Roy Rogers Memories Live On in Portsmouth, Ohio

Fans attending the Roy Rogers Festival in Portsmouth, Ohio last week remember Roy Rogers and Dale Evans for many things, including their many western films and great music. The iconic couple is also remembered for their love of children and devotion to family. As a little girl, my wife, Amy, met Roy at his California museum in the early 1980s when he posed for a picture with her and her sister! While I never had the pleasure to personally meet Roy or Dale, I have experienced the joy of meeting some of their children and their spouses. Several years ago in Branson, Missouri, Amy and I had a chance to meet Dusty Rogers and snap a photo of him posing with our own children. Last week, we had the pleasure to again meet and speak with Roy and Dale’s daughter, Dodie, who was a guest at the Festival along with her husband, Jon. We also had the opportunity to meet Roy and Dale’s granddaughter, Julie Fox Pomilia, and her husband. In my experiences, Roy and Dale would certainly be able to be proud of the way their children now represent their family legacy.

RR Fest 2019 Dodie, Matt, Julie
With Dodie Rogers (left) and Julie Fox Pomilia (right).

In some respects, the entire Festival had a bit of a “family reunion” atmosphere. The special guests from Little House on the Prairie (Alison Arngrim and Rachel Lindsay Greenbush) seemed like old friends, even though we were meeting them for the first time. Paul Petersen (from The Donna Reed Show) was a familiar face who took time to converse with anyone who wanted to chat. Familiar faces in the dealer room – both among vendors and attendees – added to the feeling of a family gathering. (I especially enjoyed watching a two-year-old boy who for two straight days would swing by to stare lovingly and longingly at the western toys on the dealer table adjacent to my table.) The evenings were filled with casual gatherings for music, food, and relaxed fellowship with fellow fans of Roy and Dale, further adding to the extended-family-gathering atmosphere.

Amy and LHOP gals
My wife Amy, with Alison “Nellie Oleson” Arngrim (left) and Rachel “Carrie Ingalls”Lindsay Greenbush (right).

MRR Fest 2019

If the only legacy left by Roy and Dale was that of the emphasis on family and family values, it would be worthy of celebration. Roy’s legacy includes many aspects of his remarkable career, and his place in Portsmouth history is noted in various ways in Portsmouth. We are fortunate to have so very much of Roy and Dale’s work preserved in recorded music, films, and books, as well as countless merchandise items. But on a personal level, there is also that part of Roy’s legacy that lives in the hearts and minds of those attending each year, and the stories from those who met or knew him.

A legacy worth celebrating, stories worth remembering.

RoyR with Amy and Tracy, early 80s, in CA
Roy Rogers, with Amy and her sister Tracy, in the early 1980s, at Roy’s museum in California.

Making Summertime Memories That Last Longer Than the Heat

My knowledge of how my parents and grandparents may have once enjoyed their summers is rather limited. Judging by the juvenile literature published in the early-to-mid 20th Century, that generation’s summer activities included trips to the seashore, summer jobs on a farm, time spent at a youth camp or a dude ranch, and adventures around their home town. For my parents, it seems their summers were filled with picnics, tending vegetable gardens, fishing, summer jobs, and enjoying fresh fruit. They seemed to favor a lot of time spent outdoors, if for no other reason than the lack of air conditioning. However our parents and grandparents managed to spend their summers, they tended to recall those days with the same sentiments expressed by Nat King Cole’s song: “Roll out those lazy, hazy, crazy days of summer…”

Patriots Point
Even the rain did not dampen spirits on a visit to the World War Two aircraft carrier Yorktown, in Charleston, SC.

In my own childhood, summertime was defined by the school calendar as the period of several weeks between the last day of school in late Spring and the first day of school in late August. Summertime for me included a mix of chores and fun, but mostly fun, and best of all, no school or homework for months. It was an extended time of self-directed play, explorations of our neighborhood and town via bicycle, watching TV, playing board games, and plenty of backyard baseball. A regular highlight for my brothers and I was tuning in nightly to hear Jack Buck and Mike Shannon call Cardinals baseball games on the radio. By the time I was in high school, part-time jobs were also a regular part of my summer experience.

As a father, I enjoyed watching my own children spend their childhood summers in self-directed play and participation in outdoor activities. We also visited national parks, historic sites like Colonial Williamsburg, Silver Dollar City, Opryland, and more. In addition, every summer included long family trips to visit grandparents, aunts, uncles, and cousins. My wife and I wanted our kids’ memories of summertime to echo the lyrics in the Diamond Rio song, Sweet Summer: “Those days were never too long / And never too hot / Even though I was out of school / I was learnin’ a lot.”

