Steamboat Round the Bend - The Cast

Will Rogers | Anne Shirley | Irvine S. Cobb | Francis Ford | Stepin Fetchit | Berton Churchill | John McGuire | Vester Pegg
More cast photos - Behind the Scenes and synopsis and dialogue

Will Rogers as Doctor John Pearly

Will Rogers steamboat round the bend



Rogers, the star, died in a plane crash before the film's debut.

Anne Shirley as Fleety Belle


Doctor John and Fleety Belle (Anne Shirley).


Frame capture of Anne Shirley as Fleety Belle steering the CLAREMORE QUEEN to victory after she passed Cap'n Eli's PRIDE OF PADUCAH at the close of the steamboat race.


Actress Anne Shirley's real name was Dawn Paris and had performed under the stage name Dawn O'Day until she played Anne Shirley in "Anne of Green Gables" in 1934, at which point she took the name of the character - full story below.


Round the Bend Rogers & Shirley Tinted Color

1935 11 X 14 photo of Will Rogers and Anne Shirley at the pilot wheel in the sound stage set of the pilot house for the "Claremore Queen." The print was color tinted by Fox studio artists for display in the lobbies of theatres that screened STEAMBOAT ROUND THE BEND.




Anne Shirley . . .
O.P. Heggie . . .
Helen Westley . . .


Megan Follows . . .
Anne Shirley
Colleen Dewhurst . . .
Marilla Cuthbert
Richard Farnsworth . . .
Matthew Cuthbert

Anne of Green Gables (MOD)
Anne of Green Gables (MOD)
When a childless Canadian couple goes to an orphanage to adopt a boy to help work their farm, they are surprised to learn their new child is a girl--Anne of Green Gables.

Ships to U.S. only.

Genre: Drama, Family, Romance
Director: Jr.
Writers: Sam Mintz
Cast: Anne Shirley, Tom Brown, O.P. Heggie, Helen Westley, Sara Haden, Murray Kinnell, Gertrude Messinger, Charley Grapewin, Hilda Vaughn, June Preston


Anne of Green Gables (MOD)


She's talkative, imaginative, occasionally combative and regularly exhaustive, but redheaded orphan Anne Shirley works her way into the hearts of a Prince Edward Island farm couple - and she'll do the same with you. A year after its top-notch film of Louisa May Alcott's Little Women, RKO scored another box-office hit with this equally admired version of Lucy Maud Montgomery's 1908 classic. Adopted by elder siblings Marilla and Matthew Cuthbert (Helen Westley and O.P. Heggie), Anne isn't the able-bodied boy they requested from the orphanage, but they count their blessing anyway. Over time, she endears herself to one and all, particularly best friend Diana Barry (Gertrude Messenger) and romantic interest Gilbert Blythe (Tom Brown). Most moved by this experience was Anne Shirley, who changed her professional name from Dawn O'Day to that of her Anne of Green Gables title role, going on to renown as the Oscar®-nominated costar of Stella Dallas as well as leads in The Devil and Daniel Webster and Murder, My Sweet.

Irvine S. Cobb as Cap'n Eli

captain Eli

Irvine S. Cobb as Cap'n Eli, owner of the Pride of Paducah, Doctor John's nemesis.


Close-up of Rogers and Cobb discussing terms of the steamboat race indoors in a waterfront building a few minutes before the race was to start.

Irvin S. Cobb (Cap'n Eli) inducted into Kentucky writers hall of fame this year!
Kentucky Writers
Hall of Fame
Irvin S. Cobb (1876-1944)

Paducah native Irvin Shrewsbury Cobb was perhaps one of Kentucky's most versatile writers and personalities from the 1920s to 1940s. Journalist, essayist, syndicated columnist, novelist, poet, script writer, actor, storyteller, humorist, lecturer, and Academy Award host were among the many roles Cobb played in a career that spanned over 50 years. As a journalist, he wrote for the Paducah Daily News, Louisville Evening Post, The New York Evening Sun, The New York Evening World, Cincinnati Post, and Saturday Evening Post.

