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Well, what can I say – or more appropriately what can I write – to explain another absence. The reason is simple. I got sidetracked by a new project – appropriately enough for this title – involving trains. My writing passion these past few months has been with screenplays. My earlier messages document my progress retelling the story of Betsie and Corrie ten Boom, who were imprisoned by the Nazis for sheltering Jews during the German occupation of Holland during World War II.

Running parallel with my writing is the attempt to learn more about the technical aspects of screenplay composition, such as formatting, as well as understanding the demands of the feature film industry. My pursuit to learn the latter proved something of a deterrent in completing my work about the Dutch sisters.

The industry, it seems, likes action over talk, showing instead of telling. There also seems to be some desire for true stories. Of this I am a bit skeptical when you consider the common fantasy fare at movie theaters and on streaming services. However, without any intention on my part this combination of action and true life adventure spurred a thought about a historic event of Biblical proportions although not based on the Bible. To explain this requires a personal bit of my own history.

Once upon a time I was the executive director of the Minnesota Transportation Museum. During my brief tour of duty in the Twin Cities an artist acquaintance of mine offered to donate a series of paintings he did to illustrate a story about an event known as the Great Hinckley Fire. The offer was made to me because Hinckley is in Minnesota and the story involves a train.

I said yes to the offer because I wanted to curry favor with the artist. I had no clue where Hinckley was located, no idea about the magnitude of the fire and virtually no knowledge about the railroad involved in the story. So mine was not a gesture of gratitude for illustrations of pertinent history, just a suck up for the prestige of having an instant and free collection of Ted Rose originals.

Ted’s gift also came with an autographed copy of the book written by Josephine Nobisso entitled John Blair and the Great Hinckley Fire. When I left the museum’s employ the paintings stayed with them. I took the book, which I still retain in my paltry private collection as a personal gift from an acquaintance.

In the midst of writing about the ten Booms I thought it acceptable to set aside some time to outline the events mentioned in the book. The focus of Nobisso’s creation is John Blair, the African-American porter on board the train, and his heroic efforts to comfort and save the passengers and Hinckley refugees seeking salvation from an immense conflagration. The outline was easy but it sparked some questions for the purpose of establishing a greater context to a limited aspect of a story presented in a children’s book replete with Ted’s illustrations.

Context requires research and research is demanding. I am now in possession of six more books and my own feature film script about the fire. I succumbed – not to the flames – but to the compelling accounts of people caught up in a conflagration of such magnitude, the fire created its own weather system. Now I can’t wait to see how it plays out on the big screen.


It’s not a pleasant way to start a new message, but I promised to share the news about the progress of my screenplay, Angel Unaware, when I heard anything from the contest judges. I did, yesterday, and I didn’t – make the cut that is. The semifinalists were announced sans yours truly. Despite the disappointment, I need to finish this series about writing my screenplay if only to remind myself of the steps in the journey.

When the thought first occurred to me to write a screenplay about Dale Evans and her decision to raise what in the 1950s was considered to be a “damaged” child, I was on the road so had little chance to access any resources other than what I could find on the internet. There are small dividends in doing this kind of initial research.

My first source was Dale’s obituary published in the February 8, 2001 edition of the Los Angeles Times. The obit was pretty lengthy and gave me several factual points to verify later as did that ubiquitous online fount of knowledge we know as Wikipedia. The true treasure of that source was in the Wiki’s footnotes, providing a fair sized list of published sources I hoped to locate when I got home. Here I was fortunate to find that my local library system had a sufficient line of these books to help me gather the necessary material needed for my project.

My first read was Dale’s own book – and the heart of my screenplay of the same title – Angel Unaware, published by the Fleming H. Revell Company in 1953. The story is a fanciful rendering of a conversation between God and Dale’s daughter, Robin, in which the child relates the accomplishments of her two-year mission on earth. It presents the case that a child with Down syndrome can foster in others the Christian virtues of faith, hope and love. Dale would always claim that the words were not her own; she merely recorded what God told her write of Robin’s story.

My next find through the library was Happy Trails: Our Life Story, published by Simon & Schuster in 1994. The authors are presented as Roy Rogers and Dale Evans with Jane and Michael Stern. The book’s format provides a combination of biography and oral history. Each section begins with a brief biographical statement written by the Sterns followed by a lengthy oral history provided by either Dale or Roy. The first person aspects of this account allowed for a greater assurance that the information came from the people who actually lived the events. Whether their memory of things forty years on was truly accurate is somewhat subject to question.

The Stern’s book led me to another great find written two decades earlier by Carlton Stowers. His book, Happy Trails: The story of Roy Rogers and Dale Evans, was also written in cooperation with Dale and Roy. Published by Word Books in 1979, it has the advantage of being fresher in their minds, while covering a shorter time frame. Comparing this with the material in the Stern’s book did reveal some slight discrepancies in the narrative, which is fairly common when studying history. When in doubt, I went with Stowers’ version of things on the premise that the earlier work was more reliable.

