March 13, 2008
Roy Rogers’ Granddaughter Keeps His Spirit Alive
By Ramon Coronado, The Sacramento Bee, Calif.
Mar. 13--Julie Ashley-Pomilia leads a double life.
By day, she teaches first- graders how to read and write at Woodlake Elementary School in North Sacramento.
At night, on weekends, and when school is not in session, Ashley- Pomilia is an emissary of sorts.
"I tell stories about what it was like growing up with Roy Rogers and Dale Evans," said the granddaughter to the Hollywood Western stars.
"I am the ambassador for the Rogers family," said the Arden Park woman, who is quick to admit that she is one of 16 grandchildren. Her parents, Tom and Barbara Fox, live in Carmichael.
"The grandkids called him (Roy Rogers) Grandpa and the great-grandkids called him Grampy," she said.
Every other month for a couple of days, or longer on holidays, Ashley-Pomilia, 49, is on the road, attending Western festivals across the country.
She meets and greets people with other Hollywood celebrities or sits on panels with actors who were in television shows like "Wagon Train" and "Gunsmoke." For several years, she appeared in the Rose Parade.
Once a year, she is in Branson, Mo., where the Roy Rogers -- Dale Evans Museum and Happy Trails Theater is located.
Ashley-Pomilia and her two sisters, Mindy and Candy, also sing in a group they call the Rogers Legacy.
They have sung on the Grand Ole Opry television show and have appeared at Carnegie Hall in New York City.
Some of the songs they sing, like "Happy Trails," are from their grandparents' shows and performances that led to Rogers becoming known as "the king of cowboys" and Evans as the "queen of the West."
The couple made movies in the 1940s and had a television show in the 1950s. Later, they appeared on national talk shows, and in the 1990s, Rogers made a music video with singer Clint Black. Rogers died in 1998, and Evans died in 2001.
"They were the same on-screen as they were off. There was no pretentious air. They blurred the lines of fantasy and reality," Ashley-Pomilia said.
The Rogers loved children, she said. They adopted five of their nine children.
"For the poor kids in the nose-bleed seats, he would wear sequins so they could see him. He was the first rhinestone cowboy. He invented that look," Ashley-Pomilia said.
Ashley-Pomilia grew up in the Los Angeles area. When she was in elementary school, she spent weekends at the Rogers' ranch in Chatsworth.
"When I was a little girl, I thought everybody had a grandfather that made TV shows and movies," she said.
Later, when the couple's careers were at their height, the impact upon the young Ashley-Pomilia was huge, she said.
"Everywhere we went, people would come up and ask for autographs," she said.
From those days, Ashley- Pomilia has collected stacks of boxes jammed with memorabilia, ranging from lunch pails to puzzles. Inside her home, she has posters and a glass cabinet filled with Roy Rogers and Dale Evans toothbrushes, collector cards and even a credit card in their name.
"They were the most merchandized celebrities, second only to Walt Disney," Ashley-Pomilia said.
Ashley-Pomilia, who has three boys, ages 19, 15 and 13, said when her oldest was 5, she told him that his "Grampy" was so famous that a cocktail had been named after him. The Roy Rogers is a Shirley Templelike non-alcoholic drink.
Soon after, the little boy ordered the drink at a restaurant.
"I'd like a Grampy, please," she said her son requested.
Despite the tremendous fame, the memory of Roy Rogers and Dale Evans has faded over the years, she said.
"The fan base is dying off," she said.
But when she's on the road, Ashley-Pomilia said. people like to talk about Trigger, Roy Rogers' golden palomino, which was known for rearing on its hind legs upon command.
"Was he really stuffed?" a reporter asked.
"Everybody asks that question," Ashley-Pomilia said.
The horse, whose skin was mounted on a Fiberglas form, is on display in the Rogers' museum.
"He loved that horse, and he felt that the children would want to see him. But it is not the children who crowd around Trigger today, it's the adult children," Ashley-Pomilia said.
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