Cobb was anti-prohibition and a prominent member of the Association Against the Prohibition Amendment. The Association is credited with the demise of Prohibition in 1934. His crusade prompted a famous novel Red Likker (1929), which was touted the only American novel ever devoted completely to the whiskey industry. The novel is set in post-Civil War and focuses upon an old Kentucky family headed by Colonel Atilla Bird who operates Bird & Son distillery until Prohibition closes it in 1920. Cobb once lamented that prior to Prohibition, "Men of all stations of life drank freely and with no sense of shame in their drinking. Bar-rail instep, which is a fallen arch reversed, was a common complaint among us."

Cobb authored 69 published books, including novels, short stories, essays, memoirs, and collections of newspaper and magazine articles. His first book Talks with the Fat Chauffer debuted in 1909 and his last was Piano Jim and the Impotent Pumpkin Vine in 1950. Although many of his works had a serious bent, several were comedic and infused with his rural Kentucky hyperbolic wit and sense of humor. Three of his short stories "All American Storytellers," "Peck's Bad Boy," and "Pardon my French" were adapted to the movie screen in 1921. He continued writing for the film industry well into the 1930s.

"The Woman Accused" starring Cary Grant and Nancy Carroll was released in 1933. He paired with director John Ford and Fox Studios, who made "Judge Priest" in 1934, which starred Will Rogers and included Cobb in a small acting part. This was the most elaborate of Ford's Cobb films and was based on three specific stories: "The Sun Shines Bright," "The Mob from Massac," and "The Lord Provides." Ford cast Charles Winninger as Judge Billy Priest. In the interim, director James Whale released "Showboat" in 1936, starring Irene Dunn, Alan Jones, and Charles Winninger. "The Sun Shines Bright," was released posthumously by Republic Studios in 1953. Cobb appeared in ten movies between 1932 and 1938. His major roles were in "Pepper" (1936) and "Hawaii Calls" (1938). He was selected to host the 6th Academy Awards in 1935.

Critic H.L. Mencken compared Cobb to Mark Twain. He also garnered respect from the renowned Joel Chandler Harris and others, but Cobb's literary reputation faded rapidly at the turn of the 1940s. Many critics have suggested that Cobb writing was caught in the wake of post-Civil War when "His benign vision of the rural South no longer seemed relevant or accessible amid the rising of the civil rights movement and the call for an end to segregation." Cobb's style, like many of the local color era writers grew increasingly dated and out-of-step with contemporary writing. After a period of declining health, Cobb died on March 10, 1944 and is buried in the Paducah, Kentucky Oak Grove Cemetery.


Irvin S. Cobb

JUNE 23, 1876 - MARCH 11, 1944

Irvin S. Cobb, novelist and dramatist who acted in occasional US films of both silent and sound eras.

In 1916 when Cobb was 40 years old, and 19 years before he co-starred in 1935 at age 59 with Will Rogers in STEAMBOAT ROUND THE BEND Irvin S. Cobb was already the local hero of Paducah, Kentucky where a local cigar company and its product were named for him. Paducah's HOTEL IRVIN COBB was built between 1927 and 1929 and is now an apartment house.

The HOTEL IRVIN COBB was constructed between 1927-29 during the era of a rollicking economy at a cost of $400,000. During its period of operation, the COBB drew more state conventions than any other place in western Kentucky before the development of state park resort centers at Lake Barkley and Kentucky Lake. - The Courier-Journal, Louisville, October 29, 1974.

Due to its reputation as one of the South's finest hotels, all Paducah civic clubs met there for many years, and the eighth-floor's Governor's Suite played host to numerous theatrical and political figures. Even during the Depression, the Cobb Hotel prospered. At its peak, formal attire was required for the evening in the dining room, and during warm weather renowned orchestras provided music for roof terrace dances—crowds gathering on the streets below for listening pleasure." - National Register of Historic Places Nomination Form

Paducah, originally known as Pekin, was settled around 1815. Settlers were attracted to the community due to its location at the confluence of the Ohio and Tennessee Rivers.

The community was inhabited by a mix of Native Americans and Europeans who lived harmoniously, trading goods and services.

In 1827, William Clark, Superintendent of Indian Affairs for the Mississippi-Missouri region, arrived in Pekin with a title deed to the land he now owned, which was issued by the United States Supreme Court. Clark most likely took stock of the settlers that had arrived at some point before himself, and offered the land for purchase, so they could occupy it with title in their name. If they did not choose to purchase the right to occupy the land, they most likely relocated to another domicile. The town was platted out and named in honor of the largest nation of Native Americans that ever roamed North America, the Padouca Indians. Lewis and Clark had made acquaintance with many of them while on their trek west.

