Roy Rogers gets back in the saddle

Producers purchase rights to TV icons

Producers Lawrence Bender and Kevin Brown plan to bring Western legends Roy Rogers and Dale Evans back to life.

The producing duo has made a deal with Roy “Dusty” Rogers Jr. and producer Jeffrey Kramer, who represent Roy Rogers Family Entertainment, for film, TV and merchandising rights to the estate and likeness of the beloved pair for a family-oriented entertainment franchise.

Rather than shop the rights piecemeal, the producers, who are behind the Mick Garris-directed WB pilot “Lost in Oz,” based on author Frank L. Baum’s “Wizard of Oz” series, aim to make an overall deal with a conglomerate to produce films and TV programs starring actors playing Rogers and Evans. The couple appeared in 88 features and 100 episodes of a TV series that ran from 1952-57.

Biopic hatching

Also in the hatching stage is a biopic and a TV special featuring contemporary C&W artists singing such Rogers and Evans standards as “Happy Trails,” which was written by Evans.

“Though they still have a strong following, people don’t realize that Roy was very much like the character he played,” said Brown. “He was an uncomplicated hero, and that’s what we liked about him.”

Though Bender is best known for producing Quentin Tarantino shoot-’em-ups like “Pulp Fiction” and the Uma Thurman-Warren Beatty starrer “Kill Bill,” currently in pre-production, the Rogers film will be strictly for the family.

“We’re not going back to the Old West, but we will incorporate the values and morals that Roy and Dale were known for, and though we began negotiating this long before Sept. 11, there seems to be an appetite for that kind of thing,” said Brown. “Much the way you might see Ted Turner on his ranch on a horse, you’d see these characters that way at a time when they were switching over to Land Rovers. These will be contemporary, hip tales. We’ve already been offered an opportunity to do an animated series, and we intend to explore every way to depict the characters without violating what they meant to everybody.”

The notion of hiring actors to play the deceased duo is daunting, but son Dusty Rogers and producer Kramer noted that they are still quite popular, with about 55,000 annual visitors to the Roy Rogers-Dale Evans Museum in Victorville, Calif.

“Roy and Dale hold the single day box office record at the Old Madison Square Garden, and they had 29 straight sellout performances there,” said Rogers. “My dad was one of the first cowboys to bring entertainment to state fairs and rodeos, that’s how it started, and other than the Wild West shows done by Buffalo Bill, they were real pioneers of halftime entertainment. We will have to be delicate and careful with the characters, and we chose these producers because we thought they could bring some edge and imagination to it.”

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