Next up was Cowboy Princess written by Cheryl Rogers-Barnett and Frank Thompson. Cheryl is the Rogers’ oldest daughter. Her book was published by Taylor Trade Publishing in 2003, which is after Dale’s passing in 2001. The fact that her parents were deceased likely helped her out them on a few minor points from the previously published material. Her version of events did confirm most of what was written, but the few departures from the other texts served to shape a few key events included in my screenplay. Her biggest reveal, though, was not included. She confirmed some peoples’ suspicions that there were two Triggers. One was the original big, beautiful and fast golden palomino you see in all the close-ups of Roy’s movies and television shows. The second was a slightly smaller and younger version of the horse, which did all the fancy tricks we saw on the big screen and TV.

Roy Jr., known as Dusty, also wrote a book about his childhood entitled Growing Up With Roy and Dale. Published by Regal Books in 1986, his collaborator in the storytelling was Karen Ann Wojahn. Like his older sister, Dusty made a few clarifications to the Rogers’ saga, but no great or glaring departures from what was previously written. In fact I would say that he and his sister were unanimous about their parents’ integrity. Both affirmed the truth about their parents being true to their public persona. What we saw in the movies and The Roy Rogers television show was what the children experienced at home. The Dale and Roy we saw in public were the same people in private life – a rare feature for Hollywood celebrities.

Another important find was King of the Cowboys, Queen of the West, written (or more accurately compiled) by Raymond E. White and published by the University of Wisconsin Press in 2005. The biographical information was rather scant. What White’s book did offer was a detailed listing of every verifiable public appearance, performance and publication involving Dale and Roy. This resource helped me place some of the material gleaned from the other books into a better understanding of the chronology and the professional context of events included in my script. I felt better about the sequence of my story arc thanks to this book.

Dale’s own final foray into autobiography occurred two years before her death. Dale Evans Rogers: Rainbow on a Hard Trail was initially published by Revell in 1999. The authorship was attributed to Dale Evans Rogers with Norman B. Rohrer. The edition I found in the library was a reprint by the Thorndike Press in 2001 with an introduction by Joni Eareckson Tada. The focus on this book was Dale’s later life and the challenges of surviving Roy. Still there were a few choice tidbits to be applied to the script and I shamelessly used a portion of the title as a line of dialogue at the end of my script.

I should also mention that I did read a portion of Dale’s book The Woman at the Well published by the Fleming H. Revell Company in 1970. What this book provided more than anything was Dale’s no nonsense examination of her own life, which some friends objected to for its self-deprecating honesty. I tried my best to infuse my screenplay with Dale’s courageously blunt attitude.

My final discoveries were two books I purchased since they were not available through the library. The first was Queen of the West: The Life and Times of Dale Evans written by Theresa Kaminski and published by Lyons Press in 2022. This most recent addition to the Evans’ life story was helpful in adding details missing from the other biographies. Kaminski’s bibliography indicated a much greater reliance on documentary evidence as opposed to the oral histories common to my other sources. The information she provided helped me to refine my own version of Dale and Roy’s story.

 The second book I discovered late in the process was The Angel Spreads Her Wings written by Maxine Garrison and published by the Fleming H. Revell Company in 1956. Garrison’s book focuses on the impact of Dale’s book Angel Unaware. Her insights were gained first hand as a member of Art Rush’s staff, Art being Dale and Roy’s agent. As with Kaminski’s book, Garrison’s personal revelations helped to clarify some vague points made in my other sources. She also provided me with a great line I used as dialogue for Dale regarding peoples’ expectations that the only writing a celebrity knows how to do is sign an autograph.

There is one more title I would like to share, which I discovered after finishing my screenplay and submitting it to the MovieGuide competition. The title is Happy Trails: A Pictorial Celebration of the Life and Times of Roy Rogers and Dale Evans by Chris Enss and Howard Kazanjian. It was published in 2022 by Trafalgar Square Books. I add it to my list of sources simply to show that peoples’ interest in the Queen of the West and the King of the Cowboys has not waned some seventy years after their television show ended. It is proof to me that any story about Dale and Roy is marketable.

And by the way; though my script failed to impress the folks at MovieGuide, I have submitted it to another contest, this one sponsored by ScreenCraft. I think Dale and Roy would be pleased with my sense of perseverance in the face of adversity. It is the cowboy way after all.


I am in the midst of chronicling my recent attempt to write a screenplay with the goal of submitting it to a competition sponsored by MovieGuide. Partial success came in the form of meeting the deadline for submission. The subplot of writing this series about writing the screenplay is intended to help pass the time while I wait to find out if further success is attainable, namely by making the cut as a semifinalist. That announcement won’t take place for another week or two, so it helps to keep the web log series going, filling my mind with something other than anxiety.

The screenplay is about Dale Evans and Roy Rogers, two of my childhood heroes. The focus of my story, though, is not about their celebrity status. What prompted me to feature them in this manner is a true-life episode in their lives, which touched my family’s, thereby inspiring me to reveal through a movie script the drama of being family in an unscripted reality.