Opryland_Metropolis
My kids enjoying a stop at the Grand Ole Opry in Nashville, TN (left); Me and my younger son in in front of the 15-foot statue of Superman in Metropolis, IL, “Hometown of Superman” (right).

In my memory, signals of the end of summer always arrived too soon: the county fair, and back-to-school sales in the local stores. I expect summer will end all too soon for many students again this summer, as well. Many families find their calendar filled with swim lessons, band camps, sports camps, missions trips, yard work projects, visits to theme parks like Six Flags, and so on. However, I hope there will also be those opportunities to slow down a bit and enjoy something nearby, perhaps for the first time, perhaps in a new way – like I remember doing as a child. Again from Diamond Rio: “Sweet summer, yeah I remember that / Sweet summer, let me take you back …”

Wyndham in Greensboro
Hmmm…where to go next this summer? (Photo from an August Saturday spent with my older son at The Wyndham Championship in Greensboro, NC.)

Patriotism

As we in the United States celebrate another July Fourth, our patriotism will be on display and many of us will again hear or speak the familiar line from our Declaration of Independence: “We hold these truths to be self-evident, that all men are created equal, that they are endowed by their Creator with certain unalienable Rights, that among these are Life, Liberty and the pursuit of Happiness.” As Americans, we have been blessed with a rich heritage that embraces these ideas of freedom and opportunity for all, ideals that were first worked out in the room pictured above (Independence Hall).

As our nation recently observed the 75th anniversary of D-Day, a day on which many Americans gave their lives for the cause of liberty, we had an opportunity to again reflect on the values for which our country stands. Just before the attack on Pearl Harbor, the first issue of the comic book title, “Man of War”, was published. With a cover date of November, 1941, it included an offer for young readers to join the “Liberty Guards” (led by fictional characters Strut, Smokey, and Skip) by “pledging to preserve our freedom of speech, religion and press and to help guard our liberty”. The membership certificate read: “I hereby promise to be a good American – to do everything in my power to preserve our freedom of speech, freedom of religion, freedom of press and freedom of assembly – and to help guard our liberty.” A few weeks later, America entered the war and millions of young Americans were called upon to put their personal lives on hold, and at risk, for this purpose of guarding our liberty.

In the immediate post-War years, following all of the sacrifices made by the nation to win the war, millions of children were reminded via the creeds and codes of some of their favorite cowboy heroes of what kind of behavior makes one a good citizen and of the privilege to be an American. Here is a sample of the patriotic sentiments included in their codes.

  • Always respect our flag and our country. (Roy Rogers Riders Club Rules and Creed)
  • The Cowboy is a patriot. (Gene Autry’s Cowboy Code of Honor)
  • Children in many foreign lands are less fortunate than you. Be glad and proud you are an American. (Hopalong Cassidy’s Creed for American Boys and Girls)
  • I will respect my flag and my country. (The Wild Bill Hickok Deputy Marshal’s Code of Conduct)
  • I pledge…To be loyal to my Country and my Flag. (Bobby Benson Rider’s Pledge)
  • I believe… That all men are created equal and that everyone has within himself the power to make this a better world; …That “this government, of the people, by the people, and for the people,” shall live always; I believe in my Creator, my country, my fellow man. (The Lone Ranger Creed)

In the new book, The John Wayne Code, Patrick Wayne said of his father, “What my father loved best about America was the opportunity. He’s the paradigm for the American Dream – available to everyone driven to succeed.” Ethan Wayne added that their dad appreciated the chance to be successful through hard work. The book includes some patriotic quotes from John Wayne, including: “I do think we have a pretty wonderful country, and I thank God that He chose me to live here;” and, “My hope and prayer is that everyone know and love our country for what she really is and what she stands for.”

Have a safe and happy Fourth!

Matt

John Wayne Code cover
Front cover of the new book from Media Lab Books.
Creeds, Codes and Cowboy Commandments
The B-western cowboy codes included themes of patriotism and good citizenship.

Squad 51, Zuzu, Gunsmoke, and More at the 2019 Memphis Film Festival

We recently had a great time attending the 2019 Memphis Film Festival, held during the first weekend of June at Sam’s Town Hotel & Gambling Hall in Tunica, Mississippi. Fans were able to meet and chat with Hollywood actors, including Emergency’s “Doctor Kelly Brackett” (Robert Fuller) and firefighter/paramedic “Johnny Gage” (Randolph Mantooth); Darby Hinton (“Israel” on Daniel Boone); actress Angie Dickinson (star of Police Woman); and Gunsmoke actor Buck Taylor. Also, Hollywood stuntman Diamond Farnsworth signed photos and told stories of his work in films and TV shows like NCIS. Other special guests included “Zuzu” from the classic film, It’s a Wonderful Life.

