TALK ABOUT the surrender of America's cultural past! Where once there was a restaurant with Roy Rogers's name and his personal promise of a fixins' bar, now there is only Hardee's. Inside Hardee's, all that is left of Roy Rogers is a selection of chicken parts.
It is silly, you are told, to whine about such losses -- in this case Marriott Corp.'s sale of Roy Rogers restaurants to Hardee's Food Systems Inc. After all, things change; Griffith Stadium is gone and so, now, is Comiskey Park. And some have forgotten -- or don't know -- what it is that Roy Rogers did. (Probably there are people who cannot remember what the late Arthur Treacher did, either.) But the Hardee's takeover does matter, because it means the boys and girls of this nation someday will not know the difference between a Roy Rogers and a Hardee's.
There are differences, though. Roy Rogers, who is now 79 years old, was one of cinema's first singing cowboys (Gene Autry was probably the first). He made movies called "The Carson City Kid" and "Robin Hood of the Pecos." His film sidekick was Gabby Hayes. Hardee's, which is 29 years old, makes burgers, biscuits and, now, Roy-like chicken. It has no sidekick. Roy Rogers's NBC television program ran for nearly six years until mid-1957. The "boomer" generation came to think of the cast as a family. On the TV screen each week were Roy; his wife, Dale Evans; their sidekick, Pat Brady; Brady's Jeep, Nelliebelle; the Sons of the Pioneers, with whom Roy began his career as a singer; Trigger, Roy's horse; Buttermilk, Dale's horse; and Bullet, a German shepherd. The plots varied. Hardee's is not clannish and does not do much to vary its menu week by week. Roy Rogers began his career as Leonard Slye, working with a cousin as a duo called the Slye Brothers. When he signed with Republic Studios, he changed his name briefly to Dick Weston, then to Roy Rogers. Hardee's never changed its name. Though it was taken over in 1981 by a Canadian conglomerate called Imasco, it was named after its founder, restaurateur Wilber Hardee, a North Carolinian. Roy Rogers is immortalized in a museum in Victorville, Calif. That is where Trigger, now dead, stuffed and mounted, is on display. Paramount Home Video is releasing some of the old TV shows for his dwindling fans. Nothing Hardee's has made will ever be in a museum or will ever be shown on a VCR. Roy Rogers was known as the "King of the Cowboys"; his theme song was "Happy Trails to You." Hardee's could be thought of as the "Duke of the Burger Chains," ranking third behind McDonald's and Burger King. It has no musical tradition that will last. Roy Rogers once said, "When my time comes, just skin me and put me right up there on Trigger, just as though nothing had ever changed." Hardee's reminded Roy, and the rest of us, how sometimes things do.
Jeffrey Frank is an editor of Outlook.