Friday, May 12, 2017

Will Rogers: Actor, Trick Roper WRITER!

Howdy, Campers and Happy Poetry Friday! (My poem and the link to PF is below)

This time around, we TeachingAuthors are rhapsodizing about our favorite American writer's museum or home. Bobbi began with a post on Emily Dickinson's Museum, Mary Ann wrote about William Faulkner's Rowan Oak, And Carla, in her post titled "Listen My Children," wrote about Henry Wadsworth Longfellow's home.

Today I'm going to introduce you to a beloved place in my Southern California childhood, Will Rogers State Park and ranch house, just a 15-minute drive from UCLA.

But first, a bit about Will, gleaned from the Will Rogers Memorial Museum and Birthplace Ranch in Claremore,  Oklahoma:

My ancestors didn’t come over on the Mayflower, but they met the boat.” (Will was "born to a Cherokee Nation family.")

He wanted more than anything in the world to become a trick roper, and did, touring the US and Europe in Wild West and vaudeville shows. If his rope tricks failed on stage, he made jokes, and those "jokes became better than ropes." He signed with Ziegfeld's Follies and become a Broadway star.

But Will was also a writer. He was, to put it mildly, prolific. "He put approximately two million words in print—six books, more than 3,600 [daily!] newspaper columns..." and wrote frequently for The Saturday Evening Post. His "syndicated weekly and daily columns were prized by 600 newspapers ...including at least one in every major city...and reached a potential audience of 40 million readers." In addition, he wrote"scores of magazine articles—in a span of only sixteen years, stretching from the publication of his first newspaper article in 1916 until his last one in August 1935."

"I don't make jokes. I just watch the government
and report the facts."

Are you out of breath yet? There's more:

He appeared regularly on radio through the 1920's and 30's, and went on to produce, direct, write and star in the 20-minute silent picture, "Ropin' Fool," in which he pioneered slow-motion cinema to better demonstrate his roping tricks. (Watch him do 3 minutes of rope tricks from that film.)

He went on to star in 50 silent films, and when "talkies" replaced them, appeared in 21 pictures in five years and becoming Hollwood's highest paid actor. (In fact, here's his IMDB)

He was a force of nature. My mom and dad loved that he spoke truth to power--so naturally, I did, too. What I knew of Will reminded me of Molly Ivins, who I wrote about right after the November election. But as I've read more, I was surprised to find that I disagree with some of his political views. Still, it seems he kept politicians on their toes--an important job of a columnist/political satirist.

For example (from Wikipedia):

Rogers thought all campaigning was bunk. To prove the point he mounted a mock campaign in 1928 for the presidency. His only campaign promise was "If elected, I will resign." Every week Rogers caricatured the farcical humors of grave campaign politics.  During this campaign he answered questions: What does the farmer need? Obvious: "He needs a punch in the jaw if he believes that either of the parties cares a damn about him after the election."  On election day he declared victory and resigned.

"Ten men in our country could buy the whole world and ten million can't buy enough to eat."

But my memories are of Will Rogers State Park, and more specifically, Will's 31-room Western Ranch House not far from the Pacific Ocean, with its long porch, and an expansive lawn (i.e. park) which stretched from the family's stable to their polo field.

Oh, that lawn. Oh, that polo field. And oh, the trails leading from the ranch to forever, which my hiking group returns to often.

And what's the first thing I always wanted to see as a five-year-old, as a ten-year-old, and today, when touring his home?  The roping calf. In his living room. His living room! 

Here's a poem I wrote in 1995 about one of my all-time favorite birthday parties under the trees which surround the lawn of the Will's ranch house:

by April Halprin Wayland

Surrounded by shedding eucalyptus trees,
been here forever, they’ll be here forever, too.

