The Trail We Followed With Roy

They were simpler times, before America grew self-doubting. Before tried-and-true expressions - American clichs - diminished the speaker. Before it became a putdown to call someone "a cowboy."

And Roy Rogers - the King of the Cowboys, who died last week - had TV's first generation of viewers rarin' to saddle up and join him and Trigger, cowgirl Dale Evans, and trusty sidekick Pat Brady out on the range.

It was before "Have Gun Will Travel," and "Gunsmoke," before "Bonanza" and "The Rifleman," before Wyatt Earp" and "The Cisco Kid," before "The Lone Ranger." And "Zorro."

It was before Hula Hoops. Before color TV. Before anyone had heard of Vietnam. Long before toy six-shooters were frowned upon. When kids said "Gee shucks" and "Gadzooks" and "Gosh golly" without a smidgen of self-consciousness. When the man in the white hat was the good guy, and the hombre in the black hat was up to no good. It was an America in which Roy Rogers kept the peace.

It was the mid-1950s before the antihero happened on the scene, and all young boys wanted to be "good guys" and wage two-fisted battle against the scowling ruffians who bullied dance-hall girls and drove their horses to exhaustion.

"The Roy Rogers Show" was a training school for pint-sized moralists intent on a right course of action.

The cowboy star told an interviewer in 1992: "We tried to be honest with kids about right from wrong. We tried to put something in every picture that showed and proved to them that right always won out over wrong."

It helped matters immensely that Roy was a cowboy crooner. Many a wild coyote was soothed by the songs that he and Dale broke into on the range with the tumbling tumbleweeds. All was right with the world when Roy Rogers yodeled and made Trigger's ears twitch with pleasure.

"Happy trails to you until we meet again .... Happy trails to you, keep smilin' until then."

We look back now and realize how far we've come - how, in many ways, it's been a long, strange trail instead of the "happy" one he wished for us.

Somewhere in the attic there still may be that Roy Rogers six-shooter in its own leatherette holster, somewhere in that home one can't go home to again, where it was an American axiom that all little boys wanted to grow up to be just like Roy Rogers. When being a cowboy was all that a kid wanted to be.

* Richard Harsham is a freelance writer living in Cincinnati.

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