The Law of Contact

Dale Evans

by Frank M. Roberts

Comin' up - another feature about yet another western star. This one is on the distaff side and, no question about it, she is easily the number one 'name-above-the-title' star --- well, there is another name above. That would be Roy Rogers, so this story is obviously about Mrs. R. - Dale Evans.

One picture I have shows her reading a book called, "Good Manners." Also in the pic is the good dog, Trigger - a very handsome bow-wow. Now, revealed for, perhaps the very first time is the fact that Ms. Evans was born in Italy. True!! Mama, mia, y'all. Population of the Texas town is about 2,000. When she was a kid she had a horse named Spaghetti. (I pass on 'meatball' jokes). The town is near Uvalde. She was raised in Arkansas.

The famed cowgirl was a Halloween baby - born Oct. 31 - a treat, not a trick. The first word she learned, of course, was 'boo.' Her real name was Frances Octavia Smith. (Octavia - did that have anything to do with October?).

Her career took off flying after she signed with Republic Pictures and entered the world of 'B' westerns. She was a contract player. That means she had to take on any role assigned to her by the studio. Well, one fine day the studio decided that Roy Rogers needed a leading lady (don't we all?) and guess who got the job?

Yes, 'twas her. Why? She could sing, dance, and act. The public, in effect, made Evans a star. Her on-screen personality immediately registered with fans of all ages (from goo to WHAT?). Seems fans enjoyed seeing her parry and thrust with Rogers in film after film. (I parried and thrusted with an old girl friend and got into trouble). Another job she had - and you probably won't remember this - she was a featured singer on the old Edgar Bergen-Charlie McCarthy Show. (There was always the question - whose lips moved more? Edgar or Charlie?)

One thing gave her a problem. She had little experience with equines (that's horses, Jimbo). She knew not that rigorous riding was a staple of Republic's heroines, but after the loss of tooth caps, and the application of liniment, the lovely lady passed her baptism of fire in westerns. The real tricky riding? She 'de-saddled' and Alice Van Springsteen took over.

Anyway, things worked out handsomely. The fans flocked (naughty-naughty) and the studio's leading cowboy star had a leading lady. Eventually, she learned how to mount and ride a horse and was crowned, "Queen Of the West." (No, that's not the name of a gay bar).

One New Year's Eve, in 1948, she became (ta-da) Mrs. Roy Rogers. (Did Gabby catch the bridal bouquet?) In "The Cowboy And The Senorita" the ex-band singer found her career identity and, of course, a new - er - mate. Frances Octavia Smith got her professional name while at radio station WHAS in Louisville, KY. in 1938 when she was singing big band and jazz.

So many movies together but, the biggest and best was 1945's, "Don't Fence Me In." I know you remember the song. There was one teensy problem connected with the famed flick. (whisper). - It had to do with (blush-blush) -- SMOOCHING. (Sh - not so loud). It was a touchy issuein those purity days - cowboy kisses girl? (When that scene came up kids rushed to the refreshment counter to get drizzled with popcorn).

Anyway, happy ending! Mr. and Mrs. Rogers made 26 films together.

She wrote several books of inspiration, and her songwriting skills were evident in just about every movie the twosome made. Yep, she wrote, "Happy Trails To You." She also wrote one of the greatest gospel songs - "The Bible Tells Me So." She was a leader in the Hollywood Christian community and Evans-Rogers often guested on Billy Graham's programs.

The twosome were noted for their charities, their work with hospitalized children and, their general demeanor. On the subject of children, her natural son was Tommy Roy, Cheryl was an adopted daughter. Two biological children she shared with her hubby were Linda and Roy, nicknamed Dusty. He is a head honcho so far as the Rogers empire is concerned. Another child, Robin Elizabeth, died of Down Syndrome. She had three husbands - the first when she was 15. Jointly, the couple had nine children - enough for their own baseball team.

Hubby one was Thomas Frederick Fox (no relation to 20th Century). Then came August Wayne Johns and then, of course, R. R.

Just to mention a mere few of their films: "Heldorado," (a clever mix of 'hell' and El Dorado), "Under Nevada Skies," "Cowboy And the Senorita," which also featured Mary Lee, John Hubbard, Guinn 'Big Boy' Williams, and Fuzzy Knight - all familiar folk to western movie enthusiasts.

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The Rogers twosome were very active in Hollywood's Christian community. Elsewhere in the Jimbo storehouse (in two locations) you will see my profile of a friend of mine who died two years ago - Gregory Walcott, a star of "87th Precinct" on teevee, a villain in four of Clint Eastwood's movies, and the 'real' star of the real stinker, "Plan Nine From Outer Space." It was Miss Evans who introduced Greg to his wife, a former Miss San Diego.

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I always end these profiles with a look at some of the performers who helped make the 'B' westerns so successful. That includes Ray Teal of Grand Rapids who began his showbiz career as a saxophonist. A University of California graduate, he made his way through college by conducting a band. In 1938 he made his screen debut in "Western Jamboree.'

Teevee viewers know him best as the sheriff on "Bonanza." He has appeared in beaucoup films including, of course, westerns. He was in "Best Years Of Our Lives," "Joan Of Arc," "Northwest Passage," "It Happens Every Spring," "Redhead and Cowboy," "Montana Belle," "Rogue Cop," "Band Of Angels," "Carrie," and many more. A busy dude.

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