Roy Rogers has gone but his sidekick’s jeep is back in gear
READING, Pa. (AP) – “Whoa, Nellybelle!”
Baby boomers of a certain age might recognize the line as Pat Brady’s panic-stricken plea to his cantankerous Jeep on The Roy Rogers Show.
From 1951 to 1957, kids eagerly gathered around their floor model black-and-white Zenith and Philco TVs on Sunday nights to watch the adventures of Roy Rogers, King of the Cowboys.
Rogers rounded up the desperados atop his horse, Trigger, while sidekick Brady rode the range in a four-wheeled steed, a 1946 Willys Jeep nicknamed Nellybelle.
Rogers and Brady rode off into the sunset years ago, but Nellybelle survives as a remnant of television’s early days.
Through the end of February, Nellybelle will be on display at the Boyertown Museum of Historic Vehicles.
The Jeep is the centerpiece of “Branding Roy Rogers: From Nellybelle to Lunchboxes,” an exhibit that includes a variety of Rogers memorabilia.
“Nellybelle is an attraction in herself,” said Kendra Cook, museum curator. “But Roy Rogers was one of the most recognizable faces in the 1950s, second only to Disney cartoons in product licensing.”
David Beard, the museum’s executive director, said surrounding Nellybelle with Roy Rogers lunchboxes, cowboy outfits and play six-shooters is an effort to give context to the exhibit.
“When the Jeep became available, I scrambled to put together a small collection of Roy Rogers stuff,” Beard said. “It places the vehicle in a broader cultural perspective.”
Left homeless when the Roy Rogers-Dale Evans Museum closed in 2009, Nellybelle sold at auction for $116,500 in July 2010. Its new owners are Pam Weidel and John Haines, a principal in Haines & Kibblehouse, a Montgomery County contractor.
A Willys Model CJ-2A Jeep, Nellybelle is a civilian version of the rugged vehicle driven by GIs in World War II.
“Willys and Ford made 359,851 Jeeps during World War II,” Beard said. “After the war, Willys made a civilian version, one of the first four-wheel-drive vehicles available to the public.”
Nellybelle was painted battleship gray, a color that blended well with the black-and-white format of the TV show.
She had a mind of her own and, on occasion, would take off without a driver.
Actually, she was driven by a stunt man crouched down beneath the dashboard. The windshield was replaced with a metal strip, which had a hole cut in it so the stunt driver could see out.
Brady, a tank crewman in World War II, might have influenced the modifications to the vehicle.
The name Nellybelle comes from a catch phrase, “Whoa Nelly,” Brady used when he rode a stubborn mule in Roy Rogers movies.
Brady, whose real name was Robert O’Brady, replaced Rogers as a member of The Sons of the Pioneers, a popular western singing group in the1930s and 1940s.
Rogers left the group to work on radio and Hollywood, where he signed with Republic Pictures in 1937. He made about 100 movies, many with his wife, Dale Evans.
In 1950, Rogers left Hollywood for television.
The Roy Rogers Show debuted on NBC on Dec. 30, 1951, and lasted six seasons.
Born Leonard Slye, Roy died at age 87 in 1998. Dale, born Lucille Wood Smith, died at age 89 in 2001. Robert Ellsworth Patrick Aloysious O’Brady died at age 58 in 1972.
Information from: Reading Eagle, http://www.readingeagle.com/
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