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‘Truth or Consequences’ and the life of Bremerton's Ralph Rogers
Bremerton resident Ralph E. Rogers, owner of Team Sports in East Bremerton, was born in southern New Mexico the day Hot Springs ceased to exist.
While Hot Springs doesn’t appear on maps today, if you pick up a map from 1950 it will be visible right there in Sierra County, southern New Mexico.
The town was small, with only one main road and fewer than 5,000 residents. Other than the water sources from which the town derived its name, there wasn’t much to attract visitors.
At the time, Ralph Edwards, the famous radio announcer and television producer, was hosting a television show that would transform the little town of Hot Springs and those who lived there.
The name of that show was “Truth or Consequences.”
“Truth or Consequences” started as a radio program in 1940 and, as many successful radio programs at the time did, transitioned to TV in 1950. When the show made the switch, Edwards announced a contest for cities and towns throughout the U.S. The winning community would change its name to Truth or Consequences, and Edwards would personally host the program from the town.
Towns around the country submitted applications to the program, but Hot Springs won.
Then, on April 1, 1951, two things happened: Hot Springs officially became Truth or Consequences, N.M., and the first child born in the newly named city was named Ralph Edwards Rogers.
When Ralph Edwards, the newborn child’s namesake, hosted his show from the newly named town of Truth or Consequences, people all around the nation were watching. According to Rogers, when the episode aired, his aunt in Massachusetts happened to recognize his mother and called to say she’d seen them on TV.
When Rogers was two years old, his family moved from Truth or Consequences to El Paso, Texas, 120 miles to the east. The small town of his birth still played a large part in his life, however.
Every spring, the town would commemorate the name change by holding their annual Fiesta. And every April, the Rogers family would make the journey from El Paso back to Truth or Consequences.
The Fiesta was the most biggest event held each year in Truth or Consequences, perhaps in all of southern New Mexico. Once every year, Ralph Edwards would land in town with his wife, Barbara, and a host of celebrities.
“I’d go back to school and tell them, ‘I saw Marilyn Monroe … She gave me a kiss on the cheek,’” Rogers said. “I was about six years old, and all these people are going, ‘Oh yeah,’ sure.”
The crowd of celebrity guests would take part in a parade through the main street in downtown. Edwards would ride his horse and Barbara would follow behind in the convertible.
The parade was only a part of Truth or Consequences’s celebration. Edwards didn’t simply bring celebrities to town so they could walk down the main road – he brought them to perform.
Rogers’ sister, Beverly Neugebauer, remembers the variety show fondly.
“Everybody went up to the high school, and we watched them all perform,” she said.
The ordinary quality of the local high school would transform one night a year, as it filled with some of the era’s most famous stars.
According to Rogers, Bob Barker, who would go on to host “Truth or Consequences” from 1956 to 1975, was the regular master of ceremonies.
“The one that I guess that I remember the most was Doc and Kitty and all them off of ‘Gun Smoke’,” Rogers said.
For Rogers, the annual event was of extra significance. It was as though the town transformed for a massive birthday celebration, both remembering the birth of Truth or Consequences, N.M., and of Ralph Rogers also.
Not only did Rogers meet dozens of the world’s most famous celebrities, he was also given his own unique honor each year during the show.
“Every year they brought me up on stage and introduced me as little Ralph,” Rogers said.
The Rogers family began to form a bond with Ralph and Barbara Edwards, and as the young Ralph Rogers grew, he developed a relationship with his namesake.
When Beverly and Ralph were still young, Edwards gave them a gift, “The Bumper Book,” that had a lasting effect on the children.
“I kind of learned to read out of that book, and Ralph learned to read out of that book, and as I got older I found a copy of the book for my kids,” Barbara said. “That [will] always stay in my mind.”
Rogers and his family continued to attend each Fiesta throughout his childhood, celebrating the birth of their city and son. When Ralph graduated high school, Edwards sent him a set of gold lacrosse pens.
After his high-school graduation, Rogers joined the Navy as a weapons technician in 1970. He and Edwards continued to write letters back and forth while Rogers was away. In 1973, Rogers made the trip out to the festival, this time in uniform, where he was once again introduced to all as Ralph Edwards, Jr.
But that would prove to be the last Fiesta Rogers attended, and the last time he would see his namesake, Ralph Edwards.
Rogers got married not long after the 1973 Fiesta and was relocated to Bremerton, where he has lived ever since.
“I was in the Navy … I had two kids by the time I was a (petty officer) third class, so we never had the money to go down there,” Rogers said, “but my mother would always … tell me that Ralph Edwards told me to say hi.”
Rogers’s wife told him once or twice he should go, even if on his own, to one of the fiestas, but he says he always felt it wouldn’t be right for him to go without his family.
“My parents always offered to pay my way out there, but I’d never take it. I kind of regret that I didn’t do that.”
In the early 2000s, Rogers found out that Edwards’s health was deteriorating, and attempted to reconnect with the man he knew as a child.
He sent Edwards a letter and the two picked up their relationship where they had left off more than 20 years prior. They continued their correspondence for a while, until Edwards’ condition began to worsen.
“I was going to go down and visit him and that’s when they told me he was too sick -- I waited too long,” Rogers said.
Edwards’ health had worsened to the point that only immediate family were being allowed to visit. Despite being Ralph Edwards, Jr., Rogers couldn’t make the trip. He had the money; his kids were grown; he had retired from the Navy; but fate had placed one final stumbling block between the two men.
“[It] really felt like a kick in the chest, when I got the email back from them saying, ‘please don’t come,’” Rogers said.
Rogers emailed back one more time, hoping that perhaps they could be persuaded, but he never received an answer, and a few months later, on Nov. 16, 2005, Ralph Edwards passed away.
“I kind of regret not going back as much as I should’ve, but you can’t change what happened. And I regret not seeing Ralph Edwards in the last couple years of his life,” Rogers said.
Ralph has visited his old hometown once since that last Fiesta in 1973. He and his family drove through on their way to El Paso more than 20 years ago, but it was not spring, and the Fiesta was not taking place, and so Ralph Rogers has yet to attend another Fiesta.
Despite his long hiatus, Rogers says he hopes to one day return to his hometown of Truth or Consequences and see the Fiesta in person once more.
“I’d like to go down there some summer,” Rogers said. “I understand it’s still going on. They still do it every year.”
Rogers is already planning one visit out of state, to his sister’s home for Thanksgiving; perhaps this will be the first year in some time a Ralph Edwards, junior or senior, will attend the Truth or Consequences Fiesta.
Today, Ralph Edwards Rogers owns and operates Team Sports in East Bremerton.
- Began career as a broadcaster at WABC in New York
- Produced such shows as “About Faces,” “Knockout,” “Place the Face,” “The People’s Court.”
- Created & hosted “Truth or Consequences,” which would run for 38 years between radio and TV.
- Created & hosted “This is Your Life.”
- His company, Ralph Edwards Productions, still operates to this day.
- Has two stars on the Hollywood walk of fame, one for radio and one for TV.