It was New Year’s Day 1923 and the front page headline of the Lewiston Evening Journal proclaimed that Will Rogers, famed actor/humorist, had checked into the DeWitt Hotel.

The town was abuzz with the news. Rogers, one of the most famous radio, vaudeville and silent motion picture personalities of the 1920s, was in Lewiston, and he was hinting that a major motion picture was to be filmed in Androscoggin County.

It was early Sunday morning New Year’s Day, and a reporter who happened to be in the hotel learned by accident that the star was there. He proceeded to interview the celebrity.

The reporter wrote that Will Rogers “shrinks from publicity and sensitively objects to being interviewed.” Nevertheless, Rogers offered some detailed opinions about Hollywood and told the newsman he was representing a company that would bring 14 “movie people” to L-A for “the first big picture by actors of national reputation ever posed in Androscoggin County.”

Among other stars expected to take part would be Dorothy Dalton, a silent film actress who had starred in a film with Rudolph Valentino the previous year.

When the reporter pressed for more details about the filming location, Rogers said, “Not in Lewiston but somewhere in this vicinity. Where? I don’t know, and even if I did I couldn’t tell you. Why, there would be such mobs of people there, were the location generally known, we couldn’t work at all.”

The news story noted that Rogers spent a considerable part of Saturday at a bowling alley and that Saturday evening he saw a Tom Mix movie at the Strand Theater, although “nobody there knew it.”

Now, hold on. Things were not adding up.

The story of a visit to Lewiston by the famous Will Rogers was starting to unravel. It seems that the man had identified himself at the local bowling alley as Roy Stewart, another silent film actor of that time who had appeared in many cowboy action films.

Word of the presence of Will Rogers in Lewiston quickly reached Bill Carrigan, a Lewiston native who was the famed Boston Red Sox catcher and manager of the 1915 and 1916 World Series teams. He and Will Rogers had struck up a friendship some years earlier, so Carrigan left messages at the DeWitt Hotel desk asking Rogers to give him a call. Carrigan said he was sure Rogers would have contacted him, had he been in Lewiston.

Furthermore, the man claiming to be Rogers and/or Stewart had talked with numerous other people in Lewiston. The latest reports of the celebrity encounters said the man “talked in a rational manner and many were inclined to place some credence in his story while others were stirred to doubt.”

In one place, the suspected impostor said he was a moving picture cameraman with a company that was then filming pictures in Gorham.

So, it seems that Will Rogers is one of the most famous personalities who never visited Lewiston.

However, many big names of show business have performed in Lewiston. Fred Astaire was one of them, but hardly anyone noticed.

On Oct. 4, 1913, the Music Hall advertisement listed several acts of vaudeville including “The Astaires.” It was small print and low billing. A brief accompanying paragraph in the paper’s entertainment news said simply, “The Astaires, Fred and Adele (his sister), present an up-to-date singing and dancing novelty, in which there is introduced the latest original steps and song numbers.”

There was other big entertainment news in Lewiston that month. George M. Cohan was bringing his original production of “Broadway Jones” to the Empire Theater, and the famed John Philip Sousa band was scheduled to perform there.

Douglas Fairbanks also had been booked to bring his new play, “Dollars and Sense,” to the Empire in coming weeks.

Through the years, many famous dance orchestras played at Lewiston Memorial Armory, and some of the early stars of rock ‘n’ roll came to the Twin Cities.

With our own New Year’s Eve of 2014 just hours away, it must be noted that a band forever associated with New Year’s Eve also made appearances in Lewiston.

Guy Lombardo and his Royal Canadians brought “the sweetest music this side of heaven” to the Twin Cities on two occasions, but not for New Year’s Eve shows. It was on June 23, 1949, and July 25, 1950.

Dave Sargent is a freelance writer and a native of Auburn. He can be reached by sending email to [email protected]


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