Rogers, Dale Evans (1912–2001)
Rogers, Dale Evans (1912–2001)
American actress, singer and author who as Dale Evans teamed with Roy Rogers to star in numerous Westerns for Republic Studios. Name variations: Dale Evans; Frances Fox. Born Frances Octavia Smith in Uvalde, Texas, on October 31, 1912; died in Apple Valley, California, on February 7, 2001; daughter of Walter Hillman and Bettie Sue (Wood) Smith; attended high school in Osceola, Arkansas; married Thomas Frederick Fox, in 1928 (divorced 1930); married Dale Butts (divorced); married Roy Rogers (an actor and singer), in 1947 (died 1998); children: (first marriage) Tom Fox, Jr. (b. 1929); (third marriage) Robin (1950–1952); Sandy (adopted); Dodie (adopted); Debbie (adopted); stepchildren: Cheryl, Linda, and Dusty.
Selected films—as Dale Evans:
Orchestra Wives (1942); Girl Trouble (1942); Swing Your Partner (1943); The West Side Kid (1943); In Old Oklahoma (1943); The Cowboy and the Senorita (1944); Song of Nevada (1944); The Yellow Rose of Texas (1944); Don't Fence Me In (1945); Hitchhike to Happiness (1945); Utah (1945); Sunset in El Dorado (1945); Heldorado (1946); My Pal Trigger (1946); Under Nevada Skies (1946); Song of Arizona (1946); Apache Rose (1947); Bells of San Angelo (1947); Slippy McGee (1948); The Golden Stallion (1949); Twilight in the Sierras (1950); Pals of the Golden West (1951).
(with Roy Rogers) The Bible Tells Me So, A Child's Introduction to the West, Christmas is Always, The Good Life, Hymns of Faith, In the Sweet By and By, Jesus Loves Me, Many Happy Trails, 16 Great Songs of the West, Sweet Hour of Prayer; (solo) Country Dale, Dale Evans Sings, Faith, Hope and Charity, Favorite Gospel Songs, Heart of the Country, It's Real, Reflections of Life, Sweeter as the Years Go By, Totally Free, Western Favorites.
Angel Unaware (1953); My Spiritual Diary (1955); Christmas is Always (1958); Dearest Debbie (1965); Salute to Sandy (1965); Time Out Ladies! (1966); The Woman at the Well (1970); Where He Leads (1974); Let Freedom Ring (1975); Grandparents Can (1983).
As a young teenage mother doing secretarial work at an insurance company, Dale Evans Rogers could not have envisioned that she would become one of the most popular Western film heroines of her generation. Born Frances Octavia Smith in 1912, she moved with her family from Uvalde, Texas, to Osceola, Arkansas, where she attended high school. Rogers was still a teenager when she met and married Tom Fox. Shortly after the birth of their son in 1929, Fox deserted his young bride, and Rogers made ends meet by working as a stenographer at an insurance company.
Rogers' placement with the company proved to be fortuitous. When her employers discovered she could sing, they found her work as a vocalist on a company-sponsored radio station. Her voice won her increasingly high-profile positions on radio programs in Memphis, Louisville, and Dallas, until she finally wound up a star on the Chicago airwaves. At the suggestion of a program director in Louisville, she took the name Dale Evans. She also met and married Dale Butts, a pianist and songwriter, during this time. They collaborated on a number of songs, including the widely popular "Will You Marry Me, Mr. Laramie?" Their personal collaboration was not as successful as their professional one, however, and the two divorced.
That hit song brought Rogers to the attention of a Hollywood scout, who suggested she try out for a part in Paramount's Holiday Inn in 1942. The movie stalled briefly in production (it was then made without her), so Rogers decided to sign a year-long contract with Twentieth Century-Fox. While waiting for a movie role, she maintained an active career by recording albums, entertaining U.S. military forces, and continuing her radio engagements with some of America's top programs.
Although she had two small roles in musicals, Rogers' contract with Twentieth Century-Fox expired without a major film debut. She next signed on with Republic, the studio that would produce nearly all of her films. Her break came in 1944, when she was offered the second female lead in The Cowboy and the Senorita starring another Republic actor, Roy Rogers. Audiences so delighted in the pairing of Roy and Dale that the two made another 19 formula Westerns in the next three years. He became known as the "King of the Cowboys" and she earned the moniker "Queen of the West." The wholesome couple became familiar figures in over 30 Western-themed movies, including Sunset in El Dorado (1945), Utah (1945), My Pal Trigger (1946), Under Nevada Skies (1946), Song of Arizona (1946), Bells of San Angelo (1947), The Golden Stallion (1949), Bells of Coronado (1950), and Pals of the Golden West (1951). Much of Dale's success was driven by her gutsy heroines—characters of independence and brains who stood apart from the traditional Hollywood portrayal of helpless women in need of saving. Of her role as Toni Ames in Don't Fence Me In (1945), she noted, "I like to be active in a role, and hate namby-pamby heroines. Toni was a pleasant departure from the usual Western role, in which the girl just stands around while men do violent and admirable things." Her appearance in Motion Picture Herald's poll as one of the top moneymakers of 1947—the first woman to do so—verified her stardom.