A letter written by Clark to his son clearly states the reason for the naming of the town. (A facsimile of the letter and the original Paducah maps are on display at the Market House Museum in Paducah.)

The community was incorporated in 1830. Paducah thrived due to its port facilities along the waterways that were used by steamboats. A factory that manufactured red bricks was established and a foundry for making rail and locomotive components was built, ultimately contributing to a river and rail industrial economy.

In 1856, Paducah was chartered as a city. The community continued to capitalize on its geographic location by becoming the site of dry dock facilities for steamboats and towboats and, in turn, headquarters for various barge line companies. Paducah also became an important railway hub for the Illinois Central Railroad (ICRR) due to its proximity to the coal fields in Kentucky and Illinois.

In 1937, the Ohio River at Paducah rose over its 50-foot flood stage. The flood was considered to be the worst natural disaster in Paducah's history. As a result of the flood, the United States Army Corps of Engineers built a flood wall to replace the earthen levee that had once been in place.

In Cobb's 1942 memoirs EXIT LAUGHING he wrote a colorful history of steamboating at Paducah.


by Irvin S. Cobb (1876 - 1944)

1942 Garden City Publishing

Pages 75 - 79

There never was but one Paducah; there never will be but one Paducah. So Paducah's loyal, boastful children claim. I'm claiming it for her, too.

I was well along in my teens before the inter-related steamboating interests ceased to dominate the picture. Until then the river either touched the lives or furnished the living for nearly every household and tragically took its toll from them too.

From the very beginnings, when a cluster of log huts sprang up about a wood yard and a hand-ferry at the mouth of the Tennessee, this had been true. Indeed there might never have been any town here at all were it not for three great rivers funneling together within a stretch of fourteen miles to feed into the nearby Mississippi a flow almost as great as the mighty mother stream's. Or if there were a town decreed it could have found its place in the range of low hills farther back, rather than along the flattened lands facing the low banks where floods could menace it and, on occasion, devastate it.

On a single day in the flush years I've seen ten or twelve steamers, lordly deep-bellied sidewheelers and limber slender sternwheelers, ranked two or three abreast at the landing; and the inclined wharf, from the dry-docks almost up to the marine ways, literally blocked off with merchandise incoming or freight outgoing-cotton in bales, tobacco in hogsheads, peanuts in sacks, whisky in barrels and casks, produce and provender of a hundred sorts. Transfer boats, and ferryboats and fussy tugs and perhaps a lighthouse tender or a government "snag boat" would be stirring about; both of the squatty scow-like wharf boats bulging with perishable stuffs; "coonjining" rousters bearing incredible burdens and still able to sing under their loads, swearing mates and sweating "mud-clerks"; drays and wagons and hacks and herdics (a "herdic" was a low-hung public carriage of the late 19th-century with a back entrance and seats along the sides) rattling up and down the slants; twin lanes of travelers dodging along the crowded gangplanks; a great canopy of coal smoke darkening the water front; a string band playing on the guards of some excursion steamer; maybe, for good measure, a calliope blasting away from the top deck of a visiting showboat such as French's New Sensation, or Robinson's Floating Palace, or Old Man Price's; scape pipes shrilling and engine bells jangling; and, over-riding all lesser sounds, the hoarse bellow of the whistle between this or that pair of lofty stacks as one of the packets gave notice of her departure.

Barring flood times with which no human hands could cope, only midsummer brought a slackening-off in these profitable ramifications; not always though but frequently. Those years the channels shoaled and kept on shoaling until the bars stood up high, like great turtles bleaching their backs in the heat, and the "chutes" went bone-dry and in the formerly convenient "cut-offs" only the catfish and the gars and the buffalo fish might navigate - and sometimes even they got sunburned. Regular liners hunted the bank then and stayed there, and the owners fumed and prayed for torrential rains at the headwaters and the pessimists amongst them lamented that in this accursed business it was always either a feast or a famine; while the crews temporarily transferred to the "mosquito fleets," these being chartered boats of such skimpy draft that, as the saying went, any one of them could run on a heavy dew. But let a general break occur in the weather and the lean pickings would be at an end in a jiffy.

