Singing cowboy Roy Rogers devoted his life to keeping the spirit of the American West alive. As a testament to his legacy, fans can join his Riders Club, which boasted nearly 2.5 million members in the U.S. and 90,000 in England during its heyday in the 1950s.
“He stood for morals and ethics and was a real-life hero to many,” said his son, Roy “Dusty” Rogers Jr.
Rogers starred in more than 80 films and “The Roy Rogers Show,” which aired on NBC for six seasons and focused on family values and the cowboy lifestyle and had its own set of club rules such as “always obey your parents” and “be courteous and polite.”
“Kids were always upmost in his mind,” said Dusty. For shows at state fairs and rodeos he’d reserve all the seats in the front row for orphanages or children with special needs. “At one show in Kentucky, children from a blind school were invited. He got down in front of each one so they could feel his face and guns,” he recalled. Rogers, who passed away in 1998, and his wife, Dale Evans, were strong advocates of adoption, having adopted five children themselves.
These values will be remembered with a 75-foot float in his honor in the Tournament of Roses Parade on Monday. Happy Trails, sponsored by RFD-TV (Rural Free Delivery), pays tribute to the “King of Cowboys,” who would have celebrated his 100th birthday in November.
Rogers appeared in seven Tournament of Roses parades, and he and Evans were grand marshals in 1977.
Designed by Phoenix Decorating, the grand finale float will feature a 35-foot-tall classic image of Rogers framed by a silver horseshoe inscribed with his name and pearl-handled dual six-shooters on each side.
Fans will recognize the Roy Rogers’ Riders Club arch gate. His faithful companions Trigger, the Golden Palomino, and Bullet the Wonder Dog will be stationed underneath it during the parade.
This will be the first time the real Trigger and Bullet will be on the float. Rogers had them preserved after their deaths, with the trusty steed forever posed in his signature rearing position.
“I couldn’t bury them. I just couldn’t put him [Trigger] in the ground,” Rogers said in 1998.
Trigger was initially displayed in the Roy Rogers and Dale Evans museum in Victorville, which relocated to Branson, Mo., in 2003, closing six years later.
In 2010 Trigger was sold at auction for more than $266,000 to RFD-TV.
Following in his father’s showbiz footsteps, Dusty and his son, Dustin, play five nights a week with his band the High Riders in Branson. They’ll be on the float performing “Happy Trails,” the theme song written by Evans. Three of Roy’s daughters will also be on the float while his granddaughter, Julie Ashley-Pomilia, will be riding one of the 100 golden palominos leading the way.
Ashley-Pomilia fondly remembers Bullet greeting her at her grandparents’ back door on her weekly visits to their Chatsworth ranch. “It was a magical place for me,” said the second-grade teacher who lives in Santa Clarita, where she keeps a horse, Pal, named after one of her grandpa’s stunt horses.
She recalled testing out the show’s merchandise to make sure it was kid worthy. “I had the Roy Rogers’ clubhouse, and I remember Grandpa ducking down to come in and have cookies and milk with me. I never thought it was different that we would watch ‘The Roy Rogers Show’ with Roy Rogers.”
RFD will broadcast a one-hour behind-the-scenes look at the making of the “Happy Trails” float at 10 a.m. Monday. Live parade coverage begins at 11 a.m. on KTLA.