American Original: A Life of Will Rogers

By Ray Robinson | Go to book overview

7

Vaudeville Days

Decked out in his fringed buckskin and carefully manicured whiskers, William F. Cody, better known as Buffalo Bill, was able to cash in on his many adventures with the Pony Express, the bison herds, and the Indians, by going on the stage in 1878. Out in the open, underneath the vast western sky, he had been in total command, but indoors he was something else. By any normal theatrical standards, he was mediocre, delivering his lines much in the manner of a tongue-tied schoolboy.

The New York Times described him as being "ridiculous as an actor," while the Chicago Tribune wrote that nothing ever seen before on the boards was as awful as his emoting.

Yet Will Rogers owed a great deal to the old scout and Indian fighter. Without being aware of it, Buffalo Bill and other horse-happy men of the West helped to create a new style of entertainment that evolved into Will's rambling observations and calculated diffidence.

By the time that Will's participation in Mulhall's show in New York ended, he had arrived at a watershed: He would remain in town, at the Putnam House, for fifty cents a night, and pursue his career on the stage in vaudeville.

-74-

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