And pretty soon then, coming on the crest of the fall rise, the big towboats from the "Head of the Hollow" would go chugging by out in mid-current, each one shoving acres of loaded coal barges before her squared bows, and their yawls racing in for provisions and supplies, then racing back out to overtake the plodding convoys. This also was an approved season for the lumbermen to drift down the Tennessee with their huge rafts, and the rafts would be broken up and the timbers imprisoned by the thousands within the "gunnels" of the sawmills and the woodworking plants along shore. Some of the raftsmen got impounded too-in the calaboose. For with all that good log money in their pockets they went on most gorgeous sprees.

Later, when ice had locked the Missouri and the Upper Mississippi and the Upper Ohio, the inner two-mile stretch of Owen's Island, for all the way between the lower towhead and the farther tip where it aimed at Livingston Point, would be lined and often in favored anchorage double-lined and triple-lined with all fashion of craft brought hither to "lay up" in the safest winter haven for a thousand miles of tributary waterways - the famous Duck's Nest. And over on the town side, snuggled amongst the protecting fringes of willow and cypress where Island Creek emptied in, would be a jumble of "shanty boats" and "joe boats" populated by amphibious guilds: fishermen and trappers and market-gunners; poachers and foragers; cobblers and tinkers; peddlers, fortune tellers, "root-and-herb doctors," itinerant preachers of curious creeds; ginseng-diggers, tie-hackers; mussel-dredgers; owners of "tintype galleries" and penny peep shows; floating junk collectors, Cheap Johns and Jacks-of-all-trades, dealers in live bait and in notions and knick-knacks and dubious patent medicines, all hibernating together until spring sent them voyaging upstream or down, with their babies and their dogs, their trotlines and their gill nets, to spend nine months of pure gypsying.

Now water-farers, whether the water be salt or fresh, have always been a separate subspecies, more picturesque than plodding stay-at-homes. It was so with us. Our deck hands were swaggering bravos who talked a strange professional jargon and counted themselves a hardier breed and a more reckless one than their brethren ashore. Our mates notoriously were trigger-fingered. Once aboard, masters and pilots became imperious overlords. It was a chancy calling which these mariners of ours pursued and they carried themselves accordingly. If you couldn't snap your fingers in the face of danger you couldn't qualify. For the river, which gave these men their daily bread, was not alone an uncertain provider but a most fickle mistress. There was no taming her. She was like a snake which wriggled sluggishly along in seasons of drought, only to strike, like a snake, when the onrushing freshets put a twisting, swirling viciousness into the swollen coils. Moreover, what with boilers to blow up and snags to rip the bottoms out of lightly built hulls and fires to turn the matchwood upper structures into flaming furnaces and some quick fierce storm to capsize a heavy laden carrier, it was a small wonder - it was no wonder at all - that the lines of graves in the cemeteries were punctuated with the headstones of those who had lived by the river and by it had lost their lives.

Sometimes the same surname recurred on the slabs. For there was a clannishness, a sort of freemasonry about the whole thing. If your father "followed the river" it rather was expected that you, growing up, would travel the same lane. For a typical example take my father's case. As far back as 1818 his grandfather, shrewd and forehanded Vermont Irishman that he was, had given up keelboating to buy part ownership in the first steam-driven craft that plied the Cumberland River. At the peak of the family fortunes my father's father controlled a small fleet of short-haul steamers, manned largely by his own slaves. And my father himself was a steamboatman with a master's license and, for the better part of his life, a place as traffic manager of a navigation company, so that the unbroken span of operations for his people extended through upwards of seventy years.

So it went. If you were a Rollins or a Pell or a Cole or a Beard you almost inevitably were destined to be a pilot. There were eleven Pells who had held pilots' papers, including "Yankee" Pell who, against his private principles, had been pressed to steer a Federal gunboat, and "Rebel" Pell who quit his wheelhouse to fight uncle' Forrest; Slick Pell who was smooth-shaven and Curly Pell who wasn't; Big Ed and Little Ed, Old Charley and Young Charley and Young Charley's Charley, all sizes and ages, but all Pells. The Dunns were usually were pursers, just as a young Hoey or a young McMeekin was a potential mate, and a Dozier was destined for an engineer's berth. An Owen inevitably would be in the ferryboat traffic. Through three generations the Fowlers were steamboat owners- the name was renowned from New Orleans to Pittsburgh, for they also owned wharf boats and a "boat store." And the lives of two of them were sacrificed to the greedy waters. One, before my time, burned to death after a boiler exploded and the other, a handsome promising lad serving his apprenticeship as a junior officer, was drowned doing rescue work when a sinking occurred in the nighttime.

