San Bernardino, CA

California Theatre of the Performing Arts

- The last public performance of Will Rogers was on this stage in 1935 -

The California Theatre in San Bernardino is the site of the humorist's final show.
He always performed in front of one of his two special jeweled curtains.
(When he was using one, the other was being sent on to his next performance.)
Due to his untimely death, the curtain before which he performed last remains with the California Theatre today.
It graces the exterior of the fly loft, and the theatre named one of its reception spaces the "Will Rogers Room".

The historical California Theatre in the heart of the revitalized downtown San Bernardino
plays a major role in providing quality performing arts to the Inland Empire area.
Originally built as a 1928 Vaudeville and Movie Palace, it has, over the years, played host to
all of the major stage and screen stars.

Currently the California Theatre serves as the performance home for Theatrical Arts International,
producing top quality musicals, plays and host to several touring companies, the San Bernardino Symphony
Orchestra, the Sinfonia Mexicana and Inland Dance Theatre, Inc.

from article in Riverside (Inland Empire) Press-Enterprise; Dec. 2, 2010


It's been made clear how Kent Twitchell's works are important to the Los Angeles mural landscape, but not many know of his masterpiece quietly
marking the stage left and stage right walls of an inland Southern California historic theater.

Those two images of Will Rogers also mark the site of the cowboy humorist's last public performance.

Kent Twitchell (born August 17, 1942, Lansing, Michigan) is an American muralist who is most active in Los Angeles and is famous for his realistic
multi storied mural portraits. This project began when the muralist was brought in to create another of his cultural "monuments" on the
back wall of the California Theatre of the Performing Arts in 1997, a historic edifice that rivals Downtown Los Angeles movie palaces.
When he learned Rogers' last performance was in that theatre, Twitchell decided to focus on him and spent a week as a guest in the home of
Joe Carter, the director of the Will Rogers Museum, in Claremore, Oklahoma.

The first design was a full profile of Rogers in cowboy gear, which according to Twitchell was scrapped at the last moment when plans to develop
a complex next door moved forward, eventually blocking the perfect wall canvas. So the artist revisited the concept and decided to paint Rogers
from the waist-up on the building's east and west facing exteriors, using the 1928 theater's towering flyspace.

It turns out, the two images make an interesting installation by showing two sides of Rogers' career.

Will Rogers as stage cowboy at California Theatre in San BernardinoWill Rogers as stage cowboy at California Theatre in San Bernardino
Based on archival photos from the Will Rogers Museum, the rope-in-hand cowboy persona speaks about Roger's vaudevillian roots.
Completed in 1998, it faces the east (stage left) as if he is looking toward his home state, Oklahoma, and further east where he became
a major box office draw on Broadway.

An image of Rogers as statesman, completed in 1999, is based on a shot from his radio days and resides on the west wall (stage left)
facing Los Angeles and Hollywood -- where he became a multi-media figure. Twitchell notes that he was the number one box office
draw for 20th Century Fox, and was able to make an easy transition from silent films to sound, all while he entertained on radio airwaves.

As a poetic site-specific detail, The California Theatre sits near Route 66, the mother road also known as "Will Rogers Highway" --
a fact not lost on Twitchell, who mixes his mid-western roots with realism. "I am a regionalist and folk artist at heart," he said.
"I have been accepted by the elite, so I am in that word, but not of that world."

The two murals, titled "Will Rogers Monument," were recently profiled in the San Bernardino Sun, which reports that Rogers made several
appearances in the inland region, including an "all Oklahomans" picnic prior to his performances at the California Theatre. They detail the
last performance by Rogers at the theater as June 28, 1935. Rogers and his friend, renowned aviator Wiley Post, died six weeks later when
their plane crashed in Alaska.

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