Trigger Book History

The Old Cowboy Picture Show trail boss and editor George Coan with Roy Rogers at his museum in Victorville.

Author Robert W. Phillips on a Champion look-alike in Gene Autry, Oklahoma, at the annual festival.

Two Roys, the King of the Cowboys and super fan Roy Dillow, at a June 1994 fest in Portsmouth, Ohio.
I met many great Saddle Pals through The Old Cowboy Picture Show club. To those who’ve read my Trigger books, Larry “Rocky” Roe is a name that should be familiar. I consider him an expert on the palomino.
Another TOCPS friend, Mike Johnson knew Roy and Dale on a level most of us can only dream about. I never tire of Mike’s related anecdotes and stories. A Brit living in Canada, here pictured at a hospital ground breaking event in Victorville. Mike’s the only person I’ve met who knows as much about Roy Rogers as he does about Keith Richard and Elvis.
Five TRIGGER book versions minus the kindle edition. Trigger first edition hardbound; Trigger first edition paperback; Trigger second edition paperback; Trigger second editions leather bound black and brown covers. From the Roy Dillow collection.

“Leo, James Warren (publisher of Famous Monsters of Filmland and Screen Thrills Illustrated magazines) in Pennsylvania said that the Trigger newsletter issue is the greatest thing he’d ever seen on this subject. He also said that it should be a book, and that we should reprint it in a year or so.”George Coan publisher of The Old Cowboy Picture Show

And so it began, a note of encouragement from publisher James Warren. He was a man who knew a great deal about pop culture and the movies genres baby boomers grew up with and loved into adulthood. As it turned out, we published two issues devoted to Trigger: volume 4, number 12 in 2000 and volume 7, number 2 in 2003.

I submitted a query letter and excerpts from my manuscript to McFarland Books in 2005. I picked McFarland because I already had a few of their biography and history books. With their pop culture sensibilities, they seemed like a good fit. Three quick weeks later I had a contract to write around 30,000 words! Pretty daunting for a first time author, the project grew exponentially to 100,000 words.

I was already well connected with Saddle Pals from The Old Cowboy Picture Show newsletter, fans who’d been collecting and studying B-westerns for decades. I also had access to great source material.

Robert W. Phillips was the first Saddle Pal I met, I did so through his McFarland book Roy Rogers. Most biographies on the King of the Cowboys were pretty generic, cut from the same template laced with safe public relations. Phillips dug deeper and broke the mold. He wasn’t interested in a hatchet job but in straight reportage. He was a great researcher. (When we met he was compiling a huge book on western comics. A project he was never able to complete.)

Robert W. Phillips introduced me to George Coan who ran The Old Cowboy Picture Show club out of Laurinburg, North Carolina. I volunteered to help with the newsletter George had been publishing; we ended up producing some 60 issues together.

It was through Coan that I was able to contact Trigger’s trainer, Corky Randall and had the pleasure of interviewing him by telephone on a number of occasions from his home in Newhall, California, where he was semi-retired at 77.

In 2017 McFarland Books was on board for a second edition of the Trigger book. By then I had accumulated 10 years of new material. The real key was super-fan Roy Dillow and his huge Roy Rogers photo and ephemera archive. Dillow came up with amazing and often rare images and was generous beyond words. His knowledge of Roy Rogers and Trigger is best described as encyclopedic.

This greyscale file is all that remains of the first cover concept. Though meant to be printed in color, one gets the general idea. I loved the concept but feared it was to etherial. I approached the project as a mystery and the image was reminiscent of waves on the water. What lies below? As the original Trigger was so handsome, using his entire head was the safer and obvious solution.
The second cover concept. The extended “CHASING” on top was weak. The title was used for an inside chapter. The subtitle needed at least one more key word, “The Lives and Legend of Roy Rogers’ Palomino” covered more ground. The sepia photo would have worked on a darker brown background. As it turned out the final subtitle, “An Illustrated History of. . . ” was too long and not quite accurate.
The second edition Trigger book cover by designer Jack Tom also went through a number of versions. The color scheme here was over the top. Roy Dillow eventually came up with a fantastic rare solo portrait that graces the final cover.