My mother's eldest sister was married to one of these Fowlers, who died fairly young from the after-effects of the privations he had endured as a trooper in Morgan's Cavalry; hence, submitting to a cruel edict then prevalent, she wore the mourning garb ordained for widows for almost half a century until the end of her days. Those black folds cloaked a lady whose tongue was a lancet tipped with a mordant and a devastating humor. Most witty women, I've noticed, do carry chilled-steel barbs in their wit. My Aunt Laura stung her victims in a mortal spot and left them where they fell. In her circle of intimates was a rather elderly spinster who so flutteringly was taken up with good deeds and club activities that she sometimes overlooked the soap-and-water attentions which a less zealous gleaner in the grape arbors of the Lord might have bestowed upon herself. In her absence-which was fortunate for all concerned-someone referred to this devoted Dorcas as being wishy-washy. Up spoke Aunt Laura. "She may be wishy," she stated briskly, "but God in Heaven knows the woman is not washy."

Francis Ford as Efe
Stepin Fetchit as Jonah
Berton Churchill as New Moses
John McGuire as Duke
Vester Pegg as Mink

steamboat round the bend

Doc to his engineer Efe (Francis Ford): "Hey, Looky that! Says Captain . . . says Captain on it!"


Stepin Fetchit as Jonah (Noah) on the deck of the CLAREMORE QUEEN.


The New Moses, witness to a fight, and the only man who can tesetify Duke acted in self-defense.


A detail of Doctor John with his nephew, Duke (John McGuire).

Steamboat Round the Bend

Irvin S. Cobb, Captain Eli, sitting behind the wheel of the Pride of Paducah. Mink, the pilot standing at the wheel was played by Vester Pegg.

Will Rogers - Further Biographical Information


Will Rogers in costume for his role as a contemporary American who magically winds up in Camelot with King Arthur and his Knights of the Round Table. The movie is on VHS tape but not on DVD yet. I saw the VHS tape back in '92 and it was a lot of fun.


A Connecticut Yankee is a 1931 American Pre-Code film adaptation of Mark Twain's 1889 novel, A Connecticut Yankee in King Arthur's Court. It was directed by David Butler to a script by William M. Conselman, Owen Davis, and Jack Moffitt. It was produced by Fox Film Corporation (later 20th Century Fox), who had earlier produced the 1921 silent adaptation of the novel, A Connecticut Yankee in King Arthur's Court. A Connecticut Yankee is the first sound film adaptation of Twain's novel. As in The Wizard of Oz, many of the actors in the film play more than one role, a character in the real world and one in the dream world. The film stars Will Rogers as Hank Martin, an American accidental time traveler who finds himself in Camelot back in the days of King Arthur (William Farnum, a Fox star for many years). Myrna Loy and Brandon Hurst play the evil Morgan le Fay and Merlin, who must be overcome by Hank's modern technical knowledge, while Maureen O'Sullivan plays Alisande. Fox was likely inspired to produce A Connecticut Yankee based on the success of the 1921 silent film. The 1931 version was likewise successful, and was re-released in 1936. It is unrelated to the 1927 musical also titled A Connecticut Yankee. The hero's name was changed from Hank Morgan to Hank Martin, possibly because the original name sounded too similar to that of actor Frank Morgan.

