Will Rogers died in a plane crash on August 15, 1935, near Point Barrow, Alaska. On August 16, 1935, in New York City, Patsy Montana and the Prairie Ramblers recorded “I Want to Be a Cowboy’s Sweetheart” for the American Record Corporation.
You would think one had nothing to do with the other. And neither could possibly affect life as we know it 86 years after the fact…
When the red Lockheed airplane, piloted by renowned aviator, Wiley Post, nosedived into that icy arctic lagoon America lost its most beloved citizen. Will Rogers was a famed author, horseman, trick roper, humorist, movie actor, columnist and all-around good guy. But none of that even starts to tell his story. Born in Oklahoma, he loved his way into the hearts of America.
By being one of us.
If Congress didn’t do right, Will called their hand on it, “This country has come to feel the same when Congress is in session as when the baby gets hold of a hammer.” He told jokes to, and about, every president of his time. Always without malice or personal intent.
He travelled around the world three times on “good will” tours. Once in Russia, he reported on how the locals lived – including swimming minus clothes – in a book he entitled “There’s Not a Bathing Suit in Russia and Other Bare Facts.”
If folks got a little big for their britches, he’d remind them, “Everyone is ignorant – only on different subjects.”
When the Depression hit, he was everywhere, giving his time and own money. He publicly encouraged help from every front for the people. His humorous, yet inciteful, writings earned him the title “Poet Lariat of the Common Man.”
Flags flew at half-mast when he died. An honor that was usually reserved in that day for presidents.
He was 55 years old.
Nobody is born Patsy Montana. Her real name was Ruby Blevins. And she first saw the light of day in Hope, Arkansas. She added an “e” to Ruby because she thought it looked more glamorous in print and began performing as Rubye Blevins . But at the outset of the Depression there wasn’t much demand for a female country and western singer… no matter how she spelled her name.
By a series of circuitous events Ruby, Rubye, now Patsy, found herself singing with a group of boys from Kentucky calling themselves the Prairie Ramblers. The band consisted in part of a left-handed fiddle player by the name of “Tex” Atchison and a harmonica playing guitar picker called “Salty” Holmes. Like everybody I’ve ever met from Kentucky, music just came naturally to them.
“I Want to Be a Cowboy’s Sweetheart” became the first million selling record ever recorded by a female artist. Amazingly, folks bought this record in droves when many of them barely had money for food. Maybe they caught a glimpse of hope in the upbeat tempo, the stated aspiration of the singer or the possibilities of the open range…
Patsy was 26 when she became the darling of the American music scene.
Twenty-two years later, as a precocious 10-year-old, I decided not to take the long way around up Stonewall Street, along Jordon Avenue and then back down Bethel Court to the grassy area for the baseball game. I took a shortcut through the woods behind the swimming pool.
I borrowed my older brother’s bike and was cruising along until I hit that ditch where the swimming pool water drained. I went flying over the handlebars, my Revelation model glove bouncing along behind me while my all-time favorite “perfectly creased and broke-in-just-right” St. Louis Cardinal’s cap was drowning in the foot-and-a-half deep stream because Mr. Roe Alexander had chosen last night to empty and clean one of the big pools!
It took a moment to stop the bleeding… and for my head to quit ringing. Then I spied my muddy glove. My ruined cap. And Leon’s permanently BENT FRONT RIM on his bike that I might not have asked his permission before stealing.
Life was over forever. And ever!
You have no idea the depth of my sorrow. And my pain. And my heartbreak. This couldn’t be fixed. If I’d a’had that old gun hanging over the mantel I would have shot myself nine or 10 times!
I wasn’t quite old enough, smart enough or worldly enough to understand the phenomena of the Will Rogers/Patsy Montana lesson.
Life goes on!
You think the loss of Will wasn’t a million times more dreadful than Leon’s silly old bike. And yet the world kept going. As a matter of fact, the very next day a wishful female singer has her “day of days.”
Tomorrow is always somebody’s “day.”
I’m thinking yours and mine can’t be far away…