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Friday, 25th July 2008

assing away this month, July 1998, Roy Rogers. He was 86 years old. When I heard of his death it felt like the loss of someone I should have known, perhaps it was guilt in not knowing he was actually alive. He appeared in over 80 westerns (88 I believe). He was first and foremost (and last) a cowboy.

He knew the boundaries of his art describing it as 'a little song, a little riding, a little shooting and a girl to be saved from hazard.'

Roy Rogers was born, Leonard Franklin Slye on November 5, 1911; Cincinnati, Ohio. His father worked in a shoe factory. Leonards early years were dominated by general poverty. He only managed two years formal education which meant he had little chance of becoming a dentist, the profession he had wished to enter. Instead he worked on farms and this is where he learnt the essential skills which would serve him well later.

Slye went to California where he formed an unsuccessful band. However he was to form a band called, Sons of The Pioneers (he was called Dick Weston at this stage) which he played in until 1948. The band member had several film credits including The Legend of Lobo (1962) a disney film about a wolf cub. In 1942, they did a film called, Sons of the Pioneers.

Things were not perfect, they begged food parcels from their audience. One woman gave them two lemon pies and when she followed them to Hollywood became his first wife, Arlene. She was to die in 1946. They had a son a daughter and one adopted daughter. Roy married his co-star, Dale Evans in 1947.

His first big film role was Under Western Skies [1938] He played a young congressman who fought to get water to his drought ravaged populous. Breaking out into song, his rendition of 'Dust' was nominated for an academy award. The film was a hit and it put Roy Rogers (he had changed his name for the film) onto the road to stardom, and was going to displace Gene Autry as the favourite cowboy star at Republic Studios.

Roy had one of those bits of luck which make the difference in 1938 when he bought a horse for $2,500, famously it had 1-2-3-4 legs and was his friend.

Trigger was to serve Roy for almost three decades and when it passed away at the age of 33 it had 52 tricks in its grasp. We all remember the one where he steals the gun from our hero's holster.

Trigger died in 1965 and Roy had him stuffed and mounted in a rearing position and placed in his personal museum. The horse had become a big celebrity and it seemed as if he had at least as many fans as Roy Rogers (well it did have 52 different tricks). When they went to rodeo's a guard was needed to stop people removing hair from Trigger's mane and tail. Such was the manner in which the nation took the horse to their hearts when a butcher attempted to sell horsemeat people marched with placards asking, 'Would Roy Rogers eat Trigger?'

In 1946 Roy and Trigger appeared in. 'My Pal Trigger.'

Roy and Trigger were often augmented by another side-kick, Bullet the Wonderdog.

During the 1950's Roy Rogers became an industry. Before the idea of marketing really hit the cinema you could get Roy Rogers wallpaper, Roy Rogers watches, underwear, blankets, sheets, curtains, carpet, pyjamas, tie, hat... well you get the idea.

Roy Rogers also opened up a chain of fast food restaurants, dealt in real estate, cattle, horses and promoted his rodeo show. All this as well as founding a television production company.

It is perhaps a measure of how omni-present the man made himself during this period that Times Confectionary produced two sets of cards which not only featured Roy Rogers but showcased him. They only did two sets as far as I know, Roy Roger - In Old Amarillio [1955] and Roy Rogers - South of Caliente [1955] both being sets of 24. There are not many sets which are dedicated to one actor, in fact I know of only one other (and that was dedicated to a fictional character.)

For a while this occupied him but in 1975 he made the film Mackintosh & TJ.

Times had changed. He had played the good guy roles when the good guy was defined by wearing a white stetson and had the highest turn ups in his smart jeans. The good guy was not going to be seen smoking, swearing or drinking, not least ways when Roy was the good guy.

In Mackintosh & TJ the screen audience expected different things, in the film he shot someone.

He introduced himself to a whole new generation with his frequent appearances on The Muppet Show.

Roy did once say, 'When my time comes, just skin me and put me right up there on Trigger as if nothing had ever changed.'

I don't think they will be doing that but in spirit he is right up there riding Trigger with Bullet - The Wonderdog snapping happily at their heels.

Robert Young

Carreras, Famous Film Stars, 1935 #73

his US actor is probably best remembered for his portrayal of Marcus Welby MD in the television series of the same name. Those a little older will probably remember him in Father Knows Best where he played the sort of character that could only exist in 1950's America.

By the time he had moved into television he had already had a considerable list of films under his belt many as the male lead. I remember him best in The Enchanted Cottage (1945) where he played alongside Dorothy McGuire, whose love for him blinded her to the fact he had been badly scarred in the conflict.

His film career spanned a good many years and in 1978 he was to play alongside McGuire again in Little Women a feature length pilot for a TV series which never got off the ground.

Born Feb 22, 1907, Robert George Young was one of five children born to an Irish American. When 10 months old the family moved from Chicago to Seattle. By ten the family were in Los Angeles.

After leaving school he worked in a bank during the day and took acting lessons during the evening. At 22 he had his first break as part of a theatrical group where he was seen by a MGM talent scout.

His first film was The Black Camel in 1931 which by todays standards started a hectic schedule of film making which saw him in 24 films over the next four years.

