Fans of Roy Rogers will want to make some Happy Trails on over to the National Museum of Funeral History to see an amazing exhibit of the renowned singing cowboy and movie star.
From now until the end of the year the museum will be displaying the 1963 Pontiac Bonneville convertible once owned by Rogers and his wife Dale Evans, among other items.
“Those who love all things Western – its history, music, movies, television shows and especially cowboys who inspired us – will love this exhibit,” said Genevieve Keeney, president and chief operating officer of the museum.
The garishly tricked-out car was given to Rogers by noted fashion designer Nudie Cohn.
“His vehicle on display was a gift to him from his dear friend Nudie Cohn and was a treasured artifact in the Roy Rogers Museum in Branson, Mo. Unfortunately, the museum has since closed, and therefore I am most honored to be able to have on display an artifact that was so dear to the iconic cowboy Roy Rogers,” Keeney said.
The car is owned by museum board member Buck Kemphausen, whose replica of the 1966 Batmobile was on display last year.
The car isn’t the only thing in the exhibit, but it is a rolling exhibit in itself. The interior is lined with hand-tooled leather. The dash, doors and other parts are encrusted with silver dollars. There is a black saddle between the bucket seats, decorated with rhinestones and more silver dollars. The door handles and gear shifter are all pistols, and all kinds of pistols and rifles decorate the car. Many of the knobs are chrome horse heads. Keeney counted and there are 346 silver dollars in the car. There are simply too many fine details to list; it has to be seen to be believed.
The car’s exterior is decorated with rifles and pistols and has a fancy set of Texas longhorns on the front grille. Standing right behind the car is a mannequin of Rogers wearing one of his iconic Nudie outfits and cowboy hat. Displayed on a wall behind the car is a case is a pair of Rogers’ signature double-eagle boots, autographed photos, a book about Nudie Cohn, and the CD of music that was played at Rogers’ funeral 20 years ago. Also on the wall are more photos of Rogers and Evans, along with funeral programs.
“This was an opportunity to celebrate Roy Rogers’ contributions to Hollywood, the Wild, Wild West, and the cowboys and cowgirls of today,” Keeney said.
The items other than the car are on loan from Rogers’ son, Roy “Dusty” Rogers Jr.
Although the exhibit is a tribute to Roy Rogers, it’s just as much a tribute to Nudie Cohn, who designed some of the most flamboyant and recognizable outfits from the 1950s through the 1970s, including some for Elvis Presley, Elton John, John Lennon, John Wayne, Clayton Moore (The Lone Ranger), Gene Autry, Cher, President Ronald Reagan, George Jones, Porter Wagoner, Glen Campbell, and scores of others.
The car he made for Rogers wasn’t the only one. Cohn customized 18 automobiles between 1950 and 1975 – mostly white Pontiac Bonneville convertibles. They were nicknamed “Nudie Mobiles,” and the nine surviving cars – including the one at the museum – have become valued collector’s items. Cohn died in 1984 at the age of 81. Rogers was born Leonard Franklin Slye on Nov. 5, 1911. He died July 6, 1998.
“This special exhibit gives visitors an opportunity to learn a bit about Roy Rogers, who was an American cowboy,” Keeney said. “Many visitors will remember turning on the television to watch his iconic show in the ’50s. Texas is known for its cowboys and I find nothing more fitting than paying a tribute to Roy Rogers on the 20th anniversary of his death.”
The National Museum of Funeral History is located at 415 Barren Springs Dr., Houston, and is open weekdays from 10 a.m. to 4 p.m., Saturday from 10 a.m. to 5 p.m. and Sunday from noon to 5 p.m. Admission is $10 for adults, $9 for seniors and veterans; $7 for children 6-11 years old; and free for children age 5 and younger. For more information, visit www.nmfh.org, like them on Facebook, or call 281-876-3063.