THE ROUNDERS (1966-7) 17 EPISODES
MGM churned out this series in an endeavour to capitalize on the popularity of the 1965 comedy western of the same name that starred Glenn Ford and Henry Fonda. Unfortunately, the series did not feature stars of the same quality as Ford and Fonda so its lifetime was very short indeed. The writing was mediocre at best and that did not help either. Seventeen thirty-minute episodes before the show was dropped is indicative of the lack of interest viewers showed in it. Chill Wills reprised his role as the second richest man in the region, providing the only shining light in an otherwise ordinary series. Despite over a hundred screen credits, including an Oscar nomination for The Alamo (1961), Wills is probably best remembered by movie fans of the fifties as the voice of Francis the Talking Mule in six pictures.
Ron Hays and Patrick Wayne played Ben Jones and Howdy Lewis respectively. Both were minor actors and a far cry from the likes of Fonda and Ford. Hays was a San Franciscan, a former Marine Lieutenant who served in the Korean War. His screen career consisted of seventy-seven appearances, nearly all of which were on television. He died following a fall, in 2004, at the age of seventy-five.
The son of John Wayne and Josephine Saenz, handsome Patrick Wayne has described himself as ‘more a personality than an actor’. He was in his late thirties when he was offered the lead in Superman (1978), but was compelled to decline it because of his father’s then on-going battle with cancer. Patrick had made his film debut at eleven in his father’s western Rio Grande (1950). Six years later he played a young cavalry trooper in another John Wayne western, the timeless The Searchers (1956). Today (2021), Patrick is in his eighties.
THE ROY ROGERS SHOW (1951-7) 105 EPISODES
I don’t know how many American kids tuned in to The Roy Rogers Show, but they must have numbered in the millions. After all, Roy was ‘King of the Cowboys’. Besides he was already a much-loved hero through the popularity of his radio programme of the same name that ran from 1944 until 1955. His horse, a golden palomino, was named Trigger and labelled, ‘The Smartest Horse in the Movies’, and his German Shepherd dog was called Bullet ‘the Wonder Dog’. Roy’s wife, Dale Evans, also had a label: she was billed as ‘Queen of the West’. Her horse’s name was Buttermilk. The series theme song ‘Happy Trails’ was penned by Dale and sung by her and Roy over the credits at the conclusion of each episode.
Roy Rogers & Trigger
Pat Brady was a regular on the show, playing Deputy/ later Sheriff, Pat Brady. His horse’s name was Phineas. Pat also drove a jeep (Roy’s jeep, in fact) and even that had a name – Nelly-Belle. Former child star from the ‘Our Gang’ series of shorts from the 1930s, Carl ‘Alfalfa’ Switzer, was kindly given work by Rogers and portrayed five different characters over six episodes from 1952 to 1955. Tragically, less than two years after the show folded, Switzer was shot to death (at the age of thirty-one) by an acquaintance, during an argument over a paltry $50 Carl felt was owed him. His killer pled self-defence and the judge, mystifyingly, ruled his death to be ‘justifiable homicide’.
Dale Evans & Buttermilk
Roy played the owner of the ‘RR’ Ranch; Dale ran the Eureka Café & Hotel in fictional Mineral City, and the series was set in 1920s America. Pat Brady was Roy’s sidekick and also Dale’s cook. For reasons known only to the writers, they found it preferable to give Nelly-Belle (the jeep) a mind of its own. Every now and then it would speed away, driver-less, with Brady in hot pursuit. Twentieth century or not, every cowboy and cowgirl rode a horse and toted a six-gun, which was somewhat odd for a show set in the Roaring Twenties. This mixture of modern technology and the Old West was never explained throughout the run of the show. Many episodes carried a moral theme as well, and several even preached a Christian message.
Pat Brady, Roy & Dale
The Roy Rogers Show became a veritable gold mine as it merchandised for the youth market. It churned out comic books that were gobbled up by American children; two million copies of each comic book being sold in 1957 alone! A related comic strip was syndicated to one hundred and eighty-six newspapers. There were cowboy and cowgirl costumes, playsets, toy pistols, even longbows sold, plus various other items, not only in the USA but around the world. From January 1961 until September 1964, CBS broadcast re-runs of the series on Saturday mornings. At the peak of his enormous popularity, Roy once received almost seventy-nine thousand fan letters in a single month!
Olivia de Havilland aboard ‘Golden Cloud’ (soon to be renamed Trigger)
Apart from his highly successful TV show, Roy managed to star in a hundred movies, sixty-seven of which were released to television in 1955. He was born Leonard Slye, in Cincinnati, Ohio in 1911, and initially sang with the C&W group ‘Sons of the Pioneers’ under that name in the 1930s. He acquired Trigger in 1938, the horse having previously appeared in one film that same year. Olivia de Havilland rode him in The Adventures of Robin Hood. Roy rode Trigger from that time onwards until the animal’s demise in 1965 at the age of thirty-three. Republic Pictures came up with the name Roy Rogers. The surname honoured popular Will Rogers who had recently perished in an air crash, and the Christian name, ‘Roy’, came from the French word for ‘King’ – hence, ‘Roy Rogers; King of the Cowboys’.
If fans of Roy Rogers are planning a visit to the ‘Roy Rogers and Dale Evans Museum’, in Branson, Missouri, they need not bother. It is gone. The King of the Cowboys left the following advice to his son, Roy Junior: ‘If the museum starts costing you money, then liquidate everything and move on.’ The premises closed its doors in December 2009, and all its assets were auctioned off at Christie’s in July 2010. The winning bid, incidentally, for Trigger’s stuffed carcass was $266,500. Roy passed away in 1998; Dale joined him in death three years later.