The Truth On Why The Roy Rogers Museum Had To Close Its Doors For Good

Published on 04/22/2021
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Roy Rogers, the “King of the Cowboys,” is regarded as a cultural figure of his day. Like many other world-famous figures, the movie star has a museum devoted to his life and work, which attracted over 200,000 tourists per year at its peak. However, the hype is no longer there. What is the reality behind this tragic closure, and why did Rogers’ son allow it to occur?

The Truth On Why The Roy Rogers Museum Had To Close Its Doors For Good

The Truth On Why The Roy Rogers Museum Had To Close Its Doors For Good

Movie Legend

After all, Rogers has more than deserved his spot in film history. And, seeing how famous he is now, you’d imagine his museum in Branson, Missouri, will be a sell-out. Rogers, on the other hand, wasn’t well-known. In 1911, he was assigned Leonard Slye’s name and was born less than 20 years before the Great Depression hit. Experts trained the future star to ride on the family horse as a kid and square dancing and yodeling. When the film world noticed him, these abilities will come in handy.

Movie Legend

Movie Legend

Shy Performer

The 19-year-old Rogers then tried out for the Midnight Frolic radio show on the recommendation of his sister Mary. He was a timid young man at the time, but he saw it inside himself to excel. As a consequence, he joined the Rocky Mountaineers, a country music collective. At the outset of their careers, Bob Nolan and Tim Spencer were both Rocky Mountaineers.

Shy Performer

Shy Performer

Sons Of The Pioneers

Rogers, Spencer, and Nolan formed the Pioneers Trio in 1933, which later became the Sons of the Pioneers. The Sons of the Pioneers developed to be big due to the success of radio. Some of their songs are still recalled today, such as “Cool Water” and “Tumbling Tumbleweeds.” You’d assume that keeping the Roy Rogers-Dale Evans Museum important – and free – will be enough.

Sons Of The Pioneers

Sons Of The Pioneers

Gene Autry

And Rogers can undoubtedly be remembered as a television Western legend. He began as a sidekick to Gene Autry, the most successful singing cowboy of the day, but eventually became one of the older actor’s main rivals. The rising star’s name was changed from Leonard Slye to Roy Rogers as his popularity in the movies grew.

Gene Autry

Gene Autry

He Had Trigger

The role of Rogers’ horse sidekick, Trigger, was critical to his performance. Rogers was offered a choice of horses to ride at the start of his film career, and he chose Golden Cloud, a horse that starred in the 1938 film The Adventures of Robin Hood. Because of his pace and intellect, the actor changed his name to Trigger after buying the animal.

He Had Trigger

He Had Trigger

About Trigger

The trigger was extremely intelligent and easy to think, according to Rogers and those close to him. He could evidently balance on his hind legs, sit in a chair, wrap himself in a scarf, and even sign his name with an “X.” Trigger and Rogers were both inseparable, and as the actor’s reputation rose, so did the fame of his horse. It’s no surprise, then, that Rogers’ museum dedicated a room to the equine superstar.

About Trigger

About Trigger

His Marriage

Rogers married a few times at the height of his success, away from the stage. In 1933, he first took vows with Lucile Ascolese, a fan. The marriage, though, did not last, and the couple separated in 1936. Rogers married Grace Arline Wilkins the same year, and they subsequently adopted a boy together. Grace, unfortunately, died from complications after giving birth to the couple’s baby, despite having two other daughters.

His Marriage

His Marriage

Dale Evans

Dale Evans, Rogers’ co-star in the film Home in Oklahoma, was his third partner. She’s even remembered in the museum’s tag. Evans had a child from a previous marriage, but she had to mask the reality that she was an unmarried mother when serving as an actress. At the time, 20th Century Fox claimed that the boy, Tommy, was her younger brother.

Dale Evans

Dale Evans

Their First Child

On the other hand, Rogers would make an honest woman of Evans as the two married on New Year’s Eve, 1947. The pair married at the ranch where the movie Home in Oklahoma was shot as a nostalgic homage to their first date. After that, they had a girl, Robin Elizabeth, but she died before she was two due to Down syndrome complications. Evans later published a novel in the child’s name, named Angel Unaware.

Their First Child

Their First Child

Dale Rogers Training Center

Following the death of their daughter, Evans and Rogers set out to shift societal perceptions of disabilities. Evans’ influence was so significant that the Dale Rogers Training Center, a council for developmentally challenged children, was named after her. Rogers and Evans went on to foster and raise four more children.

Dale Rogers Training Center

Dale Rogers Training Center

More Tragedy For Rogers

Rogers, on the other hand, suffered yet another disaster as time passed. Debbie, a Korean War orphan, taken in by Rogers and Evans, died in a bus crash when 12 years old. Sandy, another adopted brother, joined the army and served until 1947 when he died in a military hospital.

More Tragedy For Rogers

More Tragedy For Rogers

His Career Went On

Rogers’ career continued, and a significant amount of merchandise based on him has produced: toys, books, and even a comic book series from Dell Comics. Evans, like her husband, became a household name after starring in almost 30 of his films. Rogers became wealthy after purchasing the rights to his likeness in 1940.