The Roy Rogers-Dale Evans pairing was successful off-screen as well. After Roy's wife Arlene Rogers died in 1946, Roy and Dale married the following year. In 1948, they collaborated on radio to create "The Roy Rogers Show," then moved the show to the new medium of television in 1951, producing the weekly series of half-hour Western films until 1957. The show proved to be hugely successful, earning some of the highest ratings for an action program at the time. Roy and Dale, along with Roy's Palomino stallion Trigger ("the smartest horse in the movies") and Dale's horse Buttermilk, became American icons; the show's enduring theme song, "Happy Trails to You," was one of Dale's compositions. At the height of their popularity there were some 2,000 fan clubs worldwide devoted to Dale and Roy, and their lucrative merchandising deals allowed innumerable American girls and boys to dress like their heroes in fringed clothing and holster belts. In addition to their own program, the pair guest-starred on numerous other television programs throughout the 1950s and made a brief comeback as television stars with an hour-long variety program, "The Roy Rogers and Dale Evans Show," in 1962. They also took their Western act on the road, making appearances on the rodeo circuit in colorful costumes. Dale was the only woman to receive star billing at Madison Square Garden when she appeared there in 1952 as part of the World Championship Rodeo.
Like his wife, Roy was a talented singer, and the two recorded both solo albums and collaborative efforts in music careers which spanned
five decades. Dale recorded several albums for children and highlighted her distinct brand of Western tunes. Her albums included some of her own compositions such as "Aha, San Antone," which sold in excess of 200,000 copies. Roy and Dale Rogers debuted the first of their Christian albums with the 1950 release Hymns of Faith. Both were committed Christians, and their faith had a large impact on their professional lives. They worked closely with evangelist Billy Graham in his crusades, as well as with theologian Norman Vincent Peale. Many of their recordings are gospel-oriented and much of their later television work was done for Christian broadcasting. Dale also wrote the well-known children's song "The Bible Tells Me So" ("Jesus loves me, this I know, for the Bible tells me so").
Dale's faith was particularly evident in her writings, several of which were inspired by personal tragedies. She wrote Angel Unaware about her and Roy's first child, Robin, who was born developmentally disabled and died shortly before her second birthday. It was a bestseller in 1953, and Dale donated the royalties to the National Association for Retarded Children. The profits from her second book, My Spiritual Diary (1955), also went to support the treatment of mental retardation, and enjoyed equal popularity. When her nine-year-old adopted daughter Debbie died in a church bus accident in 1964, Dale penned a touching remembrance to her, published as Dear Debbie. The following year, another adopted child, Sandy, died of alcohol poisoning in Germany, and Dale wrote the tribute Salute to Sandy. Dale's autobiography, The Woman at the Well (1970), was another publishing success, selling over 275,000 hardcover copies. She had published 25 inspirational works by 1988, including Time Out Ladies! (1966), Where He Leads (1974), Let Freedom Ring (1975), and Grandparents Can (1983).
Roy and Dale Rogers showed no signs of slowing down even into their 70s. In 1985, they returned to television with the show "Happy Trails Theater," which featured the pair discussing their past films with guest stars. Dale had a chance to shine on her own as host of "The Dale Evans Show," which appeared the same year on the Trinity Christian broadcasting station. Still singing, she maintained an active concert and speaking schedule into the 1990s. Roy Rogers died in 1998. Dale Evans Rogers died at age 88, at her home in Apple Valley, California, in February 2001. The Roy Rogers and Dale Evans Museum, in Victorville, California, celebrates the memory of the sanitized, singing West presented in their films, and includes among its exhibits the original, now stuffed, Trigger and Buttermilk.
Dent, Marjorie Candee, ed. Current Biography Yearbook 1956. NY: H.W. Wilson, 1956.
Katz, Ephraim. The Film Encyclopedia. 3rd ed. Harper-Collins, 1998.
The New York Times. February 8, 2001, p. A28.
Parish, James Robert, and Michael R. Pitts. Hollywood Songsters. NY: Garland, 1991.
Linda S. Walton , freelance writer, Grosse Pointe Shores, Michigan