Martha Groves: Maintaining Will Rogers' Legacy





When he died, the nation mourned. Flags flew at half-staff. Movie screens went dark. Radio broadcasters observed 30 minutes of silence. Under a scorching sun in Glendale, 50,000 people filed past his casket.

In an era of hip-hop and reality TV, it is difficult to grasp the hold this man had on Americans. He was the most beloved person of his day, the country's first multimedia star.

Damon Runyon wrote in tribute that he was "America's most complete human document. One-third humor. One-third humanitarian. One-third heart."

In "a time grown too solemn and somber," President Franklin D. Roosevelt would say, he "showed us all how to laugh."

Today this man is remembered dimly, if at all. But in Pacific Palisades, his descendants and admirers are working with architects and curators to change that. They are restoring the ranch where he spent his final years.

The process, say those involved, is about more than repairing a house and grounds on which time and the elements have taken a toll. It's about resurrecting the largely forgotten legacy of a man whose humor ("I'm not a member of any organized party. I'm a Democrat") proved a tonic for a nation in the grip of war and depression.

In a peripatetic life, the ranch was the last place Will Rogers called home. And he put his stamp on every inch of it.
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William Penn Adair Rogers was born Nov. 4, 1879, near Oologah, Indian Territory (now Oklahoma), to parents descended from mixed-blood members of the Cherokee Nation.

As a boy, Rogers perfected his roping skills while tending to Texas longhorns on his father's ranch. He dropped out of school in the 10th grade to join a Texas cattle drive.
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[Editor's Note: This is a lengthy story, available in full at the LA Times' website.]

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