Walk Where Will Rogers Walked – and Wrote and Roped

#NSNC16 – Los Angeles

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By Robert Haught

Bob Haught

Bob Haught

We walked in the footsteps of Ernie Pyle when we met in 2010 at Bloomington, Indiana, where he studied journalism at Indiana University. We imagined looking over the shoulder of Mark Twain as he penned the words to “The Adventures of Tom Sawyer” and other classics when we toured the family home in Hartford, Connecticut, at the 2013 NSNC conference. And this year we’ll walk where Will Rogers walked during a special evening at the California ranch where the widely read newspaper columnist, multimedia star and great humanitarian lived the final years of his life.

On Friday, June 24, attendees at the 2016 National Society of Newspaper Columnists Conference will be transported by motor coach to the Will Rogers State Park in the Santa Monica Mountains in Western Los Angeles where Rogers, the most popular and highest paid actor in Hollywood, built a home for his family in the 1920s.

Ad for the 1920 film Jes' Call Me Jim with Irene Rich and Will Rogers

Ad for the 1920 Will Rogers film Jes’ Call Me Jim with Irene Rich
Source: Wikimedia Commons

One of the first things you’ll see is the polo field, which reflects the cowboy’s love of horses. It is still used every weekend from April to October. We’ll have a tour of the house where Rogers lived with his wife, Betty, and their three children: Will Jr., Mary and James.

You might find the looks of the ranch-style house deceiving. From the outside you wouldn’t guess it contained 31 rooms, including 11 baths plus seven fireplaces. The living room has comfortable furniture and a number of Indian rugs and baskets. There’s a dummy calf given to Will to use instead of roping his friends.

Throughout the house you’ll see paintings by western artists such as C.M. “Charlie” Russell and mementoes of his world travels.

The kitchen was state-of-the-art for its time, with an electric refrigerator and other modern appliances. Tourists write home about the dining room, where a look under the table reveals wads of chewing gum placed there by the Rogers children — and, no doubt, their father.

In the north wing of the house is Will’s study, where he did much of his writing before taking the plane trip to Alaska with pioneering aviator Wiley Post, which ended their lives in a crash in Alaska in 1935.

Jennifer Rogers-Etcheverry

Jennifer Rogers-Etcheverry

From the house we’ll move up to the historic stables where we’ll feast on a Western-style barbecue. Will Rogers’ great granddaughter Jennifer Rogers-Etcheverry will tell us more about the history of the ranch, including her successful efforts to save it when the state park was threatened with closure in 2008 in a cost-savings program.

She will later represent the Rogers family at our conference in the presentation of the 2016 Will Rogers Humanitarian Award, created in 1999 to recognize work done in a community that emulates Rogers’ humanitarian efforts. A winner will be chosen by May 1.

Jennifer Rogers-Etcheverry serves as the Rogers family spokesperson. She travels throughout the year to promote the legacy of Will Rogers.

Todd Vradenburg, president of the Will Rogers Ranch Foundation, will elaborate on Rogers as a box-office attraction, appearing in 71 movies with such stars as Shirley Temple. He was treated like royalty at his studio, 20th Century Fox.

Vradenburg also is executive director of the Will Rogers Motion Picture Pioneers Foundation and oversees the Will Rogers Institute, a national health charity most known for its annual fundraising in movie theaters.

He is the 2010 recipient of ShowEast’s Salah M. Hassanein Humanitarian Award, which honors a motion picture industry executive who “has distinguished him or herself in the philanthropic community.”

Will Rogers' star on the Hollywood Walk of Fame

Will Rogers’ star on the Hollywood Walk of Fame

You’ll want to be sure to sign up early — at tinyurl.com/nsnc16la — for the conference because this event will be limited to the first 100 signed up for this year’s meeting. It’ll be based at the Hotel Angeleno. Make reservations at tinyurl.com/NatlSocietyNewspaperColumnists. There’s a limited number of rooms at our special nightly rate of $169 so early registration is advised.

The dinner is co-sponsored by the Will Rogers Ranch Foundation and the Will Rogers Memorial Foundation in Oklahoma.

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