Dale and Roy’s only natural born child was a little girl named Robin Elizabeth, a child with Down syndrome. Dale’s doctor advised them to institutionalize their new born daughter in keeping with the conventional wisdom of the day. The loving parents defied convention and welcomed Robin into the full embrace of their family for the brief two-year span of her life. Dale’s response to Robin’s death would help to shape people’s perception of children like Robin and others whom society deems to be less than normal.

My commitment to writing a faithful account of Dale and Roy’s decision to keep and raise their daughter immediately met a significant obstacle to faithfulness. A screenplay is typically written for a two-hour production, which limits the scope of the story. The number of people and events actually involved in any real life saga can simply overwhelm the attempt at a faithful recreation. A writer must therefore make some concessions to eliminating the clutter by ignoring a strict chronology and consolidating events and people. Here are my major concessions to efficiency in storytelling.

Doctors are key to Dale and Robin’s care and there were many of them involved in Robin’s diagnosis and treatment. I reduced the number to three; Dale’s obstetrician, Robin’s pediatrician and the head of pediatrics at the Mayo Clinic. I also reduced the number of ailments Dale and Robin endured. Dale was anemic, which I did mention. Her Rh negative blood type was important to the story as was her contacting Rubella during her pregnancy. I chose not to show her fall down a flight of stairs while pregnant. It struck me as too much drama for a story already overloaded with health issues.

Dale and Roy’s oldest daughter, Cheryl, wrote in her memoirs that Robin contracted polio during the last weeks of her life. This was affirmed by her brother Dusty. But neither Dale nor Roy ever mentioned it so I left it out. I also shortened the life ending episode, which saw Robin endure a series of convulsions over an extended period of time, during which she was given coffee enemas in order to “stimulate” her internal systems. I shortened the time frame, included one convulsion and nixed the enemas – too messy.

Robin had multiple live-in nurses, most of them unnamed in the available sources. Here again I made an executive decision to keep it simple and retained the most prominent of them, a woman named Claudia Jones. She impacted the family more than any others by insisting that Robin needed to be in a warmer climate than that afforded by the Rogers home in the Hollywood Hills. This motivated Dale and Roy to find a new home in Encino and for Dale to insist that a separate structure be built on the new site, where Robin and Claudia could live in relative peace from the Rogers busy and exuberant household, while still participating in family meals and prayer time. The move and subsequent construction made the cut.

Dale had three different agents during her early career. Roy had only one, Art Rush, who eventually took over Dale’s contract as well. He is the only agent mentioned in the screenplay. Art served as Roy’s best man when Dale and Roy married. Art’s wife, Mary Jo Mathews, was Dale’s matron of honor. Mary Jo became my surrogate for Dale’s many other female friends, keeping the cast small and allowing me to use Mary Jo as the confidant to whom Dale reveals her innermost thoughts.

Another consolidation was the use of the Sons of the Pioneers as Dale and Roy’s only backup band, even though Foy Willing and the Riders of the Purple Sage were more prominently featured in Roy’s movies and personal appearances. Roy was a founding member of the Sons of the Pioneers and it is the band most people my age associate with him. But it also allowed me to make consistent use of Pat Brady, Dale and Roy’s sidekick on the television show, who was also a sometime bass player for the Sons of the Pioneers.

Keeping the list of characters to a manageable number helped to declutter the storyline to suit my own sensibilities. I get lost watching movies with large casts, especially when actors look alike. My feeble brain and eyesight are easily confused by the similarities. Writing my own screenplay allowed me to minimize the confusion by consolidating people, places and events. Then there is the flipside.

Certain celebrities are commonly associated with Dale and Roy. Gabby Hayes and Andy Devine are prime examples; members of a larger western themed entourage of people cast in various roles in Roy’s movies and television show. Trigger, Pal (Dale’s movie horse), Buttermilk (Dale’s television horse) and Nellybelle all make appearances in the script because they resonate with people my age, whose emotional attachment to Dale and Roy encompass the animals and props. All are used to advance the story in what I hope is the best possible way.

Above all was my desire to maintain a credible story arc with a clear resolution to the hero’s journey. For me, Dale is the hero of this story, hence my practice of stating her name first instead of the usual convention enshrined in their film and television credits. We will see if the contest judges are swayed by my presentation. Stay tuned. I will let you know their decision as soon as I know it.

Act Three

Writing these weekly messages has given me an excellent opportunity to revisit the challenges of writing a screenplay on a topic loaded with strings attached to my childhood memories. This emotional infusion from the past enlivened what might otherwise have been the mundane pursuit of historical data for the creation of content and my self-education in the proper formatting of a script. Passion can confer fidelity on desire.

My script chronicles a seven-year story arc following the emotional journey of Dale Evans Rogers, wife of western hero Roy Rogers, the King of the Cowboys. The Dale and Roy pairing both onscreen and off was purely platonic until the death of Roy’s wife Arlene. Roy proposed to his costar a year later and the two were married on New Year’s Eve 1947.

