Roy Rogers Personified A More Earnest Time

Long before kid's meals became a battleground over the most famous action figure of the moment, American children of an entire generation grew up with a single, simple icon plastered on everything from their lunch boxes to their bedsheets. Roy Rogers, the gentle singing cowboy who died Monday, planned to be a dentist because it was "useful," but along with his wife, Dale Evans, horse Trigger, and dog Bullet, he became the epitome of American manhood for postwar families who were settling down and trying to erase the memory of war.

His most famous song, "Happy Trails to You," was the anthem of a more earnest time, one in which men didn't brag or posture, and they were always strong, and kind to animals. And no matter how vile the bad guy, they always turned him over to the law, never shooting to kill or even wound, only to disarm.

Born Leonard Slye in Cincinnati, the son of a shoemaker, Mr. Rogers adopted his screen name in 1937 after auditioning for a role originally designed for another famous cowboy, Gene Autry.

He starred in about 90 films and more than 100 half-hour TV movies. From 1943 to 1954, a magazine poll of theater operators dubbed him the No. 1 western star. His film oeuvre represents the childhood of many in the baby-boomer generation: "Robin Hood of the Pecos," "Days of Jesse James," and his personal favorite, "My Pal Trigger."

President Clinton, who has declared himself a childhood fan of the cowboy, said, "There will be a lot of sad and grateful Americans, especially of my generation, because of his career."

* Gloria Goodale's e-mail address is goodaleg@csps.com

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