TULSA — Somewhere in the mist of the beginnings of the National Society of Newspaper Columnists arose two icons, Ernie Pyle and Will Rogers. NSNC has other now-ghostly mentors, including Erma and Molly and Art, but these two men from the first half of the 20th century are the modern mentors of columns.
It’s taken me years to understand why.
I loved Ernie Pyle’s World War II columns, classics of our genre and also of overall journalism. Did those send him to the top? Not to me. When, however, I pored through the collections On a Wing and a Prayer: The Aviation Columns of Ernie Pyle, co-edited by our friend the late Mike Harden, and Home Country, American travel stories edited by Lee G. Miller, it became obvious: Pyle observed, then he wrote it true.
What of Will Rogers? He started out a vaudeville solo act of spinning rope and spinning quips and stories. He turned those into movies then into newspaper columns, among other outlets.
Those one-liners of Will’s haven’t gone stale nearly a century later, repeated especially in election years. Worthy of hero-worship? By the end of our Labor Day weekend to Rogers’ hometown of Claremore then to Tulsa for its museum of another gifted performer, the answer came out yes and the reason became obvious.