The joy to be anticipated from this type of celebrity romance was quickly undermined by the resentment openly expressed by Roy’s oldest daughter towards her new step mom. Then there was Dale’s career troubles with Republic Studios, which saw her replaced as Roy’s playful nemesis by younger actresses. Act One of my little drama starts with Roy’s proposal to Dale on horseback at a rodeo and ends several months later with the birth of Dale and Roy’s only child, Robin Elizabeth Rogers, in August 1950.

This second chance at bliss was also thwarted with the news that Robin was a Down syndrome baby. Conventional wisdom in the 1950s encouraged parents to commit such a child to an institution before an emotional bond between mother and child had sufficient time to form. The supporting rationale was that the child would receive “professional” care for the duration of its brief life expectancy. Dale, with Roy’s blessing, defied convention and took her daughter home to be a vibrant member of the Rogers’ household.

Act Two follows the parallel challenges of caring for Robin and attempts to maintain Roy’s career. The B-western genre, which made Roy a Hollywood star, was on the decline. William Boyd and Gene Autry made the move to television. Roy soon followed with the wildly successful Roy Rogers Show of which I was a devoted fan. A myriad of doctor visits, however, did not produce the same type of happy ending for Robin’s health issues. Her funeral service took place on her second birthday, an ominous and difficult anniversary, especially for Dale.

Act Three focuses on Dale’s grieree focuses on Dale’f. Here is where I felt I had to be extremely careful in how I portrayed her reaction to her daughter’s death. Dale, herself, bared her soul in interviews and in her own writings in later years. I chose to use her own words as often as possible, when writing dialogue or directing the action. It would have been too easy otherwise to portray her as mimicking the clichés of grief in a poorly written script.

My one significant departure from Dale’s own account was the absence of tears. Again it would have been too easy to subsume Dale’s torment beneath a non-stop cycle of weepy depression. I chose to keep her articulate through an episode in which she literally shunned her deceased child. Dale refused to look on Robin following the child’s passing. She insisted that the casket be kept closed during the funeral service. She would later rebuke herself for her cowardice and for forcing Roy to make all the funeral arrangements on his own. To keep the portrayal of Dale honest, I included these elements in the screenplay sans the torrent of tears she admits flowed too often, which – if included – could obscure the critical elements in the storyline.

Out of this grim scenario came an event, which allowed Dale to gain a sense of meaning in Robin’s short life. She wrote the book, entitled Angel Unaware, in which she described a fanciful conversation between Robin and God shortly after the completion of what Dale termed Robin’s earthly mission. Dale went even further in her representation of authorship by claiming she simply took dictation. It was Robin’s story from first to last.

The process of finding a publisher is faithfully included in the script. It borders on the miraculous and I kept the story as close to Dale’s own account as possible so as not to glamorize the sequence of events as being tantamount to Moses talking to a burning bush. Keeping it credible allows skeptics room for coincidental rationalization.

Dale’s decision to assign all the royalties from book sales over to the National Association of Retarded Children, now known as the ARC, was transformational. The NARC was in its earliest stages of development. Their promotion of Angel Unaware drove sales thereby generating revenue for the organization. Dale’s book subsequently became an international bestseller.

There’s more to Act Three, but why spoil the ending for you? I am sure you are anxiously awaiting the movie to come to a theater near you or – more likely these days – to be streamed on your device. I will say that the screenplay has a happy ending, though not of the happily ever after type. Life just doesn’t offer us that form of bliss. Life keeps it real.

Act Two

In October I submitted my screenplay, Angel Unaware, to a writing competition sponsored by MovieGuide. The challenge to me was twofold. First I had to research my subject well enough to tell a compelling story. Second was the need to learn the formatting rules to craft a professional looking script. The first challenge I met through my local library and on-line sources. The second was met with the purchase of The Screenwriter’s Bible by Dave Trottier. I guess the third challenge I met was meeting the submission deadline, which I did with a few days to spare.

Trottier advises the writer to view a screenplay as a three act construct. Last week’s message acknowledged the mental anguish this fostered in me as my prior work as an administrator prompted me to view the organizations I managed as a seamless whole. Trottier, being my guide in all things script writing, prevailed in my thinking, so I drew convenient lines of demarcation in the story. And if you’ve followed the previous messages in this series, then you know the story is about Dale Evans and her impact on a grassroots movement to improve the opportunities for people with physical, emotional and intellectual challenges of their own.

Act One begins with Roy Roger’s proposal to Dale in the most appropriate setting, The Roy Rogers Rodeo, which took place in Chicago in the fall of 1957. It ends with the birth of their daughter in August 1950. This latter event, which should normally be viewed as joyous, was a time of great stress. Little Robin Elizabeth was born with Down syndrome, a condition often labeled as Mongolism because of the shape of the child’s eyes. The prevailing wisdom was to have such children put into an institution where they could receive “professional” care during their brief life expectancy. Dale and Roy defied that wisdom and saw Robin as God’s gift to them and their family. Their decision to take Robin home is my big event to the transition from Act One to Act Two in keeping with Trottier’s advice.

The substance of Act Two spans another two year period. During that time Dale and Roy saw many doctors in search of the best possible help for Robin. In addition to her overt symptoms of Down syndrome, Robin also had a heart condition. The sources I had access to never defined this condition in true medical terms, but it was apparent that it was a progressively deteriorating condition.