The large vendor hall offered opportunities to purchase books and incredible vintage items of memorabilia from 20th Century American pop culture, especially related to western stars and films. As an added bonus, most vendors are subject matter experts who love to chat with attendees.

Robert Fuller co-starred in the classic westerns Laramie and Wagon Train, however, I first became aware of him when he co-starred in TV’s Emergency as an ER doctor who championed the development of paramedic units within the Fire Department. (My wife and I appreciated that Mr. Fuller also made it a point to greet the vendors each morning of the Festival!) Randolph Mantooth co-starred as one of the two heroic paramedics in the series, inspiring many young viewers to choose a career path as part of an emergency response team. It was great to see these two guys meeting fans and sharing stories.

It was also a thrill to enjoy a close-up look at a replica Squad 51 truck on site! A man who is a big fan of Emergency built this incredible replica vehicle, and brought it to the Festival for attendees to see and take pictures. I happily posed for a photo, holding a replica Station 51 fireman’s helmet.

Squad 51 wMatt 08jun19
Matt is seen posing with a Squad 51 replica at Memphis Film Festival (“Squad 51 available”).

As always, we enjoyed seeing familiar faces of vendors and fans that we have met at previous events. The weekend went by swiftly, and my wife and I also enjoyed the chance to speak with so many wonderful attendees at our dealer table. If you were there, thanks for coming by! We are now looking forward to our next event, which will be the Roy Rogers Festival, in August, in Portsmouth, Ohio.

Matt

Reflecting on Stories from Grandpa and Dad

Imagine walking into a room with wood floors and walls, and a wood-burning stove providing heat for the room. An elderly man sits on an old sofa, wearing a western style shirt, jeans, and cowboy boots, and smoking a freshly-lit Camel. Behind him is a shotgun set on a large window sill and leaning against the window frame, and in a nearby corner is a hat stand on which is hung his off-white Stetson cowboy hat. The man is my grandfather, and he is watching that week’s installment of Gunsmoke on his black-and-white television set. To me as a 10-year old boy, this had the feel of being in the old west, even though it was really southern Illinois!

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Grandpa multi-tasking by talking on the phone while watching TV. Note the shotgun propped up in the window behind the sofa!

One of my slightly-older cousins told me of the time this same Grandpa visited his family in Nevada, and while walking outdoors, the two of them encountered a rattlesnake in their path. Grandpa told my cousin that he would hit the snake’s head with his hat, then my cousin was supposed to quickly step on the snake’s head with his boot heel. After my cousin twice froze when he was supposed to do his part, Grandpa then did the whole job himself – striking the rattler with his hat, then quickly grinding his boot heel on the snake’s head and allowing safe passage along the path.

My grandfather was a cowboy at heart. He was the son of a real-life cowboy, his father having been a cowboy for about 12 years in late 1800’s Oklahoma Territory. During my growing-up years, Grandpa commonly wore a Stetson cowboy hat, western style shirts, jeans, and cowboy boots. He was known to be up late at night when reading Zane Gray novels, and was a regular viewer of TV westerns – especially Gunsmoke and Bonanza (his favorite characters seemed to be Deputy Festus and Hoss Cartwright).

My father was a kid growing up through the Great Depression before being drafted into the U.S. Army in 1943. His stories about basic training, army life, and being shipped overseas for combat were certainly interesting to me and my brothers. He told us of how it felt to be marching through the streets of the just-liberated city of Paris as young French women hailed them as heroes, giving out hugs and kisses to Dad and his comrades. However, things were tougher for him during the Battle of the Bulge, where he witnessed his lieutenant being blown to bits by a German grenade. It was a moment that stayed with him as a painful memory throughout the rest of his life.

Pvt JM
Dad’s army photo, approx. 1943.

My sense of history was greatly influenced early in life by such family stories told by my grandfather and father, as they shared memories of their experiences related to the Old West and life during World War Two. Both of them are now gone, but I am grateful for the personal stories they shared with me and my brothers. Now that I’m older, I have so many more questions I would love to ask them, but, of course, it’s too late now.

A suggestion: During this Father’s Day holiday, take time to ask your father (if possible) for a special memory, a story. And if you have children of your own, make sure they hear it, too!

Wishing all you fathers a Happy Father’s Day!

Matt