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A Golden Age Will Rogers story that’s also a very poor Will Rogers story – True Comics #66

May 26, 2012

The only Will Rogers influence that reached down to me was the choking commercial that George Peppard — during the peak of his A-Team fame — did in the 1980s for The Will Rogers Institute. To this day I think of Hannibal extolling the virtues of the Heimlich Maneuver, and how to apply it to an adult, a baby(!), or yourself, and his plastic bottle/cork analogy. Here it is if you can’t remember it, or never saw the damn thing:

If only Peppard smoked a cigar while taping it… (And I’m not making fun, because once, while I was scarfing down a cheesy frozen pizza during my earliest days of living alone during law school, I started to choke, and a vision of the dude leaning over the back of the chair leapt to my mind. I hacked out the menacing cheese glob without benefit of the chair, but it was nice to have that as a weapon of last resort.)

So all I think of with Will Rogers is goofy but useful PSAs. And this comic will do nothing to drive that out of me, or anyone else that has such associations.

Not to give Mr. Rogers short shrift. Though he wasn’t born in poverty, his unlikely rise to great fame and fortune as one of the pre-eminent humorists our nation has ever seen has more than a tinge of Horatio Alger in it. He’s uniquely American. A favorite son of Oklahoma, Rogers went from being a cowboy to Vaudeville, films, radio, newspaper columns and any other medium through which he could communicate with a rapt national audience. The only individual who shared a similar talent set (that I can think of) was Mark Twain, and he never had the benefit of the silver screen or airwaves to spread his raconteurism (I don’t think that’s a word, but it applies to these men). Rogers was an entertainer and national conscience whose like, thanks to the fracturing of the cable-turned-digital age, we will never see again.

Not that this old-timey comic would clue you in on any of that.

Published only twelve years after Rogers’ untimely death in an airplane accident, this 1947 anthology book has several extraordinarily uninteresting features, not the least of which is this perfunctory Rogers bio. It will teach you next to nothing, and contains not a scintilla of the humor that made the man famous from sea to shining sea and beyond.

His switch from lassos to microphones is handled as quickly as possible, with stilted dialogue to fill the requisite balloons:

The meekest bright spot here is this full-page montage highlighting the man’s good works, which has a design sense that at least holds the eye for a second or two:

In a sad end, Rogers, an early enthusiast for aviation, died as a rickety plane crashed in Alaska, which left only memories and monuments:

I’ve seen that statue. It has more life than this book.

Chalk this comic up with other lesser Golden Age books which seemed to be all filler, like meatloaf featuring 100% sawdust. I’m always amazed how the ads in these things (the Bert LaBrucherie Wheaties ad, and others to come, came from this comic) so often have more verve and interest than the cobbled-together stories. They can be like a lop-sided Super Bowl in that regard. This definitely could have used George Peppard, a plastic bottle and a cork to spice things up.

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