The Scots girl adopted by singing cowboy Roy Rogers

By Steven Brocklehurst
BBC Scotland News

image source, Mimi Swift
image captionRoy Rogers and Dale Evans with their family on their California ranch - Marion is third left

In 1940, less than a week before Christmas, Marion Fleming was born in an air-raid shelter in Edinburgh.

From the age of two she spent her childhood in a series of children's homes across Scotland.

When she was 13 her luck changed when film stars Roy Rogers and his wife Dale Evans discovered her in Dunforth, a Church of Scotland children's home in the north of Edinburgh.

On that day Marion stepped forward to sing a song.

image source, Getty Images
image captionDale Evans leaves a red lipstick mark on the cheek of her husband Roy Rogers

Roy and Dale were so charmed that they wanted to bring the tiny girl with the fine voice to their home in America.

Nowadays it would be more complicated but, in 1954, after a few months and some legal wrangling, Marion spent her first Christmas on their ranch in California, as their daughter.

"What are the chances that they would want me to be part of that family?" says Marion, who is now 79.

Earlier this year Marion, who everyone calls Mimi, returned to Scotland with her own three children.

Parties and outings

She remembers her time at Dunforth, which overlooks the water at Newhaven, fondly, despite the home having a strict regime that made the children work hard.

One of Mimi's duties was to light the coal fire and prepare the house of police chief Willie Merrilees, a patron of the children's home who raised funds for them to have parties and outings.

It was Merrilees who brought the famous singing cowboy Roy Rogers and queen of the west Dale Evans to the children's home.

Roy and Dale were heroes to a generation of kids who had watched their movies at Saturday matinees and they now had a popular US TV show.

They came to Edinburgh in the spring of 1954 while on a tour of the UK with their wild west show.

They were at the peak of their popularity. Boys and girls would line the streets hoping for a glimpse of the biggest star of all, Roy Rogers' horse Trigger.

image source, Archive Photos
image captionMarion Fleming with her new brothers and sister and film star father Roy Rogers in 1955

The celebrity couple caused quite a stir when they checked into Edinburgh's Caledonian Hotel dressed in white cowboy suits and matching Stetsons and led the golden palomino horse up the grand staircase.

Wherever they went on tour, Roy and Dale always visited children in local orphanges and hospitals.

And Willie Merrilees was their guide as they went to Dunforth.

Mimi says the Hollywood pair did a couple of numbers from their show for the children.

Then she performed a song called Won't You Buy My Pretty Flowers? for them.

Later that evening, the matron at the home told Mimi she had been invited to see the show and have lunch with the couple.

She ate with Roy and Dale and then watched the show, which had been sold out for months, from the wings of the theatre stage.

Afterwards, Dale asked if she would like to visit them in California for the holidays.

"Part of me thought 'it is not going to happen'," says Mimi.

image captionMimi, now 79, returned to visit her old school, Victoria Primary in Newhaven, Edinburgh

"I was not a cute little five or six year old, I was 13," she says. "I figured it wasn't going to happen."

But Mimi did go to California, not knowing what it would lead to.

She was welcomed into the Rogers family and did not return to Scotland until she was married with a daughter of her own.

That return was for an edition of popular biographical TV show This is Your Life, featuring Willie Merrilees.

Mimi was not an orphan. Her parents had separated and neither had been able to make a home for their four children.

She remembers her father visiting her at various times and seeing her mother occasionally.

'It felt like I was home'

Despite this Mimi was keen to live with Roy and Dale and quickly felt part of their family in California.

"It sounds very cold-hearted that I didn't want to come home, but it felt like I was home," she says.

Roy and Dale could not originally adopt Mimi. She went over to the US on a student visa but they finally got legal custody the following year.

The film star couple already had a large family. Rogers had two of his own children and an adopted daughter from a previous marriage.

With Dale, he adopted four children, including Mimi.

image captionThe dilapidated Dunforth Children's Home, where Mimi was living when she met Roy Rogers and Dale Evans

The couple had one child of their own Robin, who had Down's syndrome and died of complications with mumps shortly before her second birthday.

"After Robin passed, that's when mum and dad got Dodie and Sandy," says Mimi. "I probably owe my position here in America to Robin, in a way."

She describes Roy and Dale as "hands-on" parents, although they could obviously afford a lot of help.

"When we were in the house we were just a family, they weren't Roy Rogers and Dale Evans, they were mum and dad," she says.

And Mimi was allowed to ride Trigger.

She says: "Of course, he was a very high horse so I literally had to get lifted on to the saddle.

"He just walked around like a plodding donkey but when Cheryl got on him he took off because he knew somebody who knew horses was in charge now."

image captionMimi in Edinburgh this year with daughter Laurie and sons Dan and David

With sister Cheryl to show her the ropes, Mimi adapted quickly to Californian life and was even a High School cheerleader.

She got married at 17 to a boy from school.

"I was way too young," she says.

Her husband Dan, who had Native American heritage, joined the Marine Corps and they were stationed at bases around the US. He was killed in a car accident when their three children were still young.

But now Mimi also has grandchildren and great grandchildren.

'There's always hope'

Roy and Dale lived until their late 80s and died in 1998 and 2001.

Mimi says she is still amazed that people are interested in her life.

"It's such an old story and I'm always surprised when someone brings it up," says Mimi.

"I think it encourages people to think that maybe there is a bright spot in their life down the road, they just haven't reached it.

"There's always hope," she says.