Tuesday, November 4, 2014

Those Were the Days: My Childhood Idols, Roy Rogers, Dale Evans, and Montie Montana!

Montie Montana

Hands-down, the most exciting school day of the year at Balboa Blvd. Elementary, was the day Montie Montana came to perform.  His skills as a cowboy trick-rider were breathtaking.  The asphalt playground at our school was cordoned off, and we eager children leaned in on the rope, not wanting to miss a second of Montie's dynamic performance with his spirited and talented horse named Rex.  Rex wore special shoes that allowed him to gallop across the playground without damaging his hooves.  And gallop he did, while Montie stood up on Rex's back without a handhold, threw his lasso from that zooming tentative perch, and jumped on and off while the horse sped past us in a blur.

Montie started out riding rodeo in the 1920s in his native Montana, then migrated to Hollywood to become well-known for his cowboy stunts in Western movies.  He has a prominent scene in The Man Who Shot Liberty Valance (starring John Wayne and Jimmy Stewart) when he rides Rex onto the stage at a political rally and lassos the candidates.  In 1953, performing at President Eisenhower's inauguration, he did that very thing: he roped the President on the platform, and the Secret Service was not amused.   For 60 years--SIXTY YEARS--Montie rode in the Pasadena Tournament of Roses Parade on New Years' Day.  

Pres. Eisenhower in a bind

Montie at his best
Montie has been gone for about 20 years.   At his funeral his coffin was escorted to the tune of Happy Trails, Roy Roger's signature song--"Happy Trails to you, until we meet again . . . ".  Montie could have lived the self-absorbed life of a Hollywood star.  Instead somewhere around 8 million California children of my generation saw him perform at their schools, and not one will ever forget it.

Roy Rogers and Dale Evans were sweet and brave and good, graceful, decent folks, and were household names among me and my friends.  They figured large in my childhood in a romantic and dreamy way.  Roy rode one of the most beautiful and smartest horses ever born: Trigger, a golden palomino.  Roy and Dale sang lovely together.  Roy was known as "The Singing Cowboy," and was part of my favorite Western singing group, Sons of the Pioneers.


Roy and Dale
They had a TV show, starred in Western movies, and were known for their work to remove the stigma from children born with disabilities.  Their Down-syndrome daughter died from the mumps at about age 2 back in the 1950s.  It was a time when disabled children were hidden from public life.  Dale wrote and spoke about their daughter, and about her Christian faith.

Roy Rogers and Dale Evans are long-gone and have joined Montie Montana on that big prairie in the sky.  All are remembered in my hometown's Western Walk of Stars, among famed performers John Wayne, Sam Elliot, Gary Cooper, Clayton Moore, and scores of others.

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