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Winging 'Round Europe with Will Rogers

Winging 'Round Europe with Will Rogers(1927)

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teaser Winging 'Round Europe with Will Rogers (1927)

Will Rogers not only enjoyed a rarified status as America's greatest humorist and commentator during the 1920s and early 1930s; he was also that generation's King of All Media. A stage performer who hit the heights of the Ziegfeld Follies, Rogers also found great success as a newspaper columnist, radio commentator and star, traveling lecturer, and - in spite of the importance of his charming, folksy delivery - silent pictures. Thanks to his obsession with aviation, Rogers also traveled the world and inevitably came to be called "America's Unofficial Ambassador."

In 1927 producer/director Carl Stearns Clancy sent cameraman John La Mond along with Rogers on a whirlwind tour of Europe. The resulting footage was edited into a dozen one-reel travelogue films and released theatrically by Pathe. Each one-reeler had a running time of between ten and one-half to eleven and one-half minutes. Rogers personally wrote the title cards featuring his narration, which are filled with his homespun quips and friendly (but sometimes pointed) commentary. Each short opens with Rogers emerging from behind a curtain, wearing a civilian suit and bow tie. He removes his hat, and scratches his head in a by-then trademark Rogers manner.

In the first short, With Will Rogers in Dublin (subtitled "Jaunt No. 1"), he also introduces the series, saying, "Howdy folks, I've got a new job now - I'm a Guide to Europe - all I need is somebody to guide. You might as well be my tourist party and go along with me. You'll never see anything sittin' here." In Dublin, Rogers is first seen shaking hands with Irish President William T. Cosgrave and Vice-President O'Higgins. The titles reveal both that Rogers wrote his commentary in post-production and that he has no problem poking fun at world leaders; as a close-up shows O'Higgins nervously shifting his weight and taking a long drag from a cigarette, the title card has Rogers saying, "What a cool bird, this O'Higgins!" Rogers continues on, talking to the local populace, joking with drivers of "jaunting cars," and taking a tour of the Guinness beer factory. Showing his viewers at home vast stacks of beer barrels during Prohibition, Rogers says, "Boy, what a still this would be for a raid! Suppose a revenue officer had to pour all this out!"

In "Jaunt No. 2," titled Roaming the Emerald Isle with Will Rogers, the humorist tours the interior of Ireland, presenting picturesque shots of villages dotted with thatched cottages and impressive views of the lakes of Killarney and Ross Castle. There is no shortage of ethnic humor in the commentary, a standby for all stage comedians of the era. Speaking with an elderly Irish woman Rogers finds room for topical comedy: "You have a nephew in New York? I'll put his name down in my book. S-M-I-T-H, first name A-L. He's a Sheriff or a Governor or a Policeman or something." The short ends with a lingering shot of a large group of children, looking quite dirtied and ragged, about whom Rogers quips, "Here's an Irish crop that never fails. It keeps a small nation pretty busy raising the police force of the world."

One of the most captivating shorts of the group is Winging 'Round Europe with Will Rogers, because it deals mostly with aviation and is peppered with some wonderful aerial footage shot by La Mond. Rogers also unabashedly uses the opportunity to make his pitch on the need for America to catch up to Europe in its development of commercial aviation. As he states, "It will be a trip that wouldn't be possible here at home. America is still using its air for speaking purposes only." Rogers also touts the need for a strong military presence in the air: "Congress is going to wait two more wars to see if aviation is practical - and we are building three golf-courses to every 'plane." The footage includes a take-off from London's Croydon Field, a fly-over of Belgium, a landing in Amsterdam, and some remarkable shots over lakes in the Alps after changing to a "hydro-plane" in Berlin. Rogers saves his strongest pitch for last, saying "I want all you influential folks to boost for travel by air - for Commercial Aviation. We ought to have more airplanes than any country - we got more air!"

In Exploring England with Will Rogers, Rogers takes a swing through the island nation, showing off Windsor Castle, Eton College and surrounding countryside ("Shingles are scarce over here - they build their houses under hay-stacks"), the King's race track at Ascot, and Hampton Court Palace. At the grounds of the latter, Rogers spies some sculpted gargoyles and remarks, "get these grotesque statues - Lon Chaneys of other days." Capping off some remarkable footage of cottages and house boats along the Thames, Rogers sends his viewers away with a thought that encapsulates the entire series of travelogue shorts: "You have seen more now than you'll ever remember."

Rogers' popularity only increased with the coming of sound pictures; here the self-written titles gave way to Rogers' natural style of delivery. By 1934 Will Rogers was the nation's top box-office attraction, a year before his death in an Alaskan plane crash with aviator Wiley Post.

With Will Rogers in Dublin
Producer: Carl Stearns Clancy
Cinematography: John M. La Mond
Cast: Will Rogers (Himself), William Cosgrave
BW-10m.

Roaming the Emerald Isle with Will Rogers
Producer: Carl Stearns Clancy
Cinematography: John M. La Mond
Cast: Will Rogers (Himself)
Narrator: Cal Tinney (1934 reissue)
BW-10m.

Winging 'Round Europe with Will Rogers
Producer: Carl Stearns Clancy
Cast: Will Rogers (Himself)
BW-10m.

Exploring England with Will Rogers
Producer: Carl Stearns Clancy
Cast: Will Rogers (Himself)
BW-10m.

by John M. Miller

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