Robin’s presence changed the Rogers’ household for the better. Previously tense relationships were transformed as the power of love became increasingly apparent to everyone. It was during this time that Dale wrote the song, which ultimately became synonymous with Dale and Roy’s western persona, Happy Trails. A new conflict arose, however, with the arrival of a nurse to care for Robin while Dale was on the road making public appearances with Roy. Mother and nurse were immediately at odds over the proper manner in which to care for Robin. Running parallel to that little drama was the cancellation of Roy’s movie contract with Republic Studios.

Dale and the nurse did reconcile. Roy moved into television, following the example of his B-western cowboy contemporaries William Boyd, of Hopalong Cassidy fame, and Gene Autry. And while Roy’s career problems culminated in a happy ending, Robin’s health and happiness did not.

Dale and Roy’s other three children came down with the mumps at the same time. Robin was kept in isolation to avoid contact with her siblings, but to no avail. Robin came down with the mumps, which digressed rapidly in a series of convulsions, which in turn led to encephalitis. Her heart simply could not endure the stress. The end of Act Two and the transition into Act Three came with the housekeeper’s two-word announcement to the desperate parents that “She’s gone.”

Act Three concerns the aftermath of Robin’s death – the challenges to Dale and Roy’s faith in a loving God and the search for meaning behind a tragic event. The title to a C. S. Lewis book, A Grief Observed, could easily serve as the theme of my third and final act. It reveals the true character of our celluloid heroes and provides the answer as to why I regard Dale’s story as one worth telling. Stay tuned.

Act One

This year I wrote and submitted to a writing competition a screenplay about Dale Evans. In the aftermath of this seven month project, I decided to use my experience with this new form of expression to kick start my dormant commitment to write a weekly blog. Writing about writing allows me to evaluate my work by drafting a coherent statement for others to read and – if successful – to understand the what and the why of my effort.

My preceding messages in this series shared a little bit of insight into how Dale’s life touched mine in a way that had little to do with her Hollywood celebrity. Personal tragedy and the faith which sustained her influenced my mother, which in turn shaped in part how mom raised my brothers and me. I was as unaware as any angel of this sequence and its significance on our family when I was a child. Looking back now, from the perspective of a white-haired survivor, I can better appreciate what motivated mom in how she dealt with us.

But that is not the point of the screenplay. Dale’s emergence from the valley of the shadow of death is, especially as it served as a catalyst in altering society’s perspective about people born with various physical and intellectual differences from what we consider the norm. Mom’s tenuous connection with Dale inspired me to share Dale’s story in the most appropriate manner concerning a prominent movie and television personality, a script. Writing the screenplay allowed me to close the loop of influence from Dale to mom to me and back to Dale. It’s been a precious journey.

Screenplay’s have their own format of which I was totally ignorant at the outset. I started writing anyway as the desire to tell Dale’s story exceeded the depth of my ignorance. Word processing is very flexible. My document took on the look of a short story with paragraphs resembling one-liners. I knew to separate dialogue from narrative, but that was about the limit. It was a start, which allowed me to pursue my goal while waiting to overcome my professional deficiency as a writer. This deficit, though, had to be remedied if I had any hope of meeting the submission standards for the writing competition sponsored by MovieGuide.

The source of my deliverance from screenwriting ignominy was The Screenwriter’s Bible by David Trottier. His book met my expectations and then some. All the formatting rules were there, though cumbersome to replicate in a Word document. My resolution to create some efficiency in the process was to purchase screenwriting software, Final Draft being the most highly recommended. What a marvel. We misers miss out on a lot since we fail to see the value of investing a little in order to receive a meaningful return on our investment. Fortunately I played against type and spent the money to gain some literary success.

Trottier’s advice inspired me to analyze my story from more than a mere formatting perspective. His key word was structure, which has as much to do with technique as it does with the placement of the words on the page. My first challenge was to conceive of my story as having three parts – beginning, middle and end – with major events or turning points, providing a bridge between segments. This goes against my past management philosophy, which emphasized looking at the organization I managed as being of one seamless piece. Segmenting was not in my methodology. For a business organization, whose name is intentionally derived from the word organism, everything works but not in linear sequence. You strive instead for a state of perpetual unison. To write my screenplay I jettisoned the old mindset for the new.

Then there was the need for a catalyst – the singular event that launches the main character into a quest to reestablish their equilibrium. And overall was the awareness that movies and television are visual media. The challenge becomes one of show versus tell. Again this posed an innate conflict with my management experience, where reporting on performance might include charts and graphs, but the emphasis was on verbal and written elucidation for the purpose of suasion. I did my best to follow Trottier’s advice in this as in all other things of movie wisdom.

