decided to form another group in 1933 called the Pioneers Trio. The buzz of the Pioneers Trio would soon reach out of Los Angeles and across the United States and eventually landed the group a record deal with Decca. On August 8, 1934 the Sons of Pioneers made their very first commercial recording and over the next 2 years would add 34 more songs to their catalog with Decca. First working in film in 1935, Rogers almost instantly became a hero of the silver screen and a direct competitor to singing cowboy Gene Autry had arrived.
Rogers held the Motion Picture Herald’s top spot in their annual Top Ten Money-Making Western Stars poll for 15 years in a row from 1939 to 1954 and also held top actor billing at the box office between 1939 and 1952. Just as popular as Roy Rogers was his horse Trigger who he had raised since it was a foal and took Rogers a little while to come up with the name that everyone came to know. Rogers was unique for many reasons, but maybe none more so than the clause that be introduced into his 1940 contract which stated that he would have the rights to his likeliness, voice, and name all for merchandising. So it was born, the action figure, BB gun, playset, merchandise craze that swept through the United States with kids being the primary target demographic. During this marketing craze, Rogers was second only to Walt Disney in the sheer volume of items bearing his name. Later on in his life, Rogers would go on to found the restaurant bearing his name that became extremely popular across the Unites States.
Roy Rogers’ impact on both American popular culture as well as merchandising rites for actors were major accomplishments given when they were completed. Rogers was and still is a household name selling his signature BB gun to this day.