His Career Went On

His Career Went On

New Popular Show

The Roy Rogers Show, starring Rogers and Evans, and their animals Trigger and Bullet the Wonder Dog, premiered in 1951. Pat Brady appeared as a sidekick in the film. The show was so successful that it lasted six seasons and 100 episodes before ending in June 1957. In reality, the series is still fondly remembered, and you’d think it will be enough to hold the museum open.

New Popular Show

New Popular Show

Trigger Died

Trigger, though, passed away in 1967. As Rogers and his wife opened The Roy Rogers and Dale Evans Museum in Apple Valley, Trigger’s mounted body was put there. However, in 1976, the museum and its inhabitants were relocated to Victorville, California.

Trigger Died

Trigger Died

Bullet The Wonder Dog

Bullet the Wonder Dog’s taxidermied bones, as well as the remains of Evans’ horse Buttermilk, were both placed on display at the museum. Trigger Junior, the horse that acted as a stunt double for the initial Trigger, was also included. But maintaining the animal relics in good shape was no simple task; for one thing, they needed to be washed and their glass eyes cleaned regularly.

Bullet The Wonder Dog

Bullet The Wonder Dog

They Got Cancelled

The Roy Rogers and Dale Evans Show followed The Roy Rogers Show, but the latter was canceled after just three months due to poor ratings. Rogers, on the other hand, wasn’t done yet. He appeared in several other television programs, including Wonder Woman and The Muppet Show.

They Got Cancelled

They Got Cancelled

Hot Shoppes Became Roy Rogers

In 1968, Rogers made a corporate partnership with Marriott, lending his name to the company’s Hot Shoppes restaurants to rebrand them. As a result, Hot Shoppes evolved into Roy Rogers Restaurants. Rogers was compensated for allowing the company to use his brand and a commission for any appearances he made at the restaurants.

Hot SHoppes Became Roy Rogers

Hot SHoppes Became Roy Rogers

Dusty And His Childhood

Despite the importance of Rogers’ corporate dealings, his interactions with his children seemed to be at the center of his interests. Roy Rogers Jr., a.k.a. Dusty, gave a People magazine interview in 1987 about his youth. Dusty’s mother and aunt chimed in with their observations.

Dusty And His Childhood

Dusty And His Childhood

Spend Time With Your Kids

Rogers told People about his life as a parent, “Dusty and Sandy and I used to go out for a couple of weeks at a time and search and fish and live off the farm.” “It’s far simpler for kids to grow up if you spend time teaching them right from wrong while they’re young. And it proves your love for them.”

Spend Time With Your Kids

Spend Time With Your Kids

He Didn’t Want Him To Get Into Movies

Dusty and his father did, though, have a minor falling out after the former graduated high school and decided to pursue a career in film. Yes, it appears that Rogers did not want his son to fall in his footsteps – instead, he advised him to find a “nice career.” Dusty told People, “I got angry and left town with friends.” Fortunately, the two reconciled in the end.

He Didn’t Want Him To Get Into Movies

He Didn’t Want Him To Get Into Movies

He Never Knew Him

“I used to think what in the world was so thrilling about this guy when I was a kid,” Dusty said of his dad. “Then I started looking through all the clippings, fan letters, and thousands of photos of all he’s accomplished, even visits to children’s hospitals. It’s almost unfathomable. This is the guy I’d lived my whole life with but had never really gotten to know.”

He Never Knew Him

He Never Knew Him

Hollywood Walk Of Fame

By 1988, Rogers had earned several awards for his work. He already had three stars on the Hollywood Walk of Fame – one for television, radio, and one for a film. He and Evans were both inducted into Oklahoma’s Western Performers Hall of Fame, housed at the National Cowboy & Western Heritage Museum. Also, in 1995, the actor was established into the Sons of the Pioneers.

Hollywood Walk Of Fame

Hollywood Walk Of Fame

Country Music Hall of Fame

Rogers was later inducted into the Country Music Hall of Fame twice, once as a member of Sons of the Pioneers and once as a solo artist. So far, he is the only one to have received this award. But that is not it. He earned a Golden Boot Award in 1983 and a Golden Boot Founder’s Award in 1996.

Country Music Hall Of Fame

Country Music Hall Of Fame

His End

Still, unfortunately, the groundbreaking actor was ultimately overtaken by time. Yes, Rogers died in 1998, at the age of 86, from congestive heart failure. Mind you. Such was the star’s influence on American pop culture when President Bill Clinton paid tribute to him. “Today, there will be a lot of sad and grateful Americans, particularly of my generation,” Clinton said of his profession.

His End

His End

His Legacy Goes On

Rogers had 15 grandchildren and 33 great-grandchildren by the time he died, in addition to his wife and six living children. Roy Rogers Jr., Linda Lou Johnson, Dodie Sailors, Cheryl Barnett, Tom Fox, and Marion Swift were the guys. At the time, Roy Rogers Jr. was the museum’s curator.