Making use of Trottier’s premise that all screenplays have three parts or acts, Act One for my screenplay, Angel Unaware, follows Dale’s story from the night Roy proposed to her at a rodeo appropriately enough  in the fall of 1947 (the catalyst) to the birth of their daughter, Robin Elizabeth Rogers, in August 1950. The big event, which launches us into Act Two is the decision to defy the doctor’s well-intentioned, though unacceptable recommendation, to have Robin committed to an institution. This was common practice in the day for an infant like Robin, who was born with Down syndrome. The prevailing wisdom was to make a severe separation at the outset so that the parents, particularly the mother, would not develop an attachment to a child who would ultimately drain the family of its emotional strength and potentially its financial resources.

To convey the depth of Dale’s emotional commitment to her daughter, I did my best to create a visual aspect of the scene to supplement the dialogue. In a gesture of intimacy between Dale and Roy, I crafted a moment where a vulnerable Dale, lying in her hospital bed, draws Roy close by grasping the lapel of his western jacket. This gesture, by the way, foreshadows a similar one (another Trottier device), which takes place at the end of Act Two.

With Roy close, Dale whispers her plea for Robin’s benefit. This entails a brief revelation of her backstory, which is the topic of last week’s message, and her own decision to abandon her career for Robin’s sake. Having Roy stoop down to hear his wife’s plaintiff cry, requires him to stand up straight to express their resolution to the doctors, “We’re going home. The three of us.”

This visual/verbal combination is our entrée into Act Two, which is next week’s message.

Whatever Happened to Francis Octavia Smith?

The person we Boomers know and love as Dale Evans was born Francis Octavia Smith on October 31, 1912 in Uvalde, Texas. Her transformation from obscure small town girl to prominent Hollywood celebrity in the 40s and 50s is a little known story publicists did their best to keep hidden, for good reason. It did not fit the profile of a wholesome heroine suitable for the likes of the King of the Cowboys. 

Francis’ education began at home. She credited her parents with teaching her “letters” and “numbers” before she entered school at age 7. As a result young Francis was promoted directly into the third grade. She was advanced again and by age 11 started the 8th grade. Her status as an academic prodigy ended there. The stress of her school work and the lack of a supportive, age appropriate peer group caused a nervous breakdown that year. She spent the following summer in bed recuperating.

Francis loved music. Her precocious nature, however, drove her to play her own improvised melodies instead of the assigned scales. Her rebellion drove her poor teacher to proclaim that young Francis was wasting her (the teacher’s) time and her parent’s money. That ended the lessons.

Francis attended church with her parents. An itinerant evangelist came to town, who presented the message of salvation in such a dramatic and straightforward way that it frightened her. She wrote many years later, “That evangelist opened the gates of hell and I had a good look at it; I was so thoroughly frightened at the prospect of spending eternity in such a miserable and terrifying place that I reached out desperately for the hand of the Savior.”

Francis reached, but it was more a gesture of desperation to avoid the flames than a heartfelt embrace of the faith, hope and charity she would later celebrate in song. The problem with complete submission is that it struck Francis as confining, a loss of personal control. She admitted that “…being gregarious, aggressive and self-assertive, and with a consuming zest for colorful adventure, I still had a notion that God might hold me back from something I wanted to do on my own.”

God did not hold Francis back from being persuaded by an older classmate to elope. Francis was 14 when she made that fateful decision, easily ascribed to a promiscuous nature. At 15 she gave birth to a son, named for his father, Thomas Fox. And at 16 she was divorced. Tom senior said he made a mistake and abandoned his child bride and infant son. Francis would later say of the child, “The marriage turned out to be a dismal failure – but God sent me a son who did not become a failure. My boy Tom was to become the shining light of my life.”

Francis married a second time about a year later. This marriage proved to be worse than her elopement. The divorce records reveal the cause for the separation to be spousal and child abuse. Young Francis went from being abandoned to being battered. The mature Dale Evans was open about her troubled past except for this one tragic episode. She never talked or wrote about this second marriage, which gives us some inclination of just how bad things were for her and her son.

Undeterred, Francis pursued her dream of becoming a Broadway musical star. Her humble beginning took place at radio station WHAS in Louisville, Kentucky as a staff singer. The station manager didn’t care for her real name or her own chosen stage name, Marian Lee. Overnight she became Dale Evans. The Dale was in honor of the station manager’s favorite silent screen heroine, Dale Winter. The Evans, he claimed, gave the name a euphonious sound. “It could roll easily off the lips of radio announcers.”

Dale Evans found a slightly improved fame by moving to Chicago to perform wherever she could land more promising gigs. Poverty ensued. It also brought her husband number three. A Hollywood agent heard her sing, however, and brought her west to audition for the Bing Crosby, Fred Astaire movie Holiday Inn. It wasn’t Broadway but it was a musical.

The agent was appalled when he met Dale. She was too old, 28, and too married. Her fashion sense did not fit the Southern California lifestyle. Worst of all, she had a child. The makeover she underwent before meeting the movie’s casting director required Dale to lie excessively. She dropped seven years off her age, conveniently avoided any reference to being married, had her hair, makeup and clothes done up in an acceptable fashion and passed her son off as her younger brother.

