Will Rogers was a legendary cowboy philosopher. He was a roping performer, actor, and a humanitarian loved by many people. For his contributions to radio and motion pictures, Rogers earned two stars on the Hollywood Walk of Fame.
Childhood and youth
Rogers was born William Penn Adair Rogers to Clement Vann Rogers and Mary America Schrimsher. He was born in Indian Territory that would later become Oologah, Oklahoma. Both of his parents had Cherokee blood. Rogers used to say, "My ancestors didn`t come over on the Mayflower, but they met the boat."
On a cattle ranch, Rogers was taught how to use the lasso by a freed slave. As a teenager and young adult, Rogers loved the way of the cowboy, but had not decided on a career. In 1902, he traveled to Argentina, where he worked with the gauchos (cowboys) of the Argentine pampas for five months. Later that year, Rogers sailed for South Africa, where he landed a job breaking horses for the British Army.
While in South Africa, he began his show business career as a trick roper in "Texas Jack`s Wild West Circus." He was known as "The Cherokee Kid."
Rogers returned to the U.S. and continued as a Wild West show performer and trick roper with the Wirth Brothers Circus. He began to use his roping skills on the vaudeville circuit. A important event in Rogers` stage career was his one-week engagement in New York for Ziegfeld’s “Midnight Frolic" in 1915. That show drew numerous influential and regular patrons. He used his fondness for current events by adding comic commentary to his performances. That one-week spot ran into 1916, and Rogers` popularity resulted in an offer to be one of the comic acts in the more famous "Ziegfeld Follies." Rogers managed to not only hold his own, but eventually appeared in most of the follies from 1916 to 1925.
Rogers became a popular convention speaker, and gave benefits for victims of floods, droughts, and earthquakes. Rogers gave radio talks after the Great Depression hit the United States. He continued a series of newspaper columns between 1922 and 1935, as well as personal appearances and radio broadcasts, winning the American people`s affectionate admiration. He was loved for his cool mind and warm heart, and was considered to be the successor to such greats as Mark Twain and Artemus Ward.
The silver screen
Rogers moved to the West Coast in 1919. He made 26 silent movies, but did not return to the silver screen until 1929, when the “talkies” had come into their own. From 1929 to 1935, Rogers became the star of the Fox Film lot (now 20th Century Fox), appearing in 21 feature films. At the same time, he began to write a popular syndicate dubbed "Will Rogers Says."
Will Rogers married Betty Blake in 1908, and they had four children: a daughter and three sons, one of whom died as a infant.
An untimely end
Rogers was an aviation buff. He and his friend Wiley Post departed on a round-the-world flight in the summer of 1935. The plane was an experimental craft assembled from various other airplane parts. It crashed near Point Barrow, Alaska, on August 15, 1935, killing both men.
In 1944, Rogers` body was moved from a holding vault in California to the grounds of the Will Rogers Memorial Museum in Claremore, Oklahoma. The memorial was built on a site overlooking Claremore, which Rogers owned; he had intended to retire there. Later that year, his wife`s remains were interred beside his.
On November 4, 1948, the U.S. Post Office commemorated Rogers with a three-cent stamp. He also was honored on the centennial of his birth, in 1979, with the issuance of a U.S. Postal Service 15-cent stamp.
At the time of his death, Will Rogers was the country`s most widely read newspaper columnist, between his daily "Will Rogers Says" and his weekly column. His Sunday night half-hour radio show was the nation`s most-listened-to weekly broadcast. He was the nation`s number-two movie box-office draw in 1933, behind Marie Dressler; and number one in 1934; he was second in 1935, behind Shirley Temple.
Many a place is named after him, including the Will Rogers World Airport in Oklahoma City, Oklahoma, and the submarine USS Will Rogers. Will Rogers` home, stables, and polo fields are today the Will Rogers State Park in Pacific Palisades, California. Rogers` birthplace, on land overlooking his original ranch now covered by the reservoir Lake Oologahis, is open to the public.
A statue of Will Rogers on a horse stands on the Texas Tech University campus. At Epcot Center in Florida, an Audio-Animatronic Will Rogers is seen twirling his lasso and speaking in the "American Adventure" 1930s sequence. The Will Rogers Shrine of the Sun observation tower, built near Cheyenne Mountain in Colorado Springs, Colorado, is open every day of the year, weather permitting.
Will Rogers had many famous sayings, but was known widely for "I never met a man I didn’t like," which indicated his love and respect for people all over the world.
---- Selected Quotes ----
Quotes by Will Rogers.
Well, all I know is what I read in the papers.
A remark often used in public appearances.
Regarding Herbert Hoover
The money was all appropriated for the top in the hopes that it would trickle down to the needy. Mr. Hoover didn’t know that money trickled up. Give it to the people at the bottom and the people at the top will have it before night, anyhow. But it will at least have passed through the poor fellow’s hands.
St. Petersburg Times, 1932
Regarding Leon Trotsky
I bet you if I had met him and had a chat with him, I would have found him a very interesting and human fellow, for I never yet met a man that I didn't like.
Saturday Evening Post, 1926
Regarding Election of 1932
I not only "don't choose to run" but I don't even want to leave a loophole in case I am drafted, so I won't "choose". I will say "won't run" no matter how bad the country will need a comedian by that time.
Syndicated newspaper article, 1931
Regarding John D. Rockefeller
Sure must be a great consolation to the poor people who lost their stock in the late crash to know that it has fallen in the hands of Mr. Rockefeller, who will take care of it and see it has a good home and never be allowed to wander around unprotected again. There is one rule that works in every calamity. Be it pestilence, war, or famine, the rich get richer and poor get poorer. The poor even help arrange it.
Diary of America
I don't make jokes; I just watch the government and report the facts.