How celebrity cowboy Roy Rogers sparked a Wild West frenzy in the 1950s

The Real Roy Rogers - Cowboy Western star at Click Americana

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Cinch up your saddle and grab your cowboy hat, because we’re journeying back to an era when the country was swept up in a wave of Western fascination, largely thanks to one man: The real Roy Rogers.

Known as the “King of the Cowboys,” Rogers was not just a star on the silver screen, but a figure who left a profound imprint on American culture — one that still lingers today.

Born Leonard Franklin Slye in 1911, Roy Rogers was a multi-talented actor and singer who became one of the most popular Western stars of his era.

Roy Rogers cowboy photo with signature (1943)

With his trusty horse, Trigger — and his leading lady, wife Dale Evans — Rogers captivated audiences with his sharpshooting skills, quick wit, and gentle demeanor. But his influence extended far beyond the realm of film and television.

The Roy Rogers cultural phenomenon

It wasn’t long before Rogers became a household name and his likeness was emblazoned on everything you can imagine. Children across America coveted Roy Rogers’ action figures, donned cowboy outfits with his name stitched on them, and flipped through comic books filled with his Wild West adventures.

His was a name that transcended the man himself, becoming synonymous with a bygone era of optimism and adventure.

Vintage Roy Rogers toys and clothing for Christmas (1958)
Vintage Roy Rogers toys and clothing for Christmas (1958)

Then, of course, there were the Roy Rogers Restaurants, an offshoot of his fame that remains a part of American culture. Founded in 1968, the chain offered folks a taste of the cowboy lifestyle with its Western-themed decor and hearty menu. Though it’s seen ups and downs over the years, the restaurant chain still exists today, serving as a testament to the enduring popularity of its namesake.

Roy Rogers opening the 100th RR restaurant (1969)
Roy Rogers opening the 100th RR restaurant (1969)

Roy Rogers’ star power

The Roy Rogers phenomenon was more than just a marketing triumph. It was a testament to the charm of a man who embodied a kind of gallantry and decency that resonated with Americans. From the box office to the dinner table, Roy Rogers embedded himself into the very fabric of American life.

Roy died on July 6, 1998, at age 86. But even today, his legacy serves as a fascinating glimpse into a time when a man, a horse, and a catchy song could capture the imagination of an entire nation.

Scroll on to see how the King of the Cowboys used his star power not only to captivate movie and TV audiences, but also to create a lasting cultural impact that rippled through everything from toys to restaurants.

Vintage Roy Rogers photo (1950)

Roy Rogers rose to fame in the wake of a unique opportunity

Roy Rogers may have had a different path if not for a fortuitous incident involving another prominent cowboy star, Gene Autry. In the late 1930s, Autry was engaged in a contract dispute with Republic Pictures, his movie studio.

As negotiations stalled, Republic found itself in need of a new singing cowboy to fill Autry’s boots. This presented an unprecedented opportunity for Rogers, then a journeyman actor and singer.

Gene Autry and Roy Rogers (1957)

Seizing the moment, Rogers charmed audiences with his good looks, folksy charm, and rich singing voice, and quickly made the cowboy role his own. His ascent to fame can be traced back to this key juncture when he not only filled a void left by Autry but also cultivated his unique persona that would endear him to millions.

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Roy Rogers new on the scene, in Gene Autry’s footsteps (1938)

Article by Paul Harrison (Chillicothe Gazette, Ohio) March 1, 1938

While Gene Autry goes on a sit-down strike, Roy Rogers, 25, rides into the range of the camera with quite a rush.

While the case of Republic Pictures vs Gene Autry remains in status quo — the “quo” being a sitdown strike by the other party of the second part — the studio is hurridly grooming another crooning sagebrush hero to take (it hopes) Autry’s place.

Young Roy Rogers for Wheaties Cereal (c1938)

MORE: See 30 popular vintage 1950s breakfast cereals

At least the new hand will take Autry’s place in “Washington Cowboy,” which was to have been his next picture. What happens subsequently will be up to Autry, who huffily rode out of Hollywood on a personal appearance junket of his own after he and his agent and his bosses had a disagreement over salary.

A posse of lawyers caught up with him in Memphis and roped and threw him with an injunction which says that he cannot participate in any radio, stage, or screen entertainment.

If the boss cowboy of the movies wants to come back and participate in some Republic Pictures at the old wage, that will be darling. Otherwise, the studio is prepared to keep him idle for the next five years. And five years of idleness would be fatal to anybody’s popularity.

