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Tuesday, December 22, 1998 - Page updated at 12:00 AM

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Dale Evans And Her `Twin' Still Share A Rare Friendship

The San Bernardino Sun

Most baby boomers grew up watching Roy Rogers and Dale Evans keep the West safe from the bad guys.

They also grew up watching Alice Van-Springsteen. Most of them just don't know it.

Van-Springsteen worked as Evans' stunt double in most of the Rogers-Evans movies and in about half of the duo's television shows.

At 80, Van-Springsteen has long since given up stunt work. But she and Evans, 86, have remained friends over the years. And Evans recently accompanied Van-Springsteen to Houston, where the former stunt woman was inducted into the Cowgirl Hall of Fame.

"I really grew to love Alice as a sister," says Evans, seated in her office at the Roy Rogers and Dale Evans Museum in Victorville, Calif. Van-Springsteen sits across the desk from her. She's there for a visit, having driven up from her home in Coronado.

"That's right," Alice nods. "We're like sisters."

It was on the set of "Yellow Rose of Texas," the second film Rogers and Evans made together, that Van-Springsteen and Evans met.

Evans says she remembers watching Van-Springsteen work and trying to learn how better to ride a horse by following her moves.

"Republic Studios thought since I was a Texan, surely I could ride a horse," Evans recalls. "They were mistaken. I watched Alice when she doubled me and I learned things. I watched the way she sat a horse like a man. She would give me tips along the way."

Van-Springsteen was the right source for riding tips.

A professional rodeo and trick rider since the age of 12, she performed during opening ceremonies at the 1932 Olympic Games in Los Angeles and had won world titles in champion trick riding. She also rode as a jockey and was the third woman ever to receive a trainer's license for Thoroughbred horses. In 1937, at the age of 18, she was invited by the queen of England to ride in the annual Royal Easter Show in Australia.

Her first work as a film stunt woman was in Will Rogers' last movie, "In Old Kentucky." Eventually she was a stunt double for many recognized stars, such as Elizabeth Taylor (in "National Velvet"), Marian Davis, Jane Wyman, Ingrid Bergman and Barbara Stanwyck (in "The Big Valley" TV series).

"I had other women that doubled me, but none of them impressed me like Alice," Evans says.

In the days before Evans married Rogers, she and Van-Springsteen also were roommates. They shared a guest house at Bing Crosby's home for about a year. In addition to sharing their living space, they shared the trials of their early careers.

Most of Van-Springsteen's pitfalls came in the way of bruises and broken bones, including a broken back from coming down on top of a gate during a rodeo event.

"They said, `She'll never walk again,' " she says, recalling the doctors' prognosis. "But I was walking in six months."

There was a time when the studios tried to move Van-Springsteen from anonymity and turn her into a star.

"I went to Warner Bros., and they decided they were going to make an actress out of me," she says. They wanted her to play Annie Oakley. "They sent me to dramatic school. This teacher wanted to teach me Shakespeare. I said, `I'm doing Westerns!'

"They had me fencing, until the instructor was behind me and he (got fresh) and I hit him. They told me not to come back. So, I said, `I think I'd better go back to what I know.' That ended my career as an actress. I said, `Dale, you do the acting and I'll do the stunts.' "

In the late 1950s, Van-Springsteen and Evans went on to different professional projects. They kept in touch with occasional telephone calls but didn't see each other for 20 years. It wasn't until 1970, when Van-Springsteen and her husband, Bud Springsteen, were having dinner at an Apple Valley restaurant, that Roy Rogers ran into them.

"Roy said, `Oh Alice, will you stay here? I'm going to call Dale. She'll want to see you,' " Van-Springsteen says.

The friendship was rekindled and remains strong.

When Van-Springsteen's son Norman died three years ago, it was Evans that she called. Rogers and Evans drove to her home to be with her.

A week before Rogers' death in July, Van-Springsteen was sitting with him in the Rogers and Evans home in Apple Valley.

"Roy said, `Alice, I want to talk to you. I'm dying . . .' I said, `No, you can't do it right now.' And he said, `Will you do something for me? Take care of Mama. She's going to need you when I'm gone.' "

The nurse who was attending Rogers when he died let Van-Springsteen know first.

"He said, `Alice, Roy just passed away.' I went in to see him. I kissed him on the forehead. I went to Dale's bed and said, `Dale it's time for you to wake up.' She started right up in the bed and said, `Is Roy OK?' I said, `Roy's gone.'

"That was real hard to tell her. Dale is very strong. But that night, it was the worst I've ever seen her. It was like part of her was gone."

"It still is," Evans says quietly.

Copyright (c) 1998 Seattle Times Company, All Rights Reserved.

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