Sunday, May 8, 2011

Entrepreneur Wayne Rogers enjoys the role

Wayne Rogers started in business at age 8 with a lemonade stand in his front yard outside Birmingham, Ala.

It was the first of many successes in a lengthy business career that has included banking, money management, convenience stores, viticulture and a top bridal boutique in Manhattan.

"Lemonade stands run by children tend to be successful," Rogers said during a recent interview at the Arizona Biltmore in Phoenix.

He's dressed in a navy blazer, tan slacks and a white shirt with gold-and-onyx cuff links. An alligator belt and black Gucci loafers complete the look.

It's appropriate attire for a 78-year-old businessman who regularly appears as a commentator on the Fox Business Network. But it's a bit conservative for a leading actor who once danced with Martha Graham and now counts among his friends many of the top stars and power brokers in Hollywood and New York City.

To millions of people around the world, Rogers is better known as "Trapper" John McIntyre, the sidekick to Alan Alda's "Hawkeye" Pierce in the classic television sitcom "M*A*S*H."

Rogers initially planned to audition for Pierce but found the character too cynical and tried out for the more cheerful Trapper, a role he landed and played for three seasons.

He and Alda are still close friends. Despite many other professional successes, both continued to be remembered most as Hawkeye and Trapper.

"I don't have a problem with that," he said. " 'M*A*S*H' was very good to me."

Rogers was in Phoenix last week to deliver the keynote address at the Arizona Small Business Association's 18th annual Enterprise Business Awards Luncheon.

He recently wrote a book, "Make Your Own Rules: A Renegade Guide to Unconventional Success," in which he recounts many of his business and acting exploits.

The son of a Rhodes Scholar, Rogers got a history degree from Princeton University and planned to go to Harvard Law School when his stint in the U.S. Navy was up. But when his ship was in New York for maintenance, he looked up a friend who was directing a production of "Six Characters in Search of an Author" by Luigi Pirandello.

"That hooked me," he said. "I was mesmerized by the process, and I was determined to become an actor."

He was determined to succeed, so he studied with the best teachers he could find: modern dance with Martha Graham, ballet with Pearl Lang and mime with Alvin Epstein. He also studied acting, kabuki and other disciplines.

"If I'm going to do something, I'm going do it 100 percent," he said. "It's hard for me to get involved in something only casually."

After a few years acting, mainly off-Broadway, Rogers went to Hollywood in search of work. There, he landed a role in a pilot for a TV western called "Stagecoach West."

"When I watched the pilot I thought, 'This is never going to sell,' " he said.

But ABC bought 39 episodes, and from 1960 to 1961, Rogers was making more money than he'd made in his life.

"In Hollywood, you hear a lot of stories about people who make a lot of money and then lose it all," Rogers said. "I was determined that wouldn't happen to me."

So he studied real estate and the stock market with the same fervor he studied acting and began carefully investing his money.

He gained a reputation as a shrewd investor in Hollywood, and one day "Columbo" star Peter Falk came to him for help.

"His business manager went south with his money, and I helped him get it back," he said.

After that, he agreed to help a grateful Falk manage his money.

Then director Stanley Donen, whose musical hits included "Singin' in the Rain" and "On the Town," came to him.

"He was one of the top directors in town, and he was dead broke," Rogers said.

After examining Donen's various contracts, Rogers concluded he was owed substantial residual payments from various movie studios.

"We sued and got him about $3 million," Rogers said. "I was glad to have been able to help him."

Rogers also started managing Donen's money. Today his firm, Wayne M. Rogers & Co., invests money for a long list of clients that includes some of the top names in Hollywood.

Over the years, he has founded and sold a bank, planted and operated a vineyard, owned a barge company on the Mississippi River, a string of convenience stores and developed real estate in Florida, California, Utah and Arizona.

He also has continued to act in numerous plays, movies and television series. In 1996 he portrayed civil-rights attorney Morris Dees in "Mississippi Burning."

He acknowledges he's partial to distressed properties and finding creative ways to turn them around.

"Creativity is mandatory when you're an entrepreneur," he said.

One of his latest projects is Kleinfeld, the old-line New York bridal boutique he and partners bought from a liquidator in 2001. Soon after moving in, Rogers discovered enough uncollected credit-card charges to cover his down payment.

The boutique sells wedding dresses either custom made or from top designers, along with honeymoon packages and other wedding services.

"People thought men would never buy clothes in a bridal shop, but the men's business is growing like a weed," Rogers said.

Rogers expects Kleinfeld to gross about $30 million this year out of a single store. "As badly as the previous owners had abused the brand, they couldn't kill it," he said.

by Max Jarman The Arizona Republic May. 8, 2011 12:00 AM

Entrepreneur Wayne Rogers enjoys the role

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