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He sings, too

The Autry feud, however it turns out, has provided a break for Roy Rogers. He was hired by Republic more than four months ago, about the time that Paramount and 20th-Fox made bids for Autry and thus warned his bosses that he might be hard to keep. Rogers was held in reserve, except for a couple of trial heats in two Autry pictures.

He’s 6 feet tall in his boots, blond, and handsome in a juvenile way. It’s quite possible that Rogers’ youth — he’s 25 and looks younger — will help to make him popular with kid fans. After all, Bill Boyd is crowding 40; Ken Maynard is 42; Tom McCoy is almost 47; and Tom Mix, at 58, is nearly old enough to have fought Indians.

This Rogers rides well, which of course is an incidental accomplishment for a Western hero these days. The important thing is that he sings well, between baritone and tenor, and whangs & mean guitar.

ALSO SEE: Gunsmoke: Find out about the famous TV western & see the opening credits

Vintage 1950s Roy Rogers comics cover

Hits for open spaces

Rogers’ early background is authentic, too, for he was born on a ranch near Cody, Wyoming, and lived there until he was 10. [Modern-day editor’s note: This is not correct. He was born in Cincinnati, Ohio.] He graduated from high school in Cincinnati, then went to work, along with his father, in a shoe factory. One day they both got disgusted with city and factory life and decided to hit for the great open spaces.

That was in 1930. In the West, the son began singing at small radio stations, wherever he could get a job. In 1934, he and four other young men organized a band called “Sons of the Pioneers,” and they’ve been singing and playing ever since on a coast network from Los Angeles.

Roy Rogers - King of the Cowboys publicity still (1948)

He shore will try

Originally his name was Leonard Slye, but he changed it to Dick Weston for radio work, and now Republic has renamed him Roy Rogers. He doesn’t like it much, but he has no intention of quarreling about it.

Sol Siegel, the foreman, or producer, of Republic’s westerns, gave him a “Washington Cowboy” script to read and asked if he thought he could play the part.

Rogers replied that he didn’t know, but he shore would be caught tryin’. So now he’s studying hard. “I haven’t done  an awful lot of readin’ since I left school,” he said, “I didn’t think I’d need it.”

ALSO SEE: How cowboy actor Tom Mix gained fame on a horse, and lost his life in a car

Choosing the horse for a cowboy star is almost as important as choosing the cowboy, for the youngsters who go to see westerns know all the horses and their tricks, and even write fan letters to them. The result is that Republic looks like a rodeo these days, with vans bringing dozens of nags for tests.

Rogers favors a trick Pinto he discovered, but executives say the coloring doesn’t photograph well. Most likely candidate is a Palomino — buckskin, with a white mane and tail, a Barrymore profile, and ears like Clark Gable’s.

Vintage 50s Roy Rogers and Trigger comic book (1959)

See the huge Roy Rogers clothing & toy line from the 1950s

In the 1950s, the popularity of Roy Rogers transcended the silver screen and manifested in a major cultural phenomenon — a line of merchandise that swept across the nation.

One could hardly walk down a toy aisle without spotting a piece of the Roy Rogers empire. Action figures, cowboy hats, toy guns, lunch boxes, and even bed sheets all bore the likeness of the “King of the Cowboys.”

Even more prevalent was the Roy Rogers clothing line, featuring western-style shirts, cowboy boots, and belt buckles, allowing children to emulate their cowboy hero. The extent of this merchandise mania underlined the enormous influence Rogers had on the culture of the time, with children from coast to coast imagining themselves as part of the adventures of their favorite cowboy hero.

ALSO SEE: The Roy Rogers Restaurant chain’s wild ride: How the cowboy rode into fast food history

Popular Roy Rogers toys from the 1950s

‘Twas the night after Christmas — a real Roy Rogers Christmas! (1957)

All the things you see here… except the beds, boys and dog… are real Roy Rogers togs and toys. They are made to last and you pay no premium price for these wanted gifts. Look for Roy’s famous Double R Bar label in the toy and boys clothing sections of all good department stores.

A real Roy Rogers Christmas - Toys for kids (1957)

It’s SEARS for the biggest roundup of Roy Rogers gifts (1958)

You’ll find it’s fun to shop for Roy’s famous “Double-R-Bar” brand western-styled togs, toys and fixin’s at Sears. There’s a full corral of gifts — many pioneered by Roy and Sears together — with a complete selection of styles, colors and sizes, for your active young cowboys. For easy, one-stop western shopping, make Sears Stores or the Sears Christmas Catalog your Roy Rogers gift headquarters!

