Talking More, Lassooing Less

Michael Rogin

  • American Original: A Life of Will Rogers by Ray Robinson
    Oxford, 288 pp, $30.00, January 1997, ISBN 0 19 508693 7

Will Rogers died in 1935 the most loved man in America. Ray Robinson, who was 14 years old, remembers the news reaching his summer camp by radio and spreading like wildfire from bungalow to bungalow. No death since Abraham Lincoln’s (the kidnapping and killing of the Lindbergh child aside) had moved the country so much. Motion picture theatres around the country darkened their screens in honour of a top Hollywood star. NBC and CBS went off the air for 30 minutes, paying homage to the most popular voice on radio – a few years earlier Will Rogers had hosted a variety show which had gained the largest audience in history. For the first time in nine years, ‘Will Rogers Says’ – the boxed comments that appeared daily in five hundred newspapers – did not appear. Rogers had been featured on the cover of Time; he had been received at the White House by five Presidents. However, unlike his famous male contemporaries – Charles Lindbergh, Al Jolson, Jack Dempsey, Babe Ruth, Rudolph Valentino, Charlie Chaplin – Will Rogers has left no aura. In my tiny recent poll of English intellectuals, no one knew who he was. Nor, having now read Ray Robinson’s reverent but clear sighted biography, do I.

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