The amusing part of this façade is that Dale finally put her foot down when the agent told the casting director that Dale could dance with the likes of Astaire. Dale outed herself on that one point, but not the rest. It cost her the opportunity to audition for the part that eventually went to Marjorie Reynolds. She did, however, get a contract with a movie studio, while continuing to sing at nightclubs and on radio.

The deceit about her age, marital status and motherhood continued with other makeover requirements thrown in for good measure. She went to a spa to lose weight, had her teeth capped and took elocution lessons in order to drop her Texas accent. Pinup quality photos were taken to help publicize this promising young starlet. But her acting did not impress anyone and her prospects in Hollywood appeared dormant until that fateful pairing with a popular western hero, Roy Rogers, in the movie The Cowboy and the Senorita.

This was not the beginning of a romance. Roy was faithfully married to his second wife, Arlene, and they had two children. Arlene died as a consequence of giving birth to their third child, Roy Jr., aka Dusty. That was early November 1946. Dale and Roy were married a year later on New Year’s Eve 1947. Wedded bliss did not automatically follow. Louella Parsons publicly revealed the truth about Tom Jr. being Dale’s son instead of her younger brother. And Roy’s older daughter, Cheryl, resented Dale’s intrusion to the extent that she demanded to be sent to a boarding school at age seven. Roy complied.

A different type of transformation was needed in order for Francis Octavia Smith to find the happiness she sought in a supportive, loving family. Spiritual in nature, the makeover was internal and brought about the change she needed to solidify a loving nature in all of her relationships. Little Francis finally came of age as the Dale Evans we all saw and admired on The Roy Rogers Show. This was also the Dale Evans who graciously endured a series of tragic events in her second life, which were too improbable for any of her B-western or television scripts.

Still, it is worth the attempt to tell part of this story and my screenplay, Angel Unaware, focuses on one of those events; the birth of Dale and Roy’s daughter, Robin Elizabeth Rogers, a child with Down syndrome. She is the angel of the title, whose two-year mission on earth inspired a book and now a screenplay.

End Game First

Mom loved Hallmark Christmas movies. During the few years I served as her caregiver, I could count on seeing bits and pieces of these feel good masterpieces as soon as they began to air, which was around the 4th of July, as I recall.

Fast forward to a time not long after mom’s passing, when I was entertaining my wife with an amusing account of mom’s fondness for such holiday romances. I made the fatal mistake, as I am prone to do, of saying that I could write a better screenplay. My wife, true to her character, said “Prove it,” a two-word statement she has said to me countless times since we first started dating. I am not sure even yet if she has ever been satisfied as a consequence of one of my boasts.

I did, however, complete a screenplay of a non-Hallmark Christmas movie written for a Hallmark audience. The substance of that epic is not germane to this message. What is, and the reason I begin with telling these few salient facts, is that the screenplay, which is the subject of this blog series, basically has its origins at the conjunction of mom’s love of Christmas movies, my wife’s challenge to man-up once again, and a comment recorded in last week’s message about the impact of Dale Evans Rogers on our perception of people whose physical and mental development falls short of what we perceive as normal.

Dale wrote a book entitled Angel Unaware. Its publication in 1953 was timely as it nicely coalesced with a national movement of parents seeking to provide more and better opportunities for their children labeled with the once acceptable though pejorative word retarded. Dale’s celebrity as the Queen of the West, the wife of Roy Rogers and the mother of a daughter with Down syndrome, resulted in her book becoming an international bestseller. It changed peoples’ attitudes and the donated royalties from book sales helped establish the National Association for Retarded Children, now simply known as The Arc. 

When I heard Dale’s son-in-law make the comment about Dale’s book changing the willingness of parents to bring their less than perfect children out of the shadows and into Dale and Roy’s rodeo audience to see their western heroes perform, I knew instantly what I wanted to do; first, to research the backstory of Larry Barnett’s comment and second to tell the story in a screenplay format. After all, what better format could there be for telling Dale and Roy’s story than in a script?

All of that was achieved in a scant seven months in time to meet the deadline for a script writing contest, known as the Kairos Prize, offered by MovieGuide. Therein resides another appropriate aspect of this project. Dale and Roy were devout Christians. The primary purpose of the Kairos Prize is to further the influence of moral and spiritual values within the film and television industries. You can define these values as Christian. Dale and Roy lived them, on screen and off.

There is a financial reward for the prize winner. Trust me, please. Submitting my script to this contest was not about the money. The more research I did into the life of Dale Evans and Roy Rogers the more important the story became to me. Hers in particular emerged as the dominant feature and the reason why I started writing her name first instead of using their customary billing. Next week I will share some of what I found out about her by answering the question “Whatever happened to Francis Octavia Smith?”

Angel Unaware

It’s been several weeks since I posted a message to what is supposed to be a weekly blog. The reason for my absence from this website is my obsession with a writing project of a far different kind; a screenplay of all things, for which my administrative professional career did not prepare me in the least.

My interest in writing this particular screenplay stems from a serendipitous moment this past February. I came across a brief interview via You Tube in which Cheryl Rogers Barnett, the oldest daughter of Dale and Roy Rogers, assured the interviewer that there was no difference between the characters we saw portrayed in each episode of The Roy Rogers Show and the real life couple she called mom and dad.

