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spacer Roy Rogers, Victorville, California, 1990
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Roy Rogers, Victorville, California, 1990

Jon Larsen, whose father had founded the magazine, asked me to write a short profile of Roy Rogers for Life. I was mildly worried about accepting the assignment: years earlier, for The Washington Post, I had covered the opening of yet another Roy Rogers fast food franchise in Virginia. After some kid in the audience hit him with a cream pie, Roy shouted epithets we couldn’t spell out in a family newspaper while his colleagues wrestled the perp to the ground. It was not the most flattering portrait of a real American icon. By 1990 I had started two companies in California, and was interested in Roy Rogers, the entrepreneur, who had created a restaurant chain and had built and run a museum devoted to himself and his wife Dale Evans in the California high desert. He picked me up at the airport in a very modest Honda mini-van, sang cowboy songs as we drove to the museum, and very proudly showed me his horse Trigger, now stuffed as the centerpiece of the museum. If he remembered the cream-pie incident, he never mentioned it. I asked him if he had worn his cowboy outfit to get into a role for this interview, and he told me that he just wore it every day. “I wouldn’t want someone to travel all the way to the museum, and catch me looking unprofessional,” he said. Just before I snapped this portrait, he instinctively removed his sunglasses, which would have intruded on a perfect cowboy image. You can see the very edge of the glasses at the bottom of the frame.

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