True West magazine
The Cowboy and the Senorita: A Biography of Roy Rogers and Dale Evansby Chris Enss, Howard Kazanjian
Roy Rogers and Dale Evans ruled the West from the silver screen as the King of Cowboys and and Queen of the West. Off screen, this husband and wife duo raised a family and lived the "Code of the West." Now, in this new biography, named for their first feature film as a pair, the Rogers family shares the inside story of these beloved Western icons, detailing their
Roy Rogers and Dale Evans ruled the West from the silver screen as the King of Cowboys and and Queen of the West. Off screen, this husband and wife duo raised a family and lived the "Code of the West." Now, in this new biography, named for their first feature film as a pair, the Rogers family shares the inside story of these beloved Western icons, detailing their personal struggles and rise to stardom, the lives of their children, the tragedies that befell their family, and their memories of Roy and Dale and Trigger and other sidekicks on the silver screen and behind the scenes. More than sixty photographs of the couple at work and at home are included.
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Read an Excerpt
The Cowboy and the SenoritaA Biography of Roy Rogers and Dale Evans
By Kazanjian, Howard
Two Dot BooksCopyright © 2004 Kazanjian, Howard
All right reserved.
Lights from a giant marquee over a dilapidated movie house in Gretna Green, Texas, pierced through the dark street stretched out before the building. Black letters over the bright, white sign read, "Riders of the Purple Sage" starring Tom Mix and "Where the Worst Begins" starring Ruth Roland." An anxious group of nine and ten year old boys and girls race up to the box office and exchanged their nickels for a ticket. Clutching their prize they hurry into the theatre. From the lobby they can hear that the cartoon has already started. A cranky usher dressing in red, military style garb, tear the children's tickets and point them in the direction of the screening. Hurrying past the refreshment stand, they nearly run head long into a teenage girl named Frances Fox, standing just outside a phone booth.
Francis is an attractive young lady with dark features and a slim figure. She's so preoccupied she barely takes notice of the excited children as they burst through the theatre doors. She reluctantly steps inside the phone booth. She sighs a long, heavy sigh and blinks away a tear as she picks up the receiver and deposits coins into the machine.
Francis timidly asks the operator to connect her to the Smith residence in Uvalde, Texas. It rings twice before anyone on the other end picks it up. The frail voice of an older woman answers. Francis says nothing for a moment. She's too nervous to speak. "'Mother," she finally asks. "Oh, thank God. Francis is it you? Are you all right?" came the response.
Francis assured her mother that she was well. Her mother confirmed what the teenager already knew, her parents had been worried about her. It was Monday and their fourteen-year-old daughter had been gone all weekend.
"I have good news," Francis blurted out. 'I'm married."
An awful, throbbing silence passed between them. Walter and Betty Sue Smith were shocked at their first child's admission. When they last spoke with Francis she had told them she was going to a play rehearsal at school and then staying the night with a girlfriend. Now their only daughter had eloped. Francis went on to tell them that she and the boy she had been secretly seeing, had driven across the state line into Tennessee and tied the knot there.
"We want you to come home,"' Betty Sue softly urged. "We'll work this out and you can go back to school."
Francis was a junior in high school with exceptional grades. "You can graduate in another year," she pauses. Francis steadfastly refused to do as her mother suggested. "All I want now is to be a good wife and to start a home of my own," Francis explained. Another wave of silence fell over the mother and daughter.
Betty Sue had been afraid this would happen. At thirteen she felt Francis was too young to date, but she agreed to let her attend courthouse dances with her daughter and act as a chaperone. It was at one of those dances that Francis met her first steady, a boy in his late teens who was now her husband. Walter and Betty Sue realized the two were spending too much time together and forbade Francis from seeing him, but the pair were determined to be together.
Francis's early rebellion was not driven by an unhappy home life. "I had a wonderful childhood," she would later recall. "I never lacked attention and I loved that." Frances attributed her impetuous actions to being young and madly in love.