Roy Rogers toy testing - seven children (1957)

This little brother is mighty proud of his colorful Roy Rogers washable western shirt ($2.98), genuine felt hat with adjustable chin-cord ($1.98), and tailored cavalry twill frontier pants ($4.98). The official Roy Rogers double holster set ($6.90) with those comfortable “Double-R-Bar” Brand boots ($9.95). plus a sturdy 1-in. steerhide belt ($1.00) will make him the envy of all the neighborhood cowboys!

And the Young Bronco-Buster is set for any roundup in his truly western rodeo hat ($1.98) trim-fitting Roy Rogers flannel shirt ($298) and genuine suede leather jacket (012.98). His tough denim jeans ($2.29) and Roy Rogers cowboy boots ($8.50) are built for rugged, bull-doggin’ wear. And the 1-inch leather belt ($1.00), double holster set ($3.98), and sturdy cowhide gloves ($1.90) are sure hits with this youngster.

Vintage Roy Rogers toys from Sears (1956)

Old Roy Rogers brand toys (1957)

ALSO SEE: Wonder horses! See vintage ride-on spring horse toys from the ’50s to the ’80s

Old Roy Rogers brand toys (1957)

Roy Rogers & Dale Evans: A love story

Few love stories captivated the public in the 1950s like that of Roy Rogers and Dale Evans. The dynamic duo, both on and off-screen, shared a chemistry that was palpable, delighting fans of their films and television shows. Off-screen, their love story was just as charming. They married in 1947, and remained together until Rogers’ death in 1998.

On-screen, they were the ideal Western couple, combining wit, charm, and bravery. But their off-screen life was no less intriguing, marked by their shared commitment to family, faith, and the support of charitable causes.

The pairing of Rogers and Evans became an enduring symbol of enduring love and partnership in Hollywood, setting the bar high for celebrity couples to follow.

Dale Evans and Roy Rogers in 1953

Roy Rogers’ & Dale Evans’ wholesome comic books

Roy Rogers and Dale Evans didn’t just limit their partnership to the big screen or television; they also took on the world of comic books. Their adventures, captured in colorful panels, brought the thrill of the Wild West right into the hands of youngsters in the mid-20th century.

With comic books featuring these charismatic stars, fans could enjoy their favorite Western heroes in a fresh, exciting format, proving that the couple’s charm and appeal were as timeless as the tales they told.

Vintage Roy Rogers and Trigger comic book (1959)

Vintage Dale Evans Queen of the West comic book cover

Dell Comics are clean comics – Roy Rogers & Dale Evans (1956)


Roy Rogers and Dale Evans are typical American parents. They take great pride in their five children and take a deep interest in their activities. Roy and Dale like doing things with their children and one of the things they all enjoy doing is reading Dell Comics.

Dell Comics are clean comics - Roy Rogers and Dale Evans (1956)

Too, Roy and Dale, like millions of parents all over the country, know they can relax when their children read Dell Comics. Full of good fun, clean enjoyment and happy adventures, it’s natural that Dell Comics are favorites by far with children, parents and teachers alike. And each and every Dell Comic carries a pledge of wholesomeness to you — the parents!

Take home some Dell Comics to your children today — and be sure to always look for this seal — it’s your guarantee of good, clean fun only at newsstands everywhere.

Old Roy Rogers and the haunted cliffs comic book page

SEE MORE: Favorite fifties funnies: 50 popular comic strips from the 1950s

Roy Rogers: It happened last night (1950)

By Earl Wilson in the Courier-Post (Camden, New Jersey) January 13, 1950

I am a schmo who thinks cowboy pictures should drop dead. So when I heard some rude clown saying Roy Rogers came from Cincinnati, I knew the bum had to be wrong.

Cincinnati, I knew, was not grazing country, but a biggish village, famous for beer, baseball, beer gravy midget automobiles, beer, station WLW, Senator Taft, and beer.

Old Roy Rogers comic book cover

“Vas you ever in Zinzinnati?” I asked Roy when we met, and he admitted it, being a frank fellow, so this was another time my native Ohio surprised me. There is nothing like coming from Ohio!

Like for example, I was at Mayor O’Dwyer’s house here one night when Pat O’Brien was asking folks where the word “porterhouse”‘ came from. I ran an innocent line in my column about it.

I was deluged with fan mail (6 letters) saying that Charles Dickens almost 100 years ago visited a hotel, called the Porter House, in Sandusky, Ohio, which is up on Lake Erie. And that he liked the steak there so much that he spread the name of “porter house” throughout the world, although I fail to see how he could do it, as he was neither a disc jockey nor a columnist.

So there I was talking to Roy Rogers at the Waldorf, and I began twitting him about being a cowboy.