Will Rogers ... Hank Martin
William Farnum ... King Arthur / Inventor
Frank Albertson ... Emile le Poulet / Clarence
Maureen O'Sullivan ... Alisande / Woman in Mansion
Brandon Hurst ... Merlin / Doctor in Mansion
Myrna Loy ... Queen Morgan le Fay / Evil Sister in Mansion
Mitchell Harris ... Sagramor / Butler in Mansion

A CONNECTICUT YANKEE (1931) William Penn Adair Rogers (1879-1935), born in Oklahoma when it was still Indian Territory, was part Cherokee. He also was America's most beloved humorist for years before he died in a plane crash in Alaska, a star of vaudeville, Broadway, radio, movies and, for good measure, a widely syndicated newspaper columnist. His Cherokee heritage may have contributed to the everyman outsider stance that gave underpinning to his gentle wisecracks, full of populist keenness. When he said things like, "My ancestors may not have come over on the Mayflower, but they met 'em at the boat," it was shorthand for the way he bonded with audiences by reminding them that he, like they, were on the outside of the power structure, but it didn't mean they couldn't poke fun at it. He could have been Mark Twain's gentler sibling.

He teamed up with Twain, sort of, in a 1931 film of Twain's 1889 time-travel fantasy, A Connecticut Yankee in King Arthur's Court, shortened to A Connecticut Yankee. Rogers, a real cowboy who grew up on his family's ranch, began his showbiz career in Wild West shows as a lariat virtuoso, worked jokes into his routines, much as W.C. Fields, who began as a juggler, did. By the time of A Connecticut Yankee, Rogers had dozens of films under his belt, some with such self-descriptive titles as Cupid the Cowpuncher (1920), The Ropin' Fool (1922) and The Cowboy Sheik (1924). People loved his barbed but never vitriolic one-liners delivered in an aw-shucks hayseed fashion that blinded nobody to their shrewd, bemused skepticism - a quality that never fails to win American audiences, especially when applied to so-called political life. He and his cowboy persona were relaxed and comfortable. They relocated easily from the bunkhouse of a ranch to a Main Street storefront in Connecticut, where his character, Hank Martin, runs a radio shop, houses the local radio station and fronts the programs in cracker-barrel fashion.

One stormy night, Hank gets a call to deliver a car-sized radio battery to a spooky stone mansion on a hill. There he meets a stone-faced butler, an imperious lady of the house, her daughter, whose engagement to a boy she considers plebian she opposes, and the dotty paterfamilias, an inventor who needs the big battery to test his belief that he can tune in on the past. No sooner do Hank and the old inventor hear voices from King Arthur's time than a French window blows open, knocking over a suit of armor, which lands on Hank, conking him out. The framing device then yields to the story within a story, which has fun with the idea of modern inventions transplanted to 528 A.D. "Canst tellest me where the hellest I am?" Hank drawls to the knight who drags him in chains to Camelot's round table. When he dazzles the court by producing instant fire from his cigar lighter, the jealous Merlin (Brandon Hurst), seeing the newcomer as a rival, sells Arthur on the idea of burning Hank at the stake.

A Connecticut Yankee takes a lot of liberties with the book, an approach that works disarmingly, reinforcing the idea that we're watching something freewheeling and zany. More important than not taking the book totally seriously, the film's eight writers convince us that we're watching a film that never takes itself too seriously, befitting a dream. Its structure, such as it is, fits Rogers's casual style comfortably as Hank's dozing mind recasts the mansion's denizens into Camelot's principals. Thus the inventor (William Farnum) is transformed into Arthur, the unreceptive butler (Mitchell Harris) becomes a hostile knight, the high-handed lady (Myrna Loy) is reincarnated into Arthur's evil sister, Morgan Le Fay, while the lovelorn ingénue from the mansion (Maureen O'Sullivan) becomes the high-born lady forbidden from marrying the commoner in both worlds (Frank Albertson). The latter figures in one of the asides: Hank gets the young man upgraded to royal rank, having him dubbed Sir Rogers de Claremore (a genuflection to Rogers's Oklahoma home town).

Hank's turnaround is launched by the book's juiciest scene. Just before Hank is about to be burned, he learns from the handy-dandy pocket almanac he carries that June 21, 528 A.D. - the date of his scheduled execution - was also the date of a solar eclipse. Surrounded by kindling, he proclaims his intention to blot out the sun. When it happens, Hank's fortunes soar as he pretends to make the sun reappear. Dubbed Sir Boss by the impressionable Arthur, he swings into 20th century action, including taking on the enemy knight in a joust, exchanging lance and armor for cowboy hat and chaps, then lassoing his adversary to the ground. After proclaiming himself a Democrat in favor of prosperity, farm relief, freedom for Ireland and beer for all, Hank sets about industrializing Camelot along modern lines. In no time, the screen is filled with switchboard operators in medieval garb, mass-produced miscellany and an assembly line of which Henry Ford would have been proud. Then, in a meeting of minds with Twain, Rogers announces that he's inventing advertising in order to make people want what they had been perfectly happy without.

