Will Rogers the Cowboy Philosopher
In the past few months I have given you three columns with Will Rogers as my main attraction. Today’s column will carry the last of my Rogers commentary as I download (computer palaver) the balance of data I have gathered on this rather remarkable man.
William Penn Adair Rogers was born to Clem Rogers, a successful rancher, on November 4, 1879, in the Indian Territory that would later become the state of Oklahoma. The ranch and Will’s birthplace still stand as a tourist attraction near Oologh, Oklahoma. However, Will always claimed nearby Claremore, Oklahoma as his birthplace because he said that people couldn’t pronounce Oologh.
Will became known as the “Indian Cowboy” from the Cherokee Nation and he loved telling his audience that his family "didn’t come over on the Mayflower but they did meet the boat.”
While young he became an expert rider and “rope twirler”. This expertise led him into starring in western shows and vaudeville around the World. In 1918 he embarked on a new career—he became a film actor in the silent movies that were the rage of this age.
“Laughing Bill Hyde” was his first movie but it was his classic “Roping Fool” that established him as an actor of note. He made his first talking movie “They had to see Paris” in 1929 and it was this film that started him on his climb to becoming the most successful movie star of his day. As a matter of fact during his screen career he made seventy movies and in 1934 was voted the most popular male actor in Hollywood. (Seems strange for one as old as I to say that “I don’t recall seeing any of them”.)
The only Will Rogers movie that I remember was the one where his son, actor-entertainer Will Jr., played his father in “The Story of Will Rogers” which was made in 1952.
Will became very popular in the press and in radio where his political commentary carried so much weight among citizens and politicians alike that he soon became so popular he even turned down a nomination for the governorship of Oklahoma. Between his radio addresses and newspaper columns he reached over 40 million Americans a week (this was in the days when our total population was 120 million).
As a syndicated columnist he wrote his “little piece for the paper” each week until his death in 1935, and it is said that he wrote over 2800 daily articles.
In 1908 he married his high school sweet heart Betty Blake after an 8 year courtship and he always claimed “When I roped her, that was the star performance of my life.”
Will died in a plane crash with his friend Wiley Post near Point Barrow, Alaska, in August 1935.
There has been literally tons of material written about this phenomenal man who was so well admired all around the world. As well as being outstanding as a performer, a journalist and a good will ambassador he was quite a Philosopher. His understanding of life in his times and his philosophical views of our political arena sets him apart as a sage with the insight of yesterday, today and tomorrow.
Read now from Will Rogers the Philosopher:
When I die, my epitaph, or whatever they call those signs on tombstones is going to read: “I joked about prominent men of my time, but I never met a man I didn’t like”. I am proud of that, I can hardly wait to die so it can be carved and when you come to my grave you’ll find me sitting there proudly reading it .
No matter how much I may exaggerate it, it must have a certain amount of truth——Now rumor travels faster, but it don’t stay down as long as truth.
I don’t write jokes, I just watch the government and report the facts.
We can get all lathering at the time over some political campaign promise, or some conference pledge, but if the thing just drags along long enough we forget what was really promised. The short memories of the American voter is what keeps our politicians in office.
“Don’t blame a legislative body for not doing something. When they do nothing , that doesn’t hurt nobody. When they do something is when they become dangerous.” ( This seems to be somewhat similar thinking to that of psychologist Abraham Waslow who said: “If the only tool you have is a hammer, all problems begin to look like nails.”) . Then Rogers adds “Now if there is any one thing we do worse than any other nation, it is try and manage somebody else’s business.”
There is nothing as stupid as an educated man if you get him off the thing he was educated in.” Cause “Everybody is ignorant, only in different subjects.”
Now it’s been a long time since I have been on a horse but remembering back to those days I can relate to that feeling Will has when he says:”There is something about riding a prancing horse down the street that makes you feel like something, even when you ain’t nothing.”
Adios Will Rogers — I have enjoyed reading and writing about you — and if I find some more of your gems I will call on you again.
One morning at our coffee club there was some discussion about a quintet of local men who, because they fished together all of the time, were given nicknames which portrayed as closely as possible their business profession and/or outstanding characteristic.
There was Virg Huff, a building contractor, called “Stucco”; George Purcell, a Purina Feed representative, was called “Purina”; Bill Cobb, a druggist, was referred to as “Pillroller”; Charlie Grimes, a local minister, was naturally dubbed “Preacher” and then there was Carl Nance, operator of a battery shop, who, because of his oft times stubbornness was called “Iron Head.”