Roy Rogers and Trigger publicity photo (1951)

“Some cowboy!” I sneered. “What riding academy in Hollywood taught you to ride a hoss?”

Roy, who was sitting there in fancy cowboy togs, for that’s all the clothes he owns, told me that after he was born in Cincinnati, his father took him (it would have been hasty to do it before) to a farm near Duck Run, Ohio, where he got a hoss named old Babe.

“Our farm was the last farm in the holler,” said Roy, talking farmer-like. “It was pretty hot in them Ohio bottoms. We used to drive to town with a team of mules. But Babe ‘n I rode to school and prayer-meetin’. And anybody who says I don’t know anything about horses is crazy.”

“Did anybody say I wasn’t crazy?” I said. That stopped him.

Roy Rogers movie Idaho (1943)

“We used to have races with our horses and I won plenty riding old Babe. I remember one night coming from prayer-meetin’, it was as black outdoors as the inside of your pocket.

“A piece of paper got stuck on a fence. It scared old Babe. She tore off like a shot out of a gun. I had trouble holding on. I was clear down under her and I was pullin’ her mane but I stuck on.”

Roy quit school when things got rugged, and worked in a shoe factory in Zinzinnati, and then he and his dad went by “seedan” to California, where he got to singing at beach parties. Somebody discovered him, put him on the radio, and eventually he got screen-tested and became Republic’s big hoss-opery star, costarring with Trigger.

Roy Rogers and his horse Trigger (1943)

“Six years ago I went back to Buck Run and I tried to find old Babe. I wanted to take her to Hollywood. Some of the boys had seen her and I went lookin’. But I guess she was dead. Even then she’d have had to be 35 years old.”

I thought that was mighty nice of Roy trying to get his hoss, because I had a hoss, too, when I was a kid in Ohio, but I never thought of bringing her to New York to live with me except during the meat shortage. Just proves to you what wonderful cowboys come from Cincinnati.

Roy Rogers and Dale Evans with some of their children (1953)
Roy Rogers and Dale Evans with some of their children (1953)

Roy Rogers & Dale Evans: Appearances everywhere, from state fairs to rodeos

Roy Rogers TV, records and at state fairs & rodeos (1958)

EVERY APPEARANCE, ANOTHER ALL-TIME BOX OFFICE RECORD! United States, Canada and Europe! Not only does Roy Rogers hold all-time records at every State Fair and rodeo at which he has appeared, he is also the most popular Western star in American homes everywhere.

Roy Rogers and Dale Evans

Authoritative proof: The Neilsen rating which scored 40.8 on the Feb. 2, 1958 Chevy Show, starring Roy Rogers and Dale Evans with 16,873,000 sets tuned in, and with 48,000,000 people viewing. Roy’s share of the audience was a startling 47.9, the highest rated of all network shows that Sunday evening, topping such famous front-runners as Ed Sullivan, Maverick, Steve Allen, Shirley Temple, and Jack Benny!

MORE: Find out about old Buffalo Bill’s Wild West & Congress of Rough Riders of the World


Aug. 16th-24th, Wisconsin State Fair, Milwaukee, Wis. Aug. 30th-Sept. 2nd, Nebraska State Fair, Lincoln, Neb. Sept. 4th-7th, Kentucky State Fair, Louisville, Ky. Sept. 14-20th, Eastern States Exposition, Springfield, Mass. Sept. 25th-Oct. 13th, Madison Square Garden, New York City. Exclusive Management: Art Rush, Inc., 357 N. Canon Drive, Beverly Hills, Calif.

Roy Rogers TV records and appearances in Billboard magazine (1958)

The Ed Sullivan Show was a launchpad for legends (1948-1971)

Roy Rogers in Wisconsin (1970)

From the Post-Crescent (Appleton, Wisconsin) July 16, 1970

Roy Rogers, “King of the Cowboys,” is mobbed by autograph-seeking youngsters upon his arrival at the Outagamie County Airport Wednesday afternoon. Rogers and his wife, Dale Evans, will put on eight shows at the Outagamie County Fair at Seymour starting tonight.

Roy Rogers personal appearance in Wisconsin (1970)

DON’T MISS: Remember vintage coin-operated rides? Horses, spaceships, boats & more from the ’50s

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Comments on this story

2 Responses

  1. Roy Rogers was not born in Cody Wyoming and never lived there! He was born in Cincinnati, Ohio. Don’t see how you could have thought otherwise!

    1. Thank you for the comment! Cody was mentioned in the article that was written in 1938, which was reproduced as originally published. However, since you took the time to point it out, I added a correction to the old article.

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