My purpose for writing the screenplay is the result of a comment made by Cheryl’s husband Larry near the end of the interview. He spoke of a time when Roy showed him a video taken at one of their rodeo shows. It was Dale and Roy’s custom to conclude each show by making a circuit of the arena and shaking hands with every child along the railing.

At a point in the rodeo video Roy pointed to a section in the audience where children with physical disabilities were gathered. Roy’s comment to his son-in-law was that they never saw children like this in the audience before Dale wrote her book Angel Unaware. His comment resonated with me immediately. It brought back a host of childhood memories, complete with all the joys and sorrows of life and their perpetual ramifications, which cannot be avoided.

Dale’s book, published in 1953, recounts the brief life – a scant two years – of Robin Elizabeth Rogers, Dale and Roy’s only natural born child. We had this book in our home. My mother purchased a copy, I believe, as a consequence of hearing Dale speak at The Church of the Open Door in downtown Los Angeles. She took me with her most likely because she knew I was an avid fan of Dale and Roy’s television show.

My mother passed away in 2017 so I cannot verify the accuracy of what follows. Rather ihis is me trying to piece together events, which occurred more than sixty years ago. But even if my memory is faulty, how I remember things is key to why I committed these past few months to a writing project well outside of my prior experiences.

What possessed my mother to venture into Los Angeles from the relative safety of our suburban home to hear Dale speak and to purchase her book was that she shared the same blood distinction that Dale had, a negative Rh factor. Little was known of this condition in the early fifties other than it did pose a threat to an unborn child if precautions were not taken at birth. How it affected the unborn’s prenatal development, if at all, was still subject to speculation.

I believe my mother feared that the child she was carrying would suffer the same fate as Robin Rogers, a child born with Down syndrome, a potentially fatal heart condition and a short life expectancy.

We know now that Down syndrome is the result of a chromosomal anomaly, but not then. My brother was born without any outward sign of a problem. My mother, however, was never free of the fear that there was something wrong with him as a consequence of her blood type. She carried this secret with her until the final days of her life, when I was her caregiver and she unburdened herself by sharing some intimate stories about her life and ours as a family.

Larry Barnett’s comment brought all of this to the forefront of my thinking, touching sensitive and unresolved issues, which must remain forever buried with the bodies of those I loved.  So this message, which shares the title of Dale’s book and my screenplay, is intended to introduce a new blog series, allowing me to share a personal journey of remembrance and discovery with the potential of a happy ending.

Do Your Soul A Favor

My goal of posting weekly messages has been on hiatus for about a month, but that does not mean that I have not been writing. There are just a few other projects demanding my attention at this time.

Like most people I am aware and quite concerned about the invasion of the Ukraine by the Russian army in deference to that nation’s political leadership. I have followed some of the news stories posted on-line; a compelling drama which has displaced Covid’s news dominance of the past two years.

Unlike other bloggers, however, I have no insights to share about the outcome of the war or the prospects of a political coup in Russia. What the heartache of this event has inspired in me is the opportunity to suggest to anyone reading this message is to do your soul a favor and access any on-line version of the song This Is My Song performed to the tune of Finlandia or, more specifically, the Finlandia Hymn.

The original musical composition has an interesting an appropriate history of its own. The musical piece written by Finnish composer Jean Sibelius in 1899 was part of a cultural protect performed at an event known as the Press Celebrations of 1899. The protest was against Russian oppression and its resulting censorship of the Finnish press. It would appear, then, that whether ruled by Czars or Bolsheviks, Russian methodology does not change. Freedom is not in their vocabulary.

Sibelius’ composition is, for the most part, rather turbulent in keeping with the since of oppression under which Finlanders then lived. But there is a section near the end of the piece which has been excised for the purpose of making use of its pleasantly melodic qualities for choral purposes. One version is the Finlandia Hymn, which proclaims a new birth of freedom when Finland gained its independence. Another use is the Christian hymn, Be Still, My Soul.

For my purposes, the lyrics I would like to promote as a song of hope in light of the developments in the Ukraine is the 1934 version by Lloyd Stone. His is a song of universal peace, acknowledging that the love he has for his own country is a sentiment shared by others around the world for the land they live in and love equally well. His lyrics are neither red nor blue, east nor west, occidental nor Asiatic.  

So do your soul a favor. Access this song on-line. Perhaps learn the words and sing them in response to the evil that men do.

This is my song, O God of all the nations;
A song of peace for lands afar and mine.
This is my home, the country where my heart is;
Here are my hopes, my dreams, my holy shrine.

But other hearts in other lands are beating
With hopes and dreams as true and high as mine.
My country’s skies are bluer than the ocean,
And sunlight beams on clover leaf and pine.

But other lands have sunlight too and clover,
And skies are everywhere as blue as mine.
Oh, hear my song, O God of all the nations,
A song of peace for their land and for mine.

PS – Thank you YouTuber Tarja M for the history lesson on Sibelius’ composition.