On a wet Saturday morning in May 1934 hundreds of kids stood in the rain to have their picture taken in front of the Rialto Theatre before crowding into a free double feature. For many of these Depression era youngsters, getting into the movies for free was a big deal especially if you could see action star Douglas Fairbanks jumping out of a perfectly good airplane with a parachute. But there was little question that the big attraction that day was Will Rogers playing a small town physician in John Ford’s film Dr. Bull. Will Rogers was a personal friend of Henry Sicade, the Puyallup tribal leader and he visited the city often. A little more than a year after this picture was taken Rogers passed through Tacoma with his aviator friend Wiley Post in a single engine Lockheed Orion-Explorer on their way to Point Barrow Alaska. Will Roger’s weekly newspaper column ran on the front page for years and his radio jokes were retold in every bar, social club and church hall in Tacoma as if they were invented by a family member. When news of his plane crash and death in Alaska replaced his syndicated column on front page of the Ledger in August 1935, the whole city felt the loss. But that was a dark cloud still unformed for these damp movie goers excited about the smell of popcorn and the unfailing magic of Hollywood airplanes, silk parachutes and cowboys in the clouds.

Tacoma Public Library, G65.1-093Rialto Kids

Will Rogers

Cowboy, actor, broadcast commentator, humorist and writer Will Rogers (far left) poses with legendary sled dog breeder Leonard Seppala, aviators Wiley Post and Joe Crosson, just before takeoff in Fairbanks, Alaska, on the last leg of his fatal flight. His small plane crashed due to engine failure near Barrow, Alaska, on August 15, 1935, and both he and pilot Post were killed. Joe Crosson had the sad duty of returning the bodies of Rogers and Post from Alaska by air. The nation mourned their deaths and Rogers, a Oklahoma native, was honored by his state in many ways, including statues, schools (13 public schools were named after him), airport and roadway as well as by California in the form of parks, highways and even a submarine. Will Rogers had visited the Tacoma area several times in the past and had developed friendships with Ray Gamble and Henry Sicade. TPL 5448 ( (image is stained at bottom and right edge)


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