Roy Rogers's cowgirl partner both on and off the screen

 

Actress-singer Dale Evans, who earned the title "Queen of the West" by starring with her husband, Roy Rogers, in 27 cowboy films and writing their theme song, Happy Trails, died on February 7th aged 88.

Dale Evans, who also co-starred with her husband on the popular 1950s NBC television series The Roy Rogers Show, started out as a big-band singer in the 1930s. She teamed up with Rogers in 1944 in The Cowboy and the Senorita. They married in 1947 after the sudden death of Rogers's first wife and went on to become the most famous husband and wife team on the big screen. Rogers died in 1998.

With a bright, cheery presence, Dale Evans proved to be an able partner and sidekick who could ride, rope and sing with the best of them in such films as The Yellow Rose of Texas, My Pal Trigger, and Apache Rose.

She and Rogers rode together - he on Trigger, she on Buttermilk - in 27 films in all. But their on-screen chemistry was never anything but clean and wholesome, and Rogers recalled that he couldn't even plant a chaste kiss on Dale Evans's forehead without unleashing a torrent of protest mail.

"I had to kiss the horse," he once quipped.

Dale Evans's composition, Happy Trails, endured for decades as the couple's signature song, which closed each of their television appearances and was cited by the US TV Guide recently as one of the most popular TV themes of all time.

Born Frances Octavia Smith in Uvalde, Texas, Dale Evans spent her early years in Arkansas, where she was married at 16 and widowed at 17. To earn a living and support her baby son, she worked as a stenographer for an insurance company before getting a job as nightclub vocalist with the Anson Weeks Orchestra, as well as appearing on numerous radio programmes, with a regular spot on the CBS News and Rhythm Show.

In 1941, after a brief marriage to Dale Butts, a musician, she applied to Paramount for a part opposite Bing Crosby in Holiday Inn. She didn't get it, but her screen test was seen at 20th Century-Fox, and she was given

a year's contract. After a couple of bit parts in films, including Orchestra Wives (1942), in which she was billed merely as "Girl at Soda Fountain", Dale Evans was offered bigger roles at Republic Pictures, when a producer there heard her on the Edgar Bergen Radio Show. At Republic, she was cast opposite Roy Rogers in The Cowboy and the Senorita.

Most of their films had titles derived from songs featured in them: The Yellow Rose of Texas (1944); Don't Fence Me In and Belles of Rosarita (1945); Apache Rose (1947), and interchangeable plots in which Rogers usually helped Dale Evans overcome baddies while singing his way into her heart. She once said that her favourite role was the newspaperwoman in Don't Fence Me In, a rare departure from "the namby-pamby heroines who just stand around while men do violent and admirable things".

In 1949, Republic Studios boss Herbert Yates decided to replace Dale Evans with Penny Edwards, because he thought audiences could no longer believe in Rogers's pursuit of his own wife. But the public demanded her return, and more pictures followed - Susanna Pass and Down Dakota Way (1949), Twilight in the Sierras (1950), Pals of the Golden West and Trigger Jr (1951), before television took up most of their working time with The Roy Rogers Show, which ran from 1951 to 1956, and made the couple an American institution.

In recent years, Dale Evans's work in television, A Date With Dale, and her records, were all in the gospel vein.

One of their children, Roy Rogers jnr, runs the Roy Rogers and Dale Evans Museum on the edge of the Mojave Desert near the Rogers-Evans home, the Double-R Bar Ranch, named after the one in their television series. There, in a glass case, are a stuffed Trigger and Buttermilk.

Dale Evans: born 1912; died, February 2001