Great Will Hunting

Poster for State Fair (1933) with Will Rogers

Poster for State Fair (1933) with Will Rogers

Every August around this time, the Will Rogers Ranch Foundation and California State Parks stage an outdoor screening of one of Will’s films. Last night it was the original version of State Fair (1933) directed by Henry King and starring Will and Janet Gaynor, with Lew Ayres and Sally Eilers. The Foundation called it “Movies in Will’s Back Yard”, as it took place on the putting green adjoining the Will Rogers Ranch.

As Lew Ayres said about Will, he’s not really an actor at all: he’s just a character. He would never select a role that would call for anything but allowing him to be himself. The result was a series of great pictures made in the early 1930s before he died in an Alaska plane crash in 1935. My favorites are A Connecticut Yankee (1931), Doctor Bull (1933), Judge Priest (1934), Life Begins at Forty (1935), and Steamboat Round the Bend (1935).

Despite the fact that he “couldn’t act,” Will Rogers was the best-paid actor in Hollywood just before his death. (It must have been because people liked him so much that they couldn’t care whether or not he was a genuine actor.)

He was also America’s number one columnist. Somehow, he managed to pull off the neat trick of having both Republicans and Democrats love him. Now that Robin Williams is gone, who is there alive who can make that claim?

Every year around this time, I write a post about Will Rogers because I admire him so much. Let me leave you with this little quote from one of his talks:

The average citizen knows only too well that it makes no difference to him which side wins. He realizes that the Republican elephant and the Democratic donkey have come to resemble each other so closely that it is practically impossible to tell them apart; both of them make the same braying noise, and neither of them ever says anything. The only perceptible difference is that the elephant is somewhat the larger of the two.

Inspiration Point


At Will Rogers State Historical Park’s Inspiration Point

At Will Rogers State Historic Park’s Inspiration Point

Tomorrow is the 134th anniversary of Will Rogers’ birth. In commemoration, the Will Rogers Ranch Foundation had a birthday party for him, complete with music, an art show, and free cupcakes. After the music, which was mostly 1930s vintage (Will died in a 1935 plane crash in Alaska), Martine and I hiked up to the top of Inspiration Point. The trail is along a relatively easy fire road with a 116-foot gain, about 1.25 miles in length. From up top, you can see a broad swath of Los Angeles extending from downtown to Westwood to Santa Monica and south along Santa Monica Bay to the Palos Verdes Peninsula. You can see the bay behind me and a piece of Will’s polo field just to my right.

Will Rogers State Historic Park is the nicest stretch of greenery near where I live. For a $12.00 day use fee per car, one could watch a polo match (the season is over for now), barbecue some hamburgers, tour Will’s ranch house with a docent, loll aound on the lawn, or take a hike. The Inspiration Point hike is more in the nature of a stroll, but branching out from it is the Santa Monica Mountains Backbone Trail, linking Will Rogers with Topanga State Park, Malibu Creek State Park, and ultimately Point Mugu State Park in Ventura County—some forty miles up and down the ridge line of the Santa Monica Range.

Martine and I usually wind up visiting the Park three or four times a year. Even on the hottest days of summer, its proximity to the ocean usually means there is an occasional breeze. (Farther inland, there is no such relief.)

It was a good day.


The Story of Will Rogers

Lobby Card from the Film The Story of Will Rogers

Lobby Card from the Film The Story of Will Rogers (1952)

It has become a tradition for Martine and me to attend the annual outdoor screening each August to mark the anniversary of the star’s death in a 1935 Alaska airplane accident. This year, it was held last Friday. The event is co-sponsored by the Will Rogers Ranch Foundation, to which we belong, and the Will Rogers Motion Picture Pioneers Foundation. This year, instead of screening a film starring Will Rogers, we got a film about Will, starring Will’s son, Will Jr., who is a dead-ringer for his father.

The Story of Will Rogers is an A-list film starring not only Will Jr., but Jane Wyman as Betty Rogers and a great cast of supporting actors, including James Gleason, Slim Pickens, Noah Beery Jr, and Mary Wickes.

As usual, the film was screened outdoors as soon as the sky darkened (around 8 pm). The audience sat around on either blankets or (like us) chairs that we brought from home with us.

I have always thought that Will Rogers was, in many ways, the ideal American. Not only did he have Cherokee blood from both his parents, but his sense of humor was completely non-partisan. Everyone got gored—and fairly, too!

Just to leave you with one of his thoughts: “Too many people spend money they haven’t earned, to buy things they don’t want, to impress people they don’t like.”

Give a Man a Rope …

Will Roberts: Political Comedy and Rope Tricks

It was almost as if Will Rogers were still alive. In a way, he was—because over a hundred people were there to celebrate his 133rd birthday. The sponsoring Will Rogers Ranch Foundation brought in a man, who, like Rogers, could do rope tricks and sophisticated (yet gentle) political comedy at the same time. He goes by the name Will Roberts.

Formerly with Cirque de Soleil in Las Vegas, where he did a stint in a show called Viva Elvis, which closed on August 31 of this year. In the show, he did rope tricks while perched on a Cadillac.

Today, he reminded Martine and me how much we wished that Will Rogers were still alive today. His gentle humor made Republicans and Democrats laugh together, rather than at one another’s pain and outrage. Although, in the early 1930s, he was one of the richest men in America, he was also one of the busiest and one of the best. He gave freely of his time and money to help people who were suffering, such as when an earthquake struck Managua, Nicaragua, in 1931. Will showed up and proceeded to help out the victims with money and other aid paid for from his own pocket.

We sat through two shows that Will Roberts gave and enjoyed his rope tricks and humor, which are by no means easy to combine. Yet everyone in the audience has received hundreds of robocalls during this political campaign and was in the mood to put the whole election behind them with a good laugh, whether they were for Obama, Romney, Ron Paul, or Donald Trump.

Just as the original Will was a syndicated columnist (see his Daily Telegrams), Will Roberts has just come out with a book entitled A Crackpot’s Potshot at American Politics (Mustang, Oklahoma: Tate Publishing, 1912) which is pretty much in the same vein. Witness this selection about George W. Bush’s Mideast war budget:

Today President Bush is supposed to give his shopping list for the war. If all goes the way the Democrats want, our President will join the more than 100 million a year that bounce checks.

Republicans have been winning the coin toss for a few years now. Some Democrats think it might be due to the fact that it is a double-headed quarter. Now the Democrats have a home field advantage and are hoping for a strong first quarter. Go team!!!

Some folks are most likely thinking, “Will must be a Democrat.” But folks, I am like all the others in the middle, and I am just for the right answer or left answer … OK, the correct answer.

Even Rush Limbaugh or Roger Ailes couldn’t cavil at that. Well, maybe they could.

If you want to read more about Will Roberts, I suggest you check out two websites: Will Roberts, Speaker, Humorist, and Trick Roper as well as Will Roberts Modern Day Will Rogers. The latter contains some of his political humor in blog format. If you have an Amazon Kindle, you could also buy A Crackpot’s Potshot at American Politics for only 99 cents.

It is so rare to find political humor any more that doesn’t leave a bad taste in one’s mouth….