Twain's vernacular is right in Rogers's wheelhouse, and he makes the delivering of it seem easy. His offhand manner encourages receptivity to the film's absurdities, not that the glut of 20th century stuff his Camelot factories turn out doesn't come in handy. When Hank and Arthur learn Morgan Le Fay has, with the help of a treacherous Merlin, kidnapped the princess, and they ride off to rescue her only to wind up on the gallows, about to be hanged, the Camelot cavalry comes to the rescue. In a scene of delightful excess, a fleet of flivvers bounces over the enemy turf, augmented by tanks, planes and a helicopter that bombs Morgan Le Fay's castle to rubble. It enables the film to end on a bang-up note of rising nonsense, with everybody, including the deadpan baddies, drawing us into the good time they convince us they're having.

While such veterans as Farnum and Hurst are the means of poking gentle fun at old styles steeped in the staginess that often spilled over into early talkies, Ireland's O'Sullivan brings youthful freshness to a stock ingénue role, and Loy is a delight. Cast in a string of troublemaker roles at that early stage of her career, she brings a playful sexiness to Morgan Le Fay, even in the improbable scenes in which she's supposed to have fallen for Hank and romances him in a good-humored vampish way. Neither she nor Rogers could have known that she'd also bring a dash of color to those scenes. Director David Butler had the idea to have Hank's face hand-tinted pink in every frame of every print of their love scene, and so it was. (Loy later wrote that Rogers was essentially a shy man in real life.) A Connecticut Yankee may look slapdash - at times its action, especially when played out against obviously painted flat backgrounds, is only a notch or two above Three Stooges production values. But its winning goofiness conceals a lot of professional savvy, not least of all from Rogers, whose homespun awkwardness and slightly nasal twang may have begun as the real thing, but by 1931 belonged to the realm of the art that concealed art.

Director: David Butler
Screenplay: William M. Conselman, Owen Davis, based on the novel A Connecticut Yankee in King Arthur's Court by Mark Twain
Cinematography: Ernest Plamer
Art Direction: William S. Darling
Music: Arthur Kay
Film Editing: Irene Morra
Cast: Will Rogers (Hank Martin aka Sir Boss), William Farnum (King Arthur/Inventor), Frank Albertson (Emile le Poulet/Clarence), Maureen O'Sullivan (Alisande/Clarence's Sweetheart), Brandon Hurst (Merlin/Doctor in Mansion), Myrna Loy (Queen Morgan le Fay/Evil Sister in Mansion), Mitchell Harris (Sagramor/Butler in Mansion). BW-95m.

by Jay Carr

Sources: IMDb AFI Catalogue of Feature Films
Will Rogers: A Biography, by Donald Day, David McKay, 1962
Will Rogers, Performer, by Richard J. Maturi and Mary Buckingham Maturi, McFarland, 1999
Will Rogers in Hollywood, by Bryan B. Sterling and Frances N, Sterling, Crown, 1984
Will Rogers Biography, by Joseph H. Carter,
Myrna Loy: Being and Becoming, by James Kotsilibas-Davis   Myrna Loy, Knopf, 1987
The Films of Myrna Loy, by Lawrence J. Quirk, Citadel Press, 1980
Maureen O'Sullivan: "No Average Jane," by David Fury, Artist's Press, 2007

WillRogersConnecticutYankeePoster willrogerssmileskimmer willrogersZiegfeldFollies

This is a tiny photo but is a good one of Will smiling broadly. Those flat topped straw hats were very fashionable during the "turn of the century" they were nicknamed "skimmers" . . . could probably be thrown like a Frisbee to great distances. The second photo is of Will when he was in the Ziegfeld follies, telling stories and commenting on American life while he twirled his lariat. Being an Oklahoma cowboy he was an expert at rope tricks while chewing gum.

Will Rogers Doing Rope Tricks youtube

Will Rogers - The Ropin' Fool 1922 youtube narrated by his son Will Rogers Jr.

Will Rogers - Bacon, Beans, and Limousines youtube