During the course of these 24 films he slowly emerged from the shadows of the better known actors and became a name in his own right.

Although he was to star alongside many of the most glamorous women of the industry he was always considered dependable if not electrifying. Ideal requirements for continued employment. That is not to say he was second rate in himself, King Vidor described him as 'a director's dream'.

He appeared in over 80 movies all told alongside such people as Greta Garbo, Joan Crawford, Myrna Loy, Katherine Hepburn, Norma Shearer and Jean Harlow.

In his career he was often at the wrong end of the gun, dying before the credits rolled. In Today We Live (1933) he died. In Three Comrades, set in post-WW1 Germany he was assassinated. In Dr Kildare's Crisis (1940) he was at the wrong end of a mis-diagnosis. If he was not killed he was losing the girl and in Mortal Storm (1940) he became a Nazi and lost Margaret Sullavan. In this instance losing out to the Hollywood good guy, James Stewart.

From 1936 he also had a radio career from which Father Knows Best emerged. At the same time he was getting a road safety message across. This being something close to his heart as his father had been killed having been thrown from a horse having been hit by drunk drivers.

Father Knows best won him two Emmy Awards and a third for Marcus Welby MD. These programs kept him in the public eye until the 1980's with the film, Marcus Welby MD; A Holiday Affair (1988). Having, in 1950, been voted one of the five 'Fathers of the Year.'

Like a great many people private life was very different to public life. He fought alcoholism and depression throughout his entire life which culminated in a failed suicide attempt in 1991.

Robert Young married Betty Henderson in 1933.

She died in 1994.

Binnie Barnes

Gallaher, Portraits of Famous Stars [1935] #41

Binnie Barnes, Gallaher, Portraits of Famous Stars
Details from Card
Binnie Barnes was born in London in 1906. She is a very versatile young woman and has been farm-worker and nurse before commencing her theatrical career as partner to Tex McLeod, the well-known variety star. Subsequently she appeared in cabaret and revue before making her screen debut in British films. Her acting as Katherine Howard in 'The Private Life of Henry VIII', won her international fame and she has since appeared in 'There's Always To-morrow,' 'The Private Life of Don Juan' and 'One Exciting Adventure.'

as passed away at the age of 95.

Her first big break was in The Private Life of Henry VIII where she played opposite Charles Laughton as Henry VIII. She played Katherine Howard, fifth wife.

Gertrude Maude Barnes was born in Finsbury, North London, March 25 1903. (note the reverse of the card says 1906, not uncommon in show biz, at the time the set was issued it was the difference between being over or under 30.) Large families were rather more common than they are today but still being the youngest of 14 children was going to be difficult for anyone. Her father was a policeman and her mother, Italian.

Growing up in a house which overlooked the Caledonian Market it was no surprise for this place to be the place of her first employment.. She sold paper flowers before progressing to kennel-maid, drapers assistant, hospital orderly and then finally chorus girl.

In the early twenties she was employed by Tex McLeod in his cabaret act. He was a rope-spinner (which at the time was all you needed for employment, imagine that) and to fit in with the Wild West theme she changed her name to Texas Binnie Barnes.

It was during this time she was also working in revue and West End Night Clubs.

It was in the former she was spotted by Noel Coward who gave her a part in Cavalcade, the Drury Lane production.

This led to a series of short comedy films with her first feature being in 1931, A nightmare in Montmartre.

Binnie Barnes was to live in Los Angeles and to obtained US citizenship but it was not an easy transition.

Her first attempt at getting into Hollywood was, 1932 after her Cavalcade success. She sailed to New York with a Fox contract worth five years.

It probably was a mistake as she had only just married, Samuel Joseph, two months earlier. She was back in England within two weeks because of feeling homesick and missing her husband.

After he performance in Henry VIII she tried again. This time the contract was offered by Metro who were looking to replace Myrna Loy in the Thin Man films.

This was not an easy time for Binnie and financially things were rough. She was having to remove food from the set of The Private Life of Henry VIII because there was not enough money at home to put food on the table.

However when she got to the US it was discovered she had the wrong type of Visa and was sent back.

Undaunted and probably remembering the adage about third time lucky she set of for the US in 1935.

She had just played alongside Douglas Fairbanks in, The Private Life of Don Juan (1934).

This time the move to the US was more successful and by 1939 she had made some dozen films. These included, The Last of the Mohicans (1935) where she was the love interest for Randolph Scott. The best role of the period was probably Lady de Winter in The Three Musketeers (1939).

During this period she did not return to the UK much. Her marriage had not lasted and divorce had been in 1936. However in 1938 she did comeback to play in Korda's, 'The Divorce of Lady X' alongside Olivier and Merle Oberon.

Although she worked consistently and always had reasonable roles she never really broke into the big time. However she was obviously having a lot of fun in Hollywood. She met her second husband, the producer Mike Francovich whilst she was playing poker with Clark Gable. They married in 1940 and lived next to Presley.

Retiring in 1955 it was not until the late 1960's did she make a comeback with Rosalind Russell in The Trouble with Angels.

Her last film was Forty Carats, 1972 in which she played against Kelly.

After the death of Mike Francovich in 1992 she concentrated in fund raising for charity.