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.