His Legacy Goes On

His Legacy Goes On

His Museum

The museum was also listed in Rogers’ obituary in the New York Times. “Mr. Rogers will often attend the museum and converse with visitors,” according to the piece. “He kept on wearing his white Stetson, gabardine shirts, and silver-and-leather belts. Although his knees ached and he might have been more at home in trainers, he still wore his pointy boots with high heels.”

His Museum

His Museum

His Wife Followed Him

Evans died in 2001, not long after her husband, at the age of 88. And obituaries for the actress emphasized how much she had accomplished through her work and in collaboration with Rogers. For one thing, she wrote the lyrics to the popular Roy Rogers theme song “Happy Trails to You” just 40 minutes before his show went on air.

His Wife Followed Him

His Wife Followed Him

The Museum Was Moved

For a couple of years after that, the museum served as a memorial to Rogers and Evans. However, in 2003, it relocated from its former location in Victorville, California, to a current location in Branson, Missouri. The decision was based on money. After Evans died, the IRS imposed a heavy tax on the Rogers house, necessitating further funds to hold the museum open. It appears that they needed a more “touristy” area.

The Museum Was Moved

The Museum Was Moved

Too Much Competition

Unfortunately, it did not turn out. The museum relocated to Branson, Missouri, but the number of visitors anticipated by the family did not materialize. There was so much rivalry from other tourist sites, and the nostalgic element just wasn’t there in Branson as it was in Apple Valley.

Too Much Competition

Too Much Competition

A Wonderful Ride

As a result, Roy Rogers Jr. wrote a message to museum visitors in 2009. “It is you, the supporters, and our Board of Directors who have supported our family museum running for over 42 years. It’s been a fantastic ride,” he wrote. “After millions of visits and endless tales about what Roy and Dale did to you, the Board of Directors has decided to shutter the museum at the end of 2009.”

A Wonderful Ride

A Wonderful Ride

Not An Easy Decision

“This was not a straightforward choice to make. As you would expect, we’ve all dealt with a variety of emotional and financial issues,” Rogers Jr. added. “The move to shutter the Museum came after two years of consistent attendance. A number of variables influenced our decision.”

Not An Easy Decision

Not An Easy Decision

For Closure

Rogers Jr. also discussed the causes for the closure. “For one thing, the economy; people are just not moving as often. Dad’s followers are becoming older and worried about their retirement savings. “In this current economy, everybody is worried for their future,” he added. “Second, with our high budgetary commitments, we cannot afford to incur debt to hold the doors open.”

For Closure

For Closure

What Dad Would Have Wanted

Rogers Jr. has discussed what he believes his father might have liked him to do. “My father always said, ‘If the museum is costing you money, liquidate it and carry on.’ “Myself and my family have worked for over 15 years to keep the museum and collection together, so it is impossible to imagine that it will be gone soon,” he said.

What Dad Would Have Wanted

What Dad Would Have Wanted

His Letter

Rogers Jr. concluded his letter by saying, “Please hold us in your thoughts and prayers.” “Remember, Roy Rogers and Dale Evans will live on in our hearts and minds, and their films will begin to ride through the silver screen. The warm feeling you’ve always had when you think of Roy and Dale will always return.”

His Letter

His Letter

Trigger Auction

The valuable objects owned by the museum were eventually auctioned off in July 2010. And Trigger’s taxidermied remains attracted a lot of attention. The preserved pet and Bullet, the Wonder Dog, were ultimately purchased by the cable network RFD-TV. Bullet was sold for $35,000, and Trigger was sold for a whopping $266,000.

Trigger Auction

Trigger Auction

Rogers For The Next Generation

Meanwhile, RFD-TV director Patrick Gottsch spoke with the Associated Press on what the firm intended to do about its acquisitions. The channel was preparing to screen Roy Rogers movies, which will be presented by Rogers Jr. and feature the types of Trigger and Bullet in the background. Gottsch clarified, “The aim is to bring Roy Rogers to a whole new generation of kids.”

Rogers For The Next Generation

Rogers For The Next Generation

From The Fans

Gottsch also received an outpouring of thanks from Roy Rogers fans concerned about preserving the horse after the museum closed. “Over the last 24 hours, I’ve sent too many thank you addresses, such beautiful letters stating, ‘Thank you for saving Trigger,’” Gottsch told the Associated Press.

From The Fans

From The Fans

Nellybelle Auction

Other popular Roy Rogers-related pieces have fetched high prices. The Roy Rogers Show included a jeep named Nellybelle that had belonged to Pat Brady’s character. Pam Weidel, a horse trainer and Rogers enthusiast paid $116,500 for the actual Nellybelle, which she intended to hold in a private collection.

Nellybelle Auction

Nellybelle Auction

Happy Auction

Furthermore, notwithstanding the unfortunate reality that the Roy Rogers Museum had to close, the sale seemed to be a joyful time. Cathy Elkies, the auctioneer, assured the Associated Press that the experience was the “most lively, dramatic, and nostalgic” she’d ever seen. In the end, the crowd is said to have sung “Happy Trails” together. Rogers and Evans would have no doubt accepted.

Happy Auction

Happy Auction

 

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