Clovis banker’s son once famous actor

Don McAlavy: Local Columnist

Take a look up at the top of the two-story brick building at 416 Main St. You’ll see it says “Rogers-Awalt 1908.”
The Rogers refers to Bert Rogers, who came with his family to Clovis from Olathe, Kan., in 1908.

He and A. L. Awalt built the 416 Main St. building. Rogers worked in the original First National Bank. He had a son, born in 1904 in Olathe, named Charles, later known as the famous Buddy Rogers, movie idol of the silent movies and of the “talkies.”

The Rogers lived in Clovis until 1913. The family moved back to Kansas, where Bert became a judge. Buddy grew up in Kansas and attended the University of Kansas. Buddy wanted to be a musician and organized a five-piece jazz band at college. Buddy was picked to enter Paramount’s School for Stars after a friend sent his picture to the studio.

Buddy’s screen debut, a silent film, was “Fascinating Youth” (1926). One critic wrote: “He is young and appealingly handsome, has crisp black curly hair, brown eyes, and a soft, kind expression.” Buddy soon became known as “America’s boyfriend,” representing youthful high spirits in a string of movies set on fictional college campuses, where he pursued — or was pursued by — student flappers. He and Nancy Carroll co-starred in five features, the first being “Abie’s Irish Rose.” The popular duo moved effortlessly into talkies, as both had pleasing singing voices.

His favorite film role, and the best he made and starred in, was the 1927 world war drama “Wings” produced by William Wellman, the first movie ever to win an Oscar as best picture. Many say Buddy became the first actor in history to win an Oscar.

All the spectacular aerial sequences were shot without faking. The tale was of a rivalry between two airmen pals — naïve Rogers and rugged Richard Arlen — for the affections of Clara Bow. Buddy played a small-town boy who become a World War I pilot, and who accidentally shot down his best friend.
During the big band era Buddy toured with his own dance band, the California Cavaliers, which included singer Mary Martin and drummer Gene Krupa.

In 1937 he married the internationally known screen star of silent picture days, Mary Pickford, known as “America’s sweetheart.” Miss Pickford was not only an American symbol of sweetness and innocence but also a shrewd businesswoman. In 1919 she was instrumental in forming the United Artists Corporation with two actors, Charlie Chaplin and Douglas Fairbanks, and the director D. W. Giffith. She was married three times.

She was eleven years older than Buddy, but their marriage lasted till she died in 1979. Miss Pickford at the height of her career was one of the richest and most famous women in the United States. Buddy got Miss Pickford’s films preserved in the Library of Congress.

In 1984, after I had secured a contract in 1982 with Commonwealth Theaters (former owner of the old Lyceum) that we could show some movies, but not the latest ones, we found that we could show the great movie “”Wings”.”

I was the president of the Old Lyceum Theatre, and Bob Lockwood the theater manager. He picked up the phone and called Buddy, inviting him to Clovis to see a re-run of his famous movie.

He said he could probably make it, but a week or so later notified Bob that he was too ill to come to Clovis. We regretted it, but regretted mostly that we wouldn’t be able to meet him in person. We might have learned a lot about his early years in Clovis. And at the time didn’t know he was so rich. He might have donated money to help us do the restoration of the 1921 Lyceum.

Buddy played in many roles in many movies, his last one was in a Western called “The Parson and the Outlaw” in 1957. He died on April 21, 1999, at age 94. He was one of a kind.

Don McAlavy is Curry County’s historian. He can be contacted at:
dmcalavy@telescopelab.com