Roy Rogers: King of the Cowboys packed the house in 1975
Cowboy singer-actor also came to Salisbury in 1939
So the first major hurdle was accomplished. Roy’s visit would begin with “My Pal Trigger,” a B-western Roy had made with wife Dale Evans and friend George “Gabby” Hayes way back in 1946.
Next, I thought it would be nice to have a city of Salisbury official be on hand for Roy’s visit. I called then Mayor Bill Stanback and asked him to participate. Mayor Stanback graciously said he would be there.
One of my concession stand young ladies told me North Rowan High School had a really good pep band. So I called the school and got the band director on the telephone.
I couldn’t text or email him then. I told him what was going on, and he was very excited and said the NRHS Pep Band would be there. I asked if, by chance, he had sheet music for Roy’s theme song “Happy Trails.”
He said no, but that he would compose an arrangement. Talk about going the extra mile.
And so, because of the help of some really gracious people, the plans all fell perfectly into place.
At 9, we opened the doors to the patrons who had formed in the parking lot. Very quickly, the 600 seats of the auditorium were filled. The pep band played a selection of songs for the crowd.
People then started to fill the aisles and line up across the back row of the auditorium. Then they spilled out into the lobby, and it became very crowded. Fortunately, none of the 800 people then in the building (by the Salisbury Post estimate) was the Salisbury fire marshal, or there might have been a problem.
“My Pal Trigger” hit the screen around 9:30. Mayor Stanback had also arrived. Inside the auditorium, folks were watching the 1946 version of Roy Rogers. Right on time at 9:30, the 1975 Roy Rogers rode up to the Terrace Theatre, not on horse Trigger, but in a white convertible.
The difference between the two Roys was slight. The nearly 30 years had been very kind to him. We rushed him through the side door up the stairs to my office, where for the next 30 minutes, we “chewed the fat.”
Roy’s long-time manager, W. Arthur Rush, popped his head into the office and said we needed to get Roy down front.
As I walked down the aisle towards the microphone, we actually stopped the movie before it had ended. No one seemed to mind. I gave Roy the best introduction I possibly could, ending it with “Welcome the King of the Cowboys, Roy Rogers!”
The NRHS pep band hit “Happy Trails,” and Roy jogged down the long aisle and took the microphone from me. Instead of starting to talk, he turned to the band director and said, “Play it again,” then sang the entire song for the crowd assembled.
I then introduced Mayor Stanback, who welcomed our guest to Salisbury and then presented Roy the key to the city. Then Roy spoke for a bit about his career and the new movie he had made.
A Q&A session went on for about 20 minutes. Folks asked Roy all sorts of questions: How was Dale? What was she doing? Did he really have Trigger stuffed?
And soon it was time for Roy to move on to the next town. He left the building by going through the lobby, speaking to the folks who hadn’t been able to get into the auditorium. People gave him gifts. Some women kissed him on the cheek. As he got into the white convertible, he said to me, “Thank you for a wonderful morning.”
They then headed south, not west.
The movie started again, things wrapped up inside, and the crowd dispersed.
I went back up the ladder to the marquee. Down came “WELCOME ROY ROGERS, KING OF THE COWBOYS,” and back went “The Pink Panther.” We had a 1 p.m. matinee. No time to reflect. But I have many times since.
The following Monday morning, I received a call from our advertising director telling me more people turned out to see Roy at the Terrace in Salisbury than at the Tryon Mall Theatre in Charlotte.
I later received nice letters from our company president and my district manager, but the letter that touched me the most came from Roy’s manager, Art Rush. He stated the Salisbury appearance drew the largest turnout of any city Roy visited, and that no other town had put on the show Salisbury did.
Roy had been very impressed.
And for one brief Saturday morning, 801 of us Salisburians rode the happy trails with him.
Mike Cline’s website, “Mike Cline’s Then Playing,” documents all the movies played in Salisbury and Rowan County theaters from 1920 to today, while also including Cline’s personal insights on movies and numerous examples of old movie posters.