May 15, 2013

Happy Trails to Homophobes: The Roy Rogers Show

When I was a kid in the 1960s, preachers and Sunday school teachers hated all mass media: rock music ("the devil's music!"), science fiction ("atheism and evolution!"), Casper the Friendly Ghost ("the occult!").  They really, really hated television.

Did The Man from U.N.C.L.E. ever ask God's guidance in fighting the Communists?
Did The Beverly Hillbillies ever bow their heads and say grace before eating Granny's vittles?
The Flying Nun tried to brainwash you into becoming an evil Catholic.

The only program they approved of was Roy Rogers, about a singing cowboy named Roy Rogers, played by...um...long-time singing cowboy star Roy Rogers.  He never said grace before meals, either, but in real life he was a fundamentalist Christian who always mentioned God in interviews and included Christian songs in his live performances.

The preachers didn't realize that his show (1951-57) had been off the air for over ten years.  But I must have caught glimpses of the Saturday morning reruns (1961-65), because I remember hating it.  Hardly any gay content at all.


1. Like Fess Parker's Daniel Boone, Roy didn't hang out with guys like "real" cowboys.  He had a wife, Dale Evans, who sometimes rode next to him in her petite cowboy skirt, but usually stayed home to run a restaurant.

2. Like Daniel Boone, this wasn't the Old West. They had electric lights, telephones, and cars. As a kid, I found that idiotic. Why would you ride a horse if cars were available?

3.  No beefcake of any sort.  Like Fess Parker, Roy never unbuttoned a button on-screen.  There were a few semi-nude shots in movie magazines, but nothing memorable. The top photo, with Roy eating a hot dog, may look promising, but according to Darwin Porter's autobiographical novel Rhinestone Country, the "squinty-eyed homophobe" was not particularly gifted beneath the belt.

4. No dreamy boys or muscular men. Roy was hideous, with a face like a mask and tiny, beady eyes. The only other male star was Pat Brady, the cook at Dale's restaurant,  a gawky, comic-relief character who drove a jeep named Nellybelle.

5. The closing song, "Happy Trails to You," sung by the disembodied heads of Roy and Dale, freaked me out.  I distinctly remember them singing it to "cheer up" some kid dying in the hospital.  Mememto mori, a reminder of the transience of life and the inevitability of death -- not what a four-year old wants to hear about while eating his Coco Puffs on Saturday morning.

The only gay content: some buddy-bonding potential, I guess.  Roy and Pat starred in many movies together during the 1940s, and were close friends in real life.