July 23, 2010 | 11:00 am
It was Cincinnati, 1929, and the Slye family was struggling to make ends meet. To help out, 17-year-old Leonard Slye traded high school for a shoe factory job. Perhaps it was a youthful whim that led him to pay $20 for a guitar from a secondhand shop. Little did he realize how much the investment would pay off, leading him down happier trails to a life of fame and success as TV, film and radio star Roy Rogers.
On July 14 and 15, an auction at Christie’s dispersed artifacts of the now-closed Roy Rogers and Dale Evans Museum in Branson, Mo., including the guitar that gave Rogers his start. Now, the Autry National Center owns that memento of American cultural history. The guitar was one of 1,000 artifacts sold in an event that netted $2.98 million.
Other treasures included the preserved figures of Rogers’ horse and dog; Trigger sold for $266,000 and Bullet for $35,000. Nellybelle, the cowboy’s jeep, went for $116,500. As for the hand-drawn music and lyrics of “Happy Trails?” Just $27,500.
The Autry Center, which includes the Museum of the American West, hasn’t disclosed the price of the guitar, except to say that its purchase was made possible by Lora and Bob Sandroni and the support of Stuart Simon and Jo-Carole and Gary M. Zechel. The Autry will include the guitar in its Roy Rogers and Dale Evans archive, whose contents are being cataloged and digitally recorded. Some artifacts are now on display in the Imagination Gallery and lobby of the Museum of the American West, including a plastic saddle that cushioned Rogers as he rode Trigger in the 1952 Tournament of Roses Parade.
John Gray, president and CEO of the Autry, said in a statement, “The Autry is proud to add this important guitar, which sparked the illustrious career of Roy Rogers, to our collection.”
— Daina Beth Solomon
Photo: Roy Rogers’ first guitar, bought in 1929, finds a new home at the Autry. Credit: Autry National Center