Three items crossed the news desk at Mister Boomer headquarters this week that have direct connections to our boomer community. One is old news, one is recent, and one just happened this week. The juxtaposition of the three illustrate the expanse of the boomer generation and differences from early-to-late boomer tendencies.
Roy Rogers-Dale Evans Museum
This news is already seven years old. Somehow Mister Boomer may have heard that the Roy Rogers-Dale Evans Museum was closing in 2010, but it didn’t immediately register on the scale of momentous boomer happenings; this is probably due to the fact that the TV and movie cowboy and his wife were never a big presence in Mister Boomer’s mid-era household.
Riding the wave of the popularity of Westerns in the 1930s and ’40s, Leonard Slye (later called Roy Rogers [1911-1998]) appeared in a multitude of western movies on his slow and steady rise, from being part of several bands on recordings and radio, then appearing with bands in movies and moving up to starring roles. Along the way he became a lead performer in a band called the Sons of the Pioneers. The band appeared with him in numerous movies, on records and in TV shows. By 1941, Roy Rogers had appeared in 39 films. The band, with Rogers, had several hits, most notably Tumbling Tumbleweed (1934), Cool Water (1941) and Ghost Riders in the Sky (1948). The songs became classics in the Country-Western genre and indeed, the Sons of the Pioneers released new recordings of them every decade through the 1960s.
Rogers’ first wife, Aline, died in 1946. He met Dale Evans (1912-2001) when the two of them were working the same rodeo in 1947. That year they were married. In 1951, The Roy Rogers Show debuted on TV. His wife, Dale, starred alongside him. Each episode, which centered around a rancher (Rogers) and restaurant owner (Evans), espoused their Christian values of fear of God and love of country. The scripts included ample space for musical numbers, and ended with the duo’s signature song, Happy Trails. The original show ran for six seasons. In 1962, The Roy Rogers and Dale Evans Show appeared as a western comedy and variety show for one season.
Throughout the 1950s and into the ’60s, a vast blitz of Roy Rogers merchandising hit the marketplace, including toys, lunch boxes and more. This merchandise held as much interest for early-era boomers as Gene Autry and Davy Crockett items.
After trying to revive their TV career failed in a changing landscape that perceived them as old-fashioned and “square,” the couple retired and moved to the Apple Valley area just north of Los Angeles, California. In 1967, they established the Roy Rogers-Dale Evans Museum in nearby Victorville. In 2003, the couple’s children moved the museum to Branson, Missouri. After lagging ticket sales, the museum shut in 2009, with its contents auctioned off in 2010. Among the items sold at auction was Rogers’ trusty horse, Trigger. The horse appeared with him in numerous movie and TV appearances, and became as much a star for early boomers as Rin Tin Tin and Lassie. When Trigger died, Rogers had him stuffed and placed in his museum. Trigger corralled $266,500 at auction. Contents of the museum brought in a total of $2.9 million.
Stanley Weston (1933-2017)
While later-era boomers didn’t know much about Roy Rogers, they knew even less about Stanley Weston. However, most boomer boys born after 1960 knew about Weston’s invention, G.I. Joe. Often called the “Barbie for boys,” Weston knew there was no way his toy would sell if he billed it as a doll for boys. He coined the term, “outfitted action figure,” to describe his poseable figure dressed in military garb. To increase the macho qualities, he gave the figure a scar on his left cheek. He quickly sold the toy to Hasbro for a flat fee of $100,000 in 1964. The original figure was 12-inches tall and could be purchased dressed in the uniform of the Army, Navy, Air Force or Marine Corps.
Weston cleverly saw the opportunity that accessories and different uniforms — like Barbie had shown the year before — could add to the continued sales of his creation. Far from a sure thing in the same year that U.S. soldiers began active fighting in Vietnam, the toy became one of the most successful of all time. The original G.I. Joe had no stated mission, no back story and no named enemies. In contrast, the G.I. Joe sold today is unrecognizable to boomers who had the original toy. The action figures sold today are more muscular — though smaller at nine-and-a-half inches, have a wide variety of weaponry and vehicles available, and are billed as terrorist-fighting men of action. The main adversary of all the ethnic varieties of G.I. Joe is Cobra, a terrorist organization whose goal, like James Bond villains, is to rule the world.
Stanley Weston went on to form a merchandise licensing company, Leisure Concepts. His company represented Farah Fawcett (Charlie’s Angels), Nintendo, the World Wrestling Federation and several TV shows, including Alf and Welcome Back, Kotter. He was inducted into the Licensing Industry Hall of Fame in 1989. Weston was also part of the team that created the popular ThunderCats TV cartoons.
Gregg Allman (1947-2017)
News arrived this week of the death of fellow boomer Gregg Allman of the Allman Brothers Band. The singer, guitarist and keyboardist had his mind set on medical school when his brother, Duane, convinced him to join his band on tour in 1969. Allman agreed to a two-year stint, but continued for the next forty years. The band helped define Southern Rock with their own blend of blues, rock and country.
In October of 1971, his older brother, Duane, died in a motorcycle accident. Four months later, in February 1972, the band returned to touring. By then the band had several hits, including Melissa and Whipping Post, both written by Gregg Allman.
Gregg Allman, already a household name among the majority of boomers before 1970, watched his celebrity kick up a notch when he married Cher in June of 1975. The marriage lasted three years. In total, Allman was married six times, producing four children from different mothers.
In 1995 the Allmann Brothers Band was inducted into Rock and Roll Hall of Fame, and granted a Lifetime Achievement Award from the Grammys in 2012.
His addition to heroin and abuse of alcohol and cocaine sent him to rehab 11 times until he became sober in 1995. By then his drug abuse contributed to liver cancer, diagnosed in 2008. He had an unsuccessful liver transplant in 2010. Despite growing health issues, he continued to tour with the latest incarnation of the Allman Brothers Band. His last live performance was in July of 2016.
Mister Boomer’s involvement with the work of the three men had been fleeting. He would have been too young to remember reruns of the first Roy Rogers Show, and his family was more of a Hollywood Palace watching family than the Roy Rogers and Dale Evans Show. Mister B also did not have a G.I. Joe. He was already aged in double-digits when the action figure appeared, though he recalls a neighborhood kid having one. As far as the Allman Brothers Band and Gregg Allman, Mister Boomer heard them on the radio but didn’t like the band enough to merit adding their records to his collection. He did like several of their bluesy tunes, but to this day he owns no Allman Brothers vinyl, and only one Gregg Allman song appears in his electronic music collection: Whipping Post.
How about you, boomers? Did you have a Roy Rogers lunch box, a Trigger toy horse, or a G.I. Joe? Did you go to an Allman Brothers concert or own their hits on vinyl?