This piece was published in the Pasadena Star News on February 18, 2001.
On February 7, 2001, Dale Evans joined her beloved Roy, on the happy trail at last. I was saddened to learn of her death. It is the end of an era, a very happy and loving one, and it may never return.
When I learned of her passing, I was taken back to a jungle gym on a hot summer morning in the 1950’s. My two friends and I were reenacting a scene from the Roy Rodgers and Dale Evan’s TV show. We needed one person to be “Roy,” one to be the “Indian,” and one to be “Dale.”
My playmates were both male and wanted me to be Dale because I was a girl. I wanted to be the Indian so I could crouch at the top of the jungle gym and pounce on Roy as he rode by on his horse Trigger.
After a heated discussion, we decided that Dale was back at the ranch. One boy would play Roy, while the other boy and I would be Indians, ready to pounce. The boys knew I was a serious tomboy and would never play Dale Evans. Much to my mother’s dismay, I could beat up most of the boys in my neighborhood, especially if they tried to kiss me.
Everyone in my neighborhood watched the Roy Rogers and Dale Evan's show on their black and white TV. As my brothers and sisters and I sprawled in front of it on lazy summer afternoons, we watched shows about brave men who went off on adventures, as their worried women looked on.
Dale always looked concerned as Roy rode away on Trigger. That’s why I wanted to be Roy, so I could ride away on a horse. That’s why my mother worried.
Eventually I grew to accept my feminine side and began to like boys, when not competing with them. I went through the sixties, feminism, liberation, glass ceilings, divorce, and remarriage. Somewhere in there I began to reconsider Dale Evans. She wasn’t Dale Rogers, she was Dale Evans. She kept her own name.
Several years ago I watched an aging Roy and Dale being interviewed on a TV show. The host challenged Dale, and asked her to defend her supporting role, always subservient to Roy, the man. I’ll never forget her answer.
She said she was honored to be Roy’s wife, that they relished their traditional roles. Her dedication to her man was unabashed, unapologetic, and clear as a dinner bell. She looked the host in the eye and told him that every morning Roy brought her a cup of coffee in bed.
A cup of coffee in bed is a small gesture; a thank you to a woman who stood by as Roy jumped on Trigger’s back and took off. She always said, “be careful, Roy.” Although I wanted to be Roy in the worst way, I admired Dale’s leather skirt with the fringe. Though she didn’t charge off on a horse, she did enjoy a cup of coffee in bed.
Eventually I began to want to be like Dale, a girl who kept her name and looked cool in her skirt with the fringe. Her confidence in her role helped me forge mine. It was different from hers, but I felt free to choose my own path.
At the end of the show, the couple crooned the famous tune about “happy trails,” and “seeing you again.” I am confident that Dale will find her Roy as she joins him on a new trail. Perhaps this time she will jump on the horse while Roy admonishes her to be careful.
No matter where they find themselves, they will find their way – together.
Kathleen Vallee Stein