Plain ‘Home Folks’ Is the Famous Comedian Who Is Guest Here
There’s a question that will never be exactly settled – because some people think one thing and some people think another – did Will Rogers hold a reception for Tulsa, or did Tulsa hold a reception for Will Rogers?
But after all, what’s the difference?
Will’s been in Tulsa – he’s said hello to almost everybody, he’s done his tricks, made a mammoth audience laugh, shaken hands with several thousand – more or less – and he’s promised to come back. It all happened Tuesday.
Wednesday Will will again visit the place where he grew up. He’ll meet the boys and girls who were once his playmates and coworkers – he’ll see the range where he once punched cattle – and he’ll visit the ranch where his father, Clem Rogers, lived and died – and where his mother also lived – and died.
Many miles between Tulsa and Broadway – and Will Rogers prefers Tulsa. He says so, and he means it.
It’s His Home
“Tulsa? Why I’m at home here. I’m just doing my tricks for a bunch of friends. I like to see ’em laugh. I’m glad they like me. I was a little worried – first time I’ve ever showed off before the folks that know me – you know how it is – if that bunch of New Yorkers don’t like my act, it doesn’t matter much – but these people – why they’re my people. I couldn’t fall down on them.”
So said Will Rogers. And he grinned. The show was over and he was resting. Wrapped in a heavy overcoat – for the last part of his act was a strenuous part – he loafed in a big chair and grinned. It wasn’t a stage grin – Will was happy. He’d come home, shown the folks what he could do and they’d liked it. They wouldn’t go home – and Will must uncork another bottle of tricks – and they still wanted more.
But finally Will told ’em that he’d finished for the night. They almost mobbed him on the stage at Convention hall. It was a friendly mob though – it wasn’t Will Rogers, the Follies comedian, they wanted to say hello to and shake hands with – it was “our Will” – just home folks he was to them – and just home folks they were to him.
And Still Grinning
He sure seemed tired when I drove him to the hotel,” said J.C. Moore, driver of a Red Top cab. “He just slumped back against the cushion and he seemed about exhausted. He was grinning, though – looked like he was happy.”
Then Will went to his suite on the tenth floor of the Mayo. There were relatives there – dozens of them. Cousins, aunts and uncles who called him Will – nieces and nephews who called him “Uncle Willie.” They fluttered around him, wanted to know what he wanted done, talked about the days when Oklahoma was his home, asked him if he remembered this and that and if he remembered so-and-so who used to live near Chelsea or Oologah. T’was a grand reunion they held on the tenth floor of the Mayo Tuesday night.
Will Rogers? What’s he like? He’s just a country boy – on the stage and off. He’s no dumb-bell though – he doesn’t talk for sheer pleasure of hearing words pour out. He says something when he talks – sometimes he hesitates, leans back and closes his eyes – he’s thinking then – and then his remark is very much to the point.
And Homely, Too
He’s tall – well built and about the homeliest man I’ve ever seen. Will’s rather proud of being so homely – he ought to be – he’s in a class by himself. Chewing gum isn’t just part of his act – he does it off stage, too. Seems to like it.
Does he drink? I don’t know. I can say he was offered a highball and he declined. Further deponeth sayeth not – on that subject.
He’s not uncouth. His grammar is good – his mistakes are made purposely – they make people laugh – and he can talk without a single error if he cares to. But who cares about Will Rogers’ grammar.
When he eats he seems to enjoy his food – but if you watch for Will to juggle peas with a knife you’ll watch a long, long time. Perhaps he’s read Emily Post’s volume – but he lacks the self-consciousness of a person who has acquired etiquette from the printed page.
He’s a congenial chap, too. Always willing to talk – never upstage – never self-conscious. Doesn’t try to impress a newspaper man with his greatness – which is something that’s appreciated.
“What did you think of the audience?” I asked him.
“Best audience I ever played to. That’s straight – no kidding,” he answered.
One of Gang
“Tulsa? Sure I like it. Wonderful city and a wonderful future. And it’s home, too. That means a lot. Of course I boost Claremore – but Claremore needs it more than Tulsa does.”
They like him back stage. He’s one of the gang. The De Rezke singers call him “chief” – and because Will hardly ever talks about the same thing any night, the singers are always listening from the wings and they chuckle heartily over his stories.
Will was rather nervous before he made his first appearance Tuesday night. He paced up and down behind stage and kept urging the singers to “give ’em just one more.” The nervousness was gone after his first appearance. He chatted with friends who came in the stage door, kidded the stage hands and seemed to be getting a huge kick out of everything.
He’s a husky chap, this Will Rogers. He has to be – in Oklahoma. For his strong right arm and sinewy wrist were pumped up and down countless times Tuesday. Everyone wanted to shake hands with Will – and he’s got a grip that’s regular – in fact he’s a regular fellow any way you take him.
“Gosh, Home Is Great”
His stay in Tulsa was just one long reception. The prince of Wales may be popular in certain sections of the country – but he would have passed unnoticed here on Tuesday. Will was the man of the hour.
“Home! Gosh, it’s great to come home.”
Didn’t Feed Him
Will was scheduled to arrive in Tulsa about noon and have lunch with the Shrine club. All reports to the contrary, he didn’t have lunch – although he was at the luncheon. The Shriners ate – Will arrived – talked to some – everybody laughed and cheered but no one thought of feeding the guest of honor.
Let Will tell you why he was late.
“I arrived in Tulsa about a quarter to 12 and went up to my room in the Mayo and waited for some one to call me. I was sittin’ by the phone and waitin’ and I was getting pretty hungry (HONGRY, Mr. City Editor – that’s what he said – not hungry). I waited up in the room for a while and nobody called and so I went down in the lobby. I sure was hungry. I didn’t see anybody there I knew except a lot of bootlegger friends so I decided to work my way over to the Tulsa where I heard the lunch was.
