Saturday 15 December 2018

How Roy Rogers rescued a little cowboy who didn't feel at home on the range

The magic of cinema and a Western hero brought me a boyhood taste of adventure, writes Declan Collinge

Happy trails: A poster for the Roy Rogers/ Dale Evans adventure of 1950 ‘Bells of Coronado’
Happy trails: A poster for the Roy Rogers/ Dale Evans adventure of 1950 ‘Bells of Coronado’

Declan Collinge

The Apollo Cinema, Walkinstown, Dublin, opened its doors in the early 1950s. It was a welcome development for the young ''baby boomer'' couples and their countless children who lived in the sprawling estates nearby. The streets here were named after musicians or composers as in Field Avenue, Balfe Road, etc.

The Saturday matinee was a chaotic affair with long queues of children thronging the path as far back as O'Brien's shop and being directed into the cinema to the ticket booth to pay their sixpence by an irate baldy usher. Often children were crammed in two in a seat if the numbers outside the cinema grew too large.

As a six-year-old, accompanied to the matinee by my 10-year-old sister, we were unceremoniously prevailed upon by a young usher to "push up dere will yez, two in a seat".

My older sister, who had an acute sense of justice, rounded on the young usher: ''Excuse me, I paid my full six pence and I've no intention of sharing my seat. I'd like to see the manager immediately, if you don't mind.'' The usher, flustered by her defiance simply left us alone and moved on to bully more compliant children to sit two in a seat.

My favourite cowboy then was Roy Rogers, King of the Cowboys.

He wore a white hat to distinguish him from the villains, rode a palomino horse named Trigger and had a German shepherd named Bullet. His wife was Dale Evans, Queen of the West.

Roy rode the range and rescued, not only damsels in distress, but also old-timers who were being threatened or bullied by outlaws.

I was surprised at how composed Roy always appeared. Even if his ranch had been burnt to a crisp, his wife "shamed" and his colleagues scalped, he could still postpone retribution with his usual catchphrase: "But first a song!"

This would inevitably lead to another rendering of Happy Trails - even when the situation was less than happy.

As a child, I was what would now be described as a nerd. Bookish and precocious, I did not mix well with my friends on the avenue. They nicknamed me "Prof" and were slow to allow me to play cowboys with them.

A local boy, two years my senior and my persistent tormentor, was organising a game of cowboys and indians. I innocently approached him: "Can I be Roy Rogers in this game?"

"Are yeh jokin Prof? I'm always Roy in dese games. Tell you wha' tho. Yeh can be Thrigger, Roy's horse!"

As he looked at my red face he added: "Or betther still, yeh can be Dale Evans - Roy's Missus!"

Hilarious laughter erupted as I headed back. once more, to my house to read my books.

All changed when a present arrived from my aunt in Toronto. As I dropped my school bag one afternoon, my eyes gladdened to the tightly packed brown paper parcel bearing my name, with glossy red sealing wax covering the fine twine holding it together.

My hands tore through the layers of paper urgently, to reveal a beautiful rhinestone holster containing a silver pistol. The holster was attached to a broad red and white belt with toy bullets fitting snugly into six leather slots at the back. Also included was a white straw hat, a perfect replica of that worn by Roy himself.

Ecstatic and unable to eat my dinner, I donned the full regalia and rushed out on to the street. Boys, both young and old, looked in amazement at my tiny figure, cowboy hat slipping down over my eyes, and were very impressed by the gun and gear. Even the dreadful local tormentor asked if he could hold the pistol. Soon he tried on holster and hat. Before long he was suggesting a game. This time I could be Roy's friend.

Like a mongrel dog begging for scraps, I accepted my limited role but our game was short-lived. My outraged mother appeared at the door and screamed at me to retrieve my new present when she saw me chasing along after my tormentor and his cowboys, bereft of the entire cowboy outfit, with a twig in my hand for a pistol.

The Apollo, after stiff competition from modern, state-of-the-art cinemas, closed its doors in the early 1990s and the derelict ruin soon became an eyesore covered in graffiti. After objections from the local residents it was eventually demolished to allow the construction of apartments. Roy Rogers popped his cowboy boots in 1998 at the age of 86 and his Missus, Dale Evans, three years later.

As I drive past the apartments today, I recall the loud cheers of the children at the matinee for Roy as he chased outlaws, and of the many re-enactments of the fire fights and saloon brawls as we made our way home for our Saturday fries. Netflix was never in the same league!

Sunday Independent

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