All of my cousins, aunts and uncles
spreading table cloths, taking out potato salad,

handing me hugs and presents and long kisses,
talking to everyone as they talk to me,

big arms and bodies and laughing, laughing
Cousin Bruce, Cousin Robbie, my sister, and Cousin Franklin

running after pigeons, running after frisbees, running into me
more presents and pass the plates and did you have enough?

taste Aunt Sylvia’s kugel, yes, says Uncle Raphael, taste
Fran’s chopped liver, is it time for birthday cake? asks Uncle Moish

and we all gather ‘round for two cakes for Dad and me--mine is pink
Dad says I can have a corner flower and

Mom and Aunt Cissie are putting candles in the plastic flower
holders and sticking them in the cake and then Mom lights them with a little

match, lights the last one holding the very teeny part of the match, burning close to her fingers, but she’s fast and they burst into song and I feel full and

like bursting
full of cousins and aunts and uncles and potato salad

surrounded by shedding eucalyptus trees,
been here forever, they’ll be here forever, too.

poem © 2017 April Halprin Wayland. All rights reserved. 

Here's a 2-minute video about Will Rogers:

"The man with the best job in the country is the Vice President. All he has to do is get up every morning and say, 'How's the President?'"

Thank you for reading this post. As some of you may remember, I am terribly afraid of making factual errors when writing non-fiction. It scares the dickens out of me. Do you ever feel this way?

And congratulations to Gail P, who won an autographed copy of Lisa Cron's STORY GENIUS (which Esther reviewed here) in our latest book giveaway celebrating TeachingAuthors' 8th blogiversary!

Thank you, Tara, for hosting Poetry Friday at A Teaching Life!

posted by April Halprin Wayland with the help of Will, who said: "Live in such a way that you would not be ashamed to sell your parrot to the town gossip."


Brenda at FriendlyFairyTales said...

Hi April, your poem evoked memories of family gatherings in Ohio in parks. I miss them. The lemonade. Potato salad. Burger and hots. Catsup and Mustard. Kissing the new babies and hugging the Great-Aunts. The family stories. The kids running wild, bring the new generation together. Only half my family does that. I wish the other half did, too.

Kay said...

Whew! Just reading all Rogers accomplished makes me tired. It looks like I'd better get busy! I enjoyed your poem with all its birthday celebration in such a special place for you. I think I'll have to add it to my ever growing lists of where I'd like to visit.

Linda B said...

Like Brenda, I remember those big family picnics, too. What a beautiful memory you've captured in your poem, April. I love "more presents and pass the plates and did you have enough?" It's exactly what would happen. I grew up hearing Will's words too. Certainly different times, but some of those sayings are still funny today! Thanks for your non-fiction. Great post!

Jane @ said...

What a man! A true force of nature who lived life many times over! How lucky we are to have had, and continue to have, writers and thinkers who are willing to hold our powerful people accountable, to challenge them, to deflate their egos, and to make sure they remember who they're really supposed to be serving!

Unknown said...

What a man he was. What a writer. I have been to that park. Your poem at the end reminded me of visiting my great aunts and uncle.

April Halprin Wayland said...

Brenda ~ gatherings. Rich, mixed memories, waiting to be mined!
Kay ~ if you do visit his ranch, send me a heads-up that you're coming!
Thank you, dear Linda. (And it was sooooo nice meeting one of our favorite cyber friends in person!)

Jane--you're right--Will Rogers is a model of how powerful humor and words are, and how they can shape political opinions. (Did you know that he nominated Henry Ford for President? See...that's one of the things I take issue with...oy!)

Jone ~ you've been everywhere! Was it with your granddaughter?

Thanks for taking the time to comment, each ofyou <3

Susan B James said...

I love your poem Esther. I could see ever derail in mind pictures.. I love the Will Rogers Ranch and have many lovely memories of it I have a DVD of Roping Fool and also one which Searched for for many years. It features Will as a professor revealing the truth about Holllywood. His portrayals of Tom MIx Douglas Fairbanks are hilarious. I love this post.

April Halprin Wayland said...

Susan--it appears we have geography and love-of-Will in common. Thanks for your uplifting comment!

Bobbi Miller said...

I've always been a big, big fan of Will Rogers. While in Colorado, I often visited the Will Rogers Shrine. I had no idea about this place, however. Thank you for bringing it to my attention. I so love this discussion!

April Halprin Wayland said...

Bobbi ~ I'll have to visit the Colorado shrine, and you'll have to visit his California ranch house <3