“I’ve heard a lot about the hospitality of the west while back east, but in the east when you have to bark for your meals they show you where you’re to bark at.”
The Shriners thought this was funny and laughed a lot but no one offered Will a plate of food. He looked longingly at a plate some distance away, kind of sighed and then told some more stories.
Omer K. Benedict, postmaster and Republican candidate for governor, introduced Will. It seemed to be a lot of wasted effort because everybody knew who he was. Omer took occasion to thank Will for declining to run for governor, saying that it increased his chances, or words to that effect.
Will stood up, grinned and everyone grinned back at him. He looked rather bashful. It must be an art because he looks bashful on various occasions.
Will then explained why he was late at the luncheon.
“I didn’t eat here,” he said, “and if I’m rotten I don’t owe you anything.”
Rogers then razzed the luncheon club idea and the chairmen who are always trying to rush things through. He started to curtail his speech, explaining he was trying to save time – the main idea of luncheon clubs in his expressed opinion. The Shriners wouldn’t let him – so he gave ’em more – still poking fun at luncheon clubs.
“If all the money paid in dues to clubs was turned into the national debt, we’d be clear in two years,” he said. He mentioned the Rotary club and its membership which purports to be made up of the leading men of the community with a representative from each business or industry.
Played in Church
“They go into lunch with big badges bearing the name of their business and their own names. If you were the most prominent man you certainly wouldn’t have to tell your neighbors about it – they’d know.”
Rogers closed with the Follies one night and opened with his present show in Elmyra, N.Y., on the next night, he said.
“We played in a church,” he said. “There’s a leap – from the Follies to a church. But I didn’t have to change my lines at all when I made the shift.
“I recognized my regular followers in the church. They looked all around and didn’t seem at home. Then there were the regular church members. They kept nodding from force of habit.
“I wish I was appearing in a church here. It would give a lot of you fellows a chance to see one.”
He told of going to church in Canton, Ohio, and of making a few remarks at the request of the minister.
“When I got through the minister said, ‘We appreciate Mr. Rogers’ sermon.’ I’m the only man in the world who ever preached a sermon without knowing it.”
Rogers then warned the audience that he was going to get serious. He didn’t though – except he was sincere when he told them how glad he was to get back to Oklahoma. It is his first appearance on the stage in his native state, he said.
Seeks Honest Politician
He explained the purpose of his trip around the country.
“ I want to look a taxpayer in the face,” he declared. “I want to visit a lot of places and get some other viewpoints. It will help my writing – it couldn’t hurt it.
“I’ve been the alibi for married men who go to see the Follies for the past 12 years. Now I want to see the wives – I’ve seen all the husbands.”
He closed with:
“Primarily, I’m looking for an honest politician. I think I’ve got a long trip ahead of me,” and he grinned at Benedict.
Then the handshaking started. Will seem to recognize a lot of the men who thronged about him and had a word or a question to put to each one. His progress through the Tulsa lobby was halted time after time as people sought to shake his hand.
Finally he managed to reach the street and he was escorted to the Akdar temple. Will refused to ride in an automobile and insisted on passing by The World building to get the World Series score. He’s a Walter Johnson fan and roots for Washington because of the famous pitcher.
“This is the best looking house I’ve ever been in and I’ve been in a few of them,” Rogers commented when he was taken through the Akdar.
Guest of The World
He was introduced to Miss Irene Summerly and Roy Cameron, manager of the Akdar.
“You’re a lot better than I am,” he assured Miss Summerly, “you learn a new play every week while I have trouble learning one act every year.”
He was shown the other parts of the building and commented favorably. Rogers is a Shriner.
He started back to his hotel and then changed his mind.
“Let’s go see how the game is getting along, bud,” he suggested. So we went to The World office.
Now’s the time to state that Will Rogers is the only man who made a bunch of ardent fans forget the World Series. Will came to The World office to get the returns of the game – and before he had left he’d held an informal reception which included everyone from Eddie, the demon office boy to Eugene Lorton, the publisher.
Even the ad department men who as a rule only come to the editorial rooms on business – they are jealous of us if you want the truth – came edging in and tried to be sociable.
It Was Difficult
Finally he managed to dodge the crowd and mingle with the gang in the sports room who were getting the returns over a leased wire. Will’s face expressed his emotions – and a grimace followed each error by Washington or hit by a Pittsburgh player.
The sports room, usually pretty crowded, became sardine-like as soon as Will got in. People who don’t know third base from the fourteenth tee pretended great interest in the game.
The game over, Will went back to his hotel and the reception started all over again. This time it was a family affair for relatives of Rogers from all over the state arrived in Tulsa. “Uncle Willie” he is to his numerous nieces and nephews – and Will to the many cousins.
His aunt, Mrs. Martha Gulager of Tahlequah, mother of Senator W.M. Gulager of Muskogee, and his sister, Mrs. J.T. McSpadden, were with him. His wife, who is on her way to California, is also in Tulsa with him.
Will was keenly interested in Oklahoma politics.
“Me run for governor?” he said. “Not much. I’ve seen too much of politics to want to be mixed up with them.”
He treated the talk of his candidacy as a joke.
He commented on the size of Tulsa though said he hadn’t had much time to look it over.
Rogers is the Rogers of all his pictures. Though a brown suit of a late weave and cut replace the cowpuncher togs, his forelock continued to drop down in his eyes and his grin was the same grin known from New York to Los Angeles.
It’s hard to call him Mr. Rogers – it doesn’t seem to fit.