More than fifteen years ago I was asked by the Roy Rogers family to pen two books about the famous cowboy duo. I eagerly traveled to Victorville where the Rogers’ home and museum was located to begin doing the needed research. It was a privilege to have access to all the material and I fell in love with the pair and was proud to have a chance to write their story.
From the beginning the ultimate goal was to develop the books into a screenplay. Coauthor Howard Kazanjian and I had numerous conversations with Dusty Rogers about that being the main objective. So, Howard and I went to work. The first entertainers we met with after the books were released were Clint Black and Lisa Hartman Black. Both were excited about being a part of the project. Clint had worked with Roy in 1991. The pair released an record together. Howard and I wrote the script based on the book and shared the material with Dusty, Clint, and Lisa, and adjustments were made to the material based on their input. Finally, we had two books and a script.
Clint and I worked with Williams Morris Endeavor to find a company to produce the piece. Somewhere in our quest the idea of making the books and script into a musical came into being. Dale Evans had always wanted to be on Broadway and the thought seemed logical. Clint, and I, and Susan Weaving at WME came up with a number of people we could approach to fund the musical. I reached out to those people and almost immediately received a favorable response.
We needed to pull more talent together and so we contacted Thomas Meehan. Mr. Meehan, who wrote Broadway’s Annie, agreed to write the book and direct. Musical genius Charles Strouse agreed to write the music and lyrics. We now had the leads cast, a director, music, and funding. I phoned Dusty Rogers five days before I was to fly to Texas to pick up the check for the project. I often called him to give him updates on our progress. It was during that conversation he informed me that he had sold the rights to the Broadway musical to Marshal Brickman who created Jersey Boys. I was heartbroken by the news. We had all worked so hard and Dusty, who was in on the news every step of the way, never had the courtesy to even tell us he was dealing with another entity.
Marshall Brickman is represented by William Morris Endeavor and Susan Weaving never shared the news with us either. We were allowed to run everywhere doing what needed to be done and no one had the courtesy of letting us know what was happening. That’s what hurt most of all. I understand business. I understand commerce. I don’t understand being less than honest. Dusty Rogers had a numerous chances to let the team know he was working with others, but he chose not to do that.
With the exception of the numerous emails sent back and forth to Dusty about the project and his signature agreeing to let us pursue the project with Clint Black, there was no contract. Roy Rogers always did business by handshake and that’s what we did. We foolishly thought Dusty was a man of his word like his father.
I expressed my displeasure to Dusty and his response was “Chris, you knew all along I wanted to see something done with my parent’s story.” Sure I did, but he missed the point. He didn’t tell me he had signed it all over to Marshal Brickman. We wouldn’t have gone to the extent we did if we’d known the property was no longer available.
The heartache of this endeavor is fresh on my mind today as the release of the new edition of The Cowboy and the Senorita: A Biography of Roy Rogers and Dale Evans arrived in book stores. I phoned Dusty yesterday to ask again about pursuing the film project based on the book and before he addressed my question he happily shared with me how well the Broadway musical was going. I guess it will premiere sometime next year. Regarding my pursuit of the film I was told I could not move forward. So, once again I say goodbye to a dream I’d been chasing for more than a decade.
As they say, “that’s show biz.” It’s not how Roy Rogers or Dale Evans would have worked, but I guess that’s the lesson. Few people were as honest, kind and forthcoming as Roy and Dale.
The Cowboy and the Senorita: A Biography of Roy Rogers and Dale Evans is available everywhere.