Francis Octavia Smith was born on October 31, 1912. Her father was a farmer and the owner-operator of a hardware store. Her mother was a homemaker. Walter and Betty Sue were musically inclined. Walter sang Gospel songs and Betty Sue played the piano. They nurtured their two children's love for music. Francis and her brother, Hillman had fine singing voices. Frances made her singing debut at the family church at the age of three. It was then she began dreaming of being a performer. In addition to being talented, she was very bright. In a short time, Francis skipped several grades in school. By the time she was twelve she was a freshman in high school.
Walter and Betty Sue believed their children were capable of great things. They were disappointed that Francis sidelined her creative aspirations to get married. Betty Sue said of her daughter, "Francis is too impulsive; she means well, but she rushes into things before she thinks them through."
Francis and her new husband moved in with his parents and he went to work for his father. The pair had a difficult time settling into domestic life. Francis's husband was restless and left.her twice in their first six months of marriage. She was miserable and by this time pregnant.
Walter and Betty Sue were planning a move to Memphis and managed to convince Francis to come along with them. She agreed, hoping her husband would follow after her and their unborn child. When their son, Tom, was born he was by her side. But he would soon leave again and this time for good. Days after his abrupt departure he sent a letter to Francis telling her their marriage had been a mistake and that he was too young to be tied down to a wife and son. He wanted a divorce and no amount of pleading from Francis would change his mind.
Francis's parents offered to help her raise her baby and to help her get back on her feet. Heartbroken and feeling very much alone, she agreed. Her child was a great comfort to her however. "He's the shining light of my life," she would say. She strongly objected to her parent's suggestion that they adopt her son. "Tommy Fox was my child, I loved him dearly, and it would be I who would took care of him," she would later recall.
It wasn't until a year after her son was born that she could bring herself to file for divorce. At seventeen, she was a single mother in search of a way to provide for her boy. Her stellar grades enabled her to enroll in business school without a high school diploma. A job in the corporate world would put food on the table, but her ultimate career goal leaned more toward the creative. She wanted to sing and write music.
Francis sat alone in the insurance company where she worked as a secretary. It was lunch time and everyone was out of the office. A blank accident claim form was waiting in the typewriter for her to fill out. She sat with her fingers poised over the keys humming. Her eyes shifting from the form to a picture of her baby on the corner of the desk.
She hums louder as she glances out the window at the mountains in the near distance, then breaks into a chorus of a song no one but her has heard before. She snatches up a nearby piece of paper and jots down the lyrics. She reads over the tune and begins singing what she's written.
'There's a ceiling of blue above, and some trees peaceful as a dove. No wonder that people love hazy mountains...'
She smiles to herself. For a moment she sees beyond her hardships and she's center stage, singing for an audience, her parents and her little boy.
Excerpted from The Cowboy and the Senorita by Kazanjian, Howard Copyright © 2004 by Kazanjian, Howard. Excerpted by permission.
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Meet the Author
Chris Enss is an author, scriptwriter and comedienne who has written for television and film, and performed on cruise ships and on stage. In 1995 she co-wrote and voiced one-minute vignettes on gold rush history for KNCO radio in Grass Valley, California. She then went on to produce an audiotape about the Yuba Donner Scenic Byway for the Tahoe National Forest, which led to her first book with Globe Pequot, With Great Hope: Women of the California Gold Rush, published in 2000. Her second book, Love Untamed: Romances of the Old West, was released by Globe Pequot in June 2002. Gilded Girls: Women Entertainers of the Old West was issued in May 2003, and She Wore a Yellow Ribbon: Women Soldiers, was published in 2004.
Howard Kazanjian is an award-winning producer and entertainment executive who has been producing feature films and television programs for more than twenty-five years. While vice president of production for Lucasfilm Ltd., he produced two of the highest grossing films of all time: Raiders of the Lost Ark and Star Wars: Return of the Jedi. He also managed production of another top-ten box-office hit, The Empire Strikes Back. Some of his other notable credits include The Rookies, Demolition Man, and the two-hour pilot and first season of J.A.G.
In 2004 Enss and Kazanjian published another Globe Pequot book, Happy Trails: A Pictorial Celebration of the Life and Times of Roy Rogers and Dale Evans.
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