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Will Rogers and Polo - with Carole Lombard and Russ Columbo


                  
            Rogers with a favorite mount, Panther, near the stables at the family ranch.

Will Rogers was at home on range, stage, movie set, behind a radio mike, at his typewriter, in the passenger seat of an airplane, in the roping arena — and on the polo field.  He was recently honored with induction into the Museum of Polo and Hall of Fame.  The posthumous induction came on be Feb. 18. Grandson, Chuck, who played on the professional polo circuit more than 30 years, was at the Museum in Lake Worth, Fla., for the ceremony. He was joined by his brother, Kem, who represents the family on the Will Rogers Memorial Commission, and sister, Bette Brandin.

Although Will wrote to IRS he was “no polo player, I am not even fond of the game. I would ride a bit and I took it up solely for what there was in it from a publicity angle,” the fact was he enjoyed playing. 

In 1926 he built a polo field on land he bought two years earlier in Pacific Palisades (now a California state park) — even before a house was built.   A Pacific Palisades newspaper account said he wanted
a house with a bird’s eye view of the polo field, corral and paddock as a “tonic for weary and homesick eyes.”

Before they moved to the Santa Monica ranch, he and his family and friends spent weekends and summers on the property playing with horses — playing polo and roping in each.   His favorite polo mount was “Bootlegger.”

His was the first field in the Rustic Canyon area. According to Rogers’ biographers, weekly contests at the Rogers Ranch were primary reasons polo became a Hollywood fad.

News accounts tell of him going to a polo match in Mexico City, using his movie producer Hal Roach’s plane. He played at Oklahoma Military Academy on a visit to Claremore.  Players such as Roach, Darryl Zanuck, Walt Disney, Spencer Tracy, Leslie Howard, James Gleason, Big Boy Williams and a “local youngster Robert Stack” gathered regularly at the ranch home field.

A Los Angeles columnist, who covered polo, wrote “he misses the easy shots and returns all the impossible ones. He rides so well he gets away with murder.”   He was known to hit a golf ball from horseback and caddied on horseback for golf champion Bobby Jones.
 
Will Rogers taught his children to play polo. Son Jim built a polo club on his Bear Mountain (California) ranch and in 1967, Chuck traded car racing for polo. It was a satisfying career
that took him around the world. Kem, a career cattleman, lives in Tennessee, where he keeps a few polo ponies. Bette has a love of horses and retired to a place where she can keep a few head.  

Will Rogers’ love and respect for good horses may have taken him to the game of polo, where the mark of a performer’s success is determined by his athletic partners — his ponies.

                                 …………………………….

On a bright day in May 1934, in fact May 21, 1934, Carole Lombard and the man she would later call "the great love of my life", Russ Columbo, were the guests of Will Rogers at his ranch for a polo match.  They watched and cheered the fast paced game while Will and the Hollywood team played a polo match in Santa Monica.  Both Carole and Russ were no strangers to horseback riding, Carole from her Mack Sennett days and Russ from his happy boyhood and early teenage days growing up in Calistoga, California.  But polo was a probably something of a novelty for both of them.

                   
              A proud Russ Columbo with his arm casually and affectionately around his lady love.

      
                


And on film:  http://www.budgetfilms.com/clip/14713/

After the match Rogers asked Carole to do the honors and to present cups to the winners.  And of course she did it graciously and with style.

  
              
  
                       
                  Second from left Leslie Howard, Carole, Will Rogers, Spencer Tracy and Johnny Mack Brown.

Sadly the three people pictured in the center, Leslie Howard, Will Rogers and Carole Lombard would all die in plane crashes within the next decade.  Rogers died in 1935, Carole in 1942 and Leslie Howard in 1943 when the plane he was on was shot down by the Luftwaffe under the mistaken assumption that Prime Minister Winston Churchill was aboard.  But on the this bright happy day there was no sad thoughts of that and a good time was had by all.

The Will Rogers State Park where this event took place is the only remaining polo field in Los Angeles California.  In the 1930's, there were over 25 polo fields in the Los Angeles, including the Uplifters Polo Field (located where Brooktree Street is now) and the Riviera Polo Field (located where Paul Revere High School is now).  The Will Rogers State Park is open to the public and it is a great place to visit in the Pacific Palisades area of Santa Monica.

 
For more information on the Will Rogers State Park see:  http://parks.ca.gov/default.asp?page_id=626

The information on Will Rogers and polo was provided by:  http://www.willrogers.com/new/articles/polo/polo.html

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