Kenneth Bridges | History Columnist
Dale Evans spent decades as a star of the silver screen.
While her career was legendary in its own right, her story behind the scenes was even more remarkable.
She was born Frances Octavia Smith in her grandparent’s home in the South Texas community of Uvalde in 1912.
Her father was a farmer and owned a hardware store in the nearby town of Italy. Struggling, the family moved to Osceola, in eastern Arkansas, in 1919 where her father made an attempt to farm cotton.
Her education was sporadic, occasionally having to drop out of school but managed to reach high school in Osceola by age 12.
At age 14, she met a local boy at a dance.
The two eloped, got married at the home at a preacher in nearby Blytheville, and soon had a son together.
The marriage fell apart quickly. By 1929, her husband had abandoned her, and she was left a divorced mother at the age of 17 at the dawn of the Great Depression.
She would marry and divorce two more men between 1929 and 1945.
Singing had been part of her life since a young age, and she looked for work as a performer while living in Memphis.
She took several jobs trying to scratch out a living while taking several business school courses at the same time.
Through her connections while working for a local insurance company, she landed singing roles at two local radio stations by 1930, WMC and WREC.
She moved to Chicago to try to find better employment, but her health collapsed under the strain of work, school, and raising her son. After she recovered, she found work at station WHAS in Louisville, Kentucky, where the station manager suggested her stage name, Dale Evans.
By 1936, she found her way back to Texas and found work singing on Dallas radio station WFAA.
Her career gradually ascended. In 1942, she appeared briefly in the film Orchestra Wives, her first of what became 44 films.
She also took on a regular role on the popular Edgar Bergen Show on NBC radio. With World War II ongoing, she performed in many USO shows to entertain the troops overseas.
In 1943, she starred with John Wayne in the film In Old Oklahoma.
In 1944, she met Roy Rogers when they starred together in Cowboy and the Senorita.
Dale Evans and Roy Rogers became close and continued to work on projects together. After his wife died in 1946, the two married the next year and remained together for the next 50 years. They adopted three children and had a daughter together.
Tragically, two of their children died at young ages and a third died in an accident while serving in the army.
In the midst of these heartbreaking tragedies, she found solace in her faith. She wrote and sang hymns and actively promoted the church and prayer in her appearances and books.
The couple appeared in numerous movies together and moved into television. In 1950, she wrote the song “Happy Trails,” which the two sang often on television and in the movies.
It also became the title of their 1980 autobiography. In 1951, The Roy Rogers Show premiered on NBC and lasted for six seasons. After the program ended in 1957, the two made several more television appearances. Their last movie appearance together was as a cameo in the 1973 made-for-TV movie, Saga of Sonora.
In 1996, she began hosting a Christian television program, Date With Dale.
Though her own health was failing, she continued the program as long as she could.
She died quietly at her home in California in 2001 at age 88.