Living, Breathing History Naperville Lecture Series Kicks off with Will Rogers
Byline: Susan Dibble
Lance Brown has been portraying American humorist Will Rogers for more than 20 years and it hasn't gotten stale yet.
Rogers' witty observations on life and politics ring as true today as they did before his death in 1935, Brown says.
Take Rogers' comment on income taxes: "Be thankful we're not getting all the government we're paying for."
"His humor was universal," Brown said. "I keep finding quotes that are relevant today."
Brown will portray the American icon's social commentary, humor and even some of his lasso tricks in "Will Rogers Now!" the first program of this season's History Speaks lecture series at Naper Settlement in Naperville.
Brown takes the stage as Rogers at 7 p.m. Sunday in the settlement's Century Memorial Chapel, 523 S. Webster St. He said he'll stay entirely in character.
"Will Rogers has come down from heaven and finds us as funny as he ever did," Brown said.
Rogers - who was born on a ranch in Oklahoma and was one-quarter Cherokee - became a cowboy, vaudeville performer, Broadway star, movie actor, radio commentator, newspaper columnist, author and devoted family man before his death in a plane crash in 1935.
Many people may not know he was a great philanthropist as well, Brown said.
"He gave over half of his fortune away," he said.
Though he often lampooned politicians, some of them lined up to be objects of his humor, Brown said.
"He made fun of the them, but he was never an attacker," Brown said. "It was good to be seen with Will Rogers."
Rogers' homespun wisdom had its serious side, too, Brown said. For example, Rogers observed, "You have no principles until they are tested."
Brown, who wrote the book "On the Road with Will Rogers," with a forward by Rogers' son, will have copies available at the performance.
Will Rogers will be followed in the series by actress Annette Baldwin's portrayal of Hull House founder Jane Addams on Nov. 11. The social reformer and Nobel Prize winner had a 79-mile stretch of the Northwest Tollway named after her this year, but Baldwin said she often finds audience members know little or nothing about Addams.
Born in 1860 to a well-to-do family in Cedarville, Ill., Addams bucked social conventions of the day to start a settlement house for immigrants on Chicago's west side.
"She came from the first generation of college-educated women. For these women, it was a struggle to break from what was expected," Baldwin said.
Audiences often are startled to learn about the treatment of immigrants that Addams combated, Baldwin said.
"They're horrified by the sweatshop conditions. They're even more horrified by how young the children were who had to work," she said.
A strong leader, Addams gathered other women around her who were willing to work for change, Baldwin said, "women of the 19th century who had vision had tenacity and courage. …