Yeehaw! Comic cowboy's ranch reopens to the public

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Will Rogers, the cowboy-comic who reigned as America's top entertainer until his death in a plane crash in 1935, used to say this about Los Angeles: "It's a great place to live, but I wouldn't want to visit there." But when it came to the house he built in the city, he would surely have been less nuanced in his praise.

Indeed, aficionados and descendants of the star of stage, screen and radio are hoping that when the Will Rogers ranch house which perches on hills just above Sunset Boulevard reopens for viewing this weekend - after three years of painstaking restoration - the public will want to visit it in droves.

The house is the gemstone at the centre of a 185-acre estate that was bequeathed to the city of Los Angeles in 1944 by the entertainer's widow, Betty Rogers.

While it used to be a favourite spot for weekend outings among Angelenos, it had fallen into disrepair over the years. The house was closed in 2003. But after $5m (£2.9m) of restoration work, it is ready once more to meet its public.

"We just want to put him back on the map," Jennifer Rogers-Etcheverry, the star's great-granddaughter told the Los Angeles Times. "The house being closed has taken him off the map, even to the locals ... who haven't been able to enjoy the park as they used to."

Rogers was there at the birth of Hollywood. A genuine cowboy and the son of an Oklahoma rancher, he first won audiences doing rope tricks and then found himself touring with vaudeville troupes and eventually joining the Ziegfeld Follies in New York. His way with humour, some of it political, propelled him on to the radio and silent movies. He also became America's most widely read newspaper columnist.

Built in 1924, the Los Angeles house became his sanctuary, with horse stables, riding trails and a polo field. Among his guests over the years were Clark Gable, Spencer Tracy, Douglas Fairbanks and David Niven.

When Rogers died, 10,000 mourners filled the Hollywood Bowl to mourn him. If people loved Rogers, he loved them back. Another of his famous sayings was: "I never met a man I didn't like."

Some trace the decline of the property to 1952, when the state agreed to allow wealthy locals to board their horses in its stables. Those who did so included Arnold Schwarzenegger, before he was Governor of California, as well as Tom Cruise and Nicole Kidman. But five years ago, a grandson of the comic, Chuck Rogers, threatened to sue the state for taking insufficient care of the site.

The reopening of the house on Saturday will see polo demonstrations, trick-roping and other rodeo events. The highlight of the day will come with the planting of an antique hitching post underneath the house's main picture window, similar to the one used by Rogers to tie up his favourite horse, Soapsuds.

Inside the house, visitors will be able to view period furniture from the Thirties, cowboy and Indian paintings and, on the shelves in the library, first-edition books signed by friends and admirers of Rogers, ranging from President Theodore Roosevelt to Harry Houdini and Helen Keller.

"This is the closest to how we feel they might have lived here, without being exact," Rochelle Nicholas-Booth, curator of the house, told the Los Angeles Times.

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