Dale Evans, queen of the West, rode a creamy-smooth horse. She dressed stylishly, for a cowgirl: flowery blouses, skirts designed for straddling a steed (no sidesaddle for her) and a tiny hat with the ends pertly turned up.
She and Buttermilk, the horse, were at full gallop to go warn Roy Rogers, that is — at the old abandoned mine. But by the time Dale got there, Roy was already elbow-deep in trouble.
That’s where the story line was when I tuned in the other day to “The Roy Rogers Show.”
The show was a staple of my Saturday-morning viewing as a kid. It’s an oft-told story in my family that I would cry if Roy would get tied up or otherwise put in danger in the course of his half-hour adventure.
I was too young then to realize that Roy was a commodity and nobody was going to let a commodity get killed, and in the process, kill the income stream that came with him.
Spoiler alert! Roy escaped harm at the old abandoned mine that day.
Spoiler alert II! Roy always escaped harm.
I came across the mine episode while looking through the channels available via over-the-air transmissions. I bought an antenna recently when it looked like a battle between a local station and a satellite-TV carrier might threaten the broadcast of the Saints season opener.
It’s surprising how many channels are broadcast over the air, including a network devoted to old shows like “Make Room for Daddy,” “Marcus Welby,” “I Spy” and Roy Rogers.
There are cable channels that offer similar fare. And thanks to the Internet, hundreds of episodes of old TV shows are available.
“I’ve got the only search warrant we need,” Roy, wielding his six-gun, said in another episode as one of the bad guys made a quaint appeal to his constitutional rights.
So many men (and, sometimes, women) packed heat in the old TV Westerns that it almost seems like pornography for gun freaks. But since there are no high-capacity clips or semi-automatic shooting modes here, I’m talking vintage gun-porn, like those racy photos from the Victorian era.
In case you’re too young to know, Roy’s horse was Trigger and his dog was Bullet, two names that you might have trouble getting on television today. Some other time, we’ll have a discussion about the gender coding contained in Dale’s horse being named after a milk product.
The TV shows and movies coming out back then may have confected fantasies for kids like me, but they also seemed determined to manufacture conformity. Names were simplified, streamlined, made to sound more like regular folks. Leonard Slye became Roy Rogers; Dale Evans was born Frances Octavia Smith. Gene Autry’s real first name was Orvon. John Wayne used to be Marion Morrison.
One of my favorite characters was Dick West, the young sidekick to Jock Mahoney in “The Range Rider.” Mahoney was caught in the name game, too. He was born Jacques, but he was de-Frenchified for show biz.
I loved the name Dick West and even decided I would change my own last name to West when I got old enough to legally do so.
So simple, just four letters. Nothing like the name I was born with.
It was evocative of a place — a land of cool, snow-capped mountains far from the hot, grimy streets of New Orleans — and a partially imaginary time: men riding tall in the saddle, singing cowboy songs, with a dog to keep them company and a cowgirl who’d gallop up on a cream-colored horse to warn of impending danger.
Dennis Persica’s email address is email@example.com.