Who was Will Rogers? He can’t be easily defined – he was a horse breaker, circus performer, vaudeville wise-cracker, movie star, raconteur, political commentator, journalist, humanist, author, aviator and much more. Three things are certain – he was one of the best-loved public figures of his era, he had an astonishing work ethic, and he was one of the most quoted men of his age.
As a humorist-philosopher, he could be both self-effacing and pointed in his social and political commentary which he delivered with an ‘aw shucks’ cowboy drawl.
The following comments are typical:
- “Well, all I know is what I read in the papers.”
- “You know everybody is ignorant, only on different subjects.”
- “An ignorant person is one who doesn’t know what you have just found out.”
- “Be thankful we’re not getting all the government we’re paying for.”
- “We are the first nation in the history of the world to go to the poor house in an automobile.”
- “Be it pestilence, war, or famine, the rich get richer and poor get poorer. The poor even help arrange it.”
Of the many quotes for which he is remembered perhaps the most famous is his epitaph:
“I never met a man I didn’t like.”
In fact, the quote is incomplete. Rogers actually said:
“I joked about every prominent man of my time, but I never met a man I didn’t like.”
Rogers was born on Native American land, now a part of Oklahoma, to a prominent local family in 1879. Both his parents had Cherokee blood.
Rogers said: “Of course my people didn’t come over on the Mayflower, but we were there to meet the folks when they landed.”
His show business career commenced when he performed as a trick roper in “Texas Jack’s Wild West Circus” and Wirth’s Circus in Australia. He went on to demonstrate his roping skills at the St Louis World Fair in 1904 and later on Vaudeville.
In 1908, Rogers married Betty Blake. They had four children and remained married until his death.
In 1916 Rogers joined the Ziegfeld Follies where he eventually transitioned from a ‘Ropin’ Fool to a ‘Talkin’ Fool. His satirical commentaries on current affairs were to define the rest of his career. He continued to perform with the Follies until 1925.
Between 1918 and his death, Rogers made sixty-nine films of which forty-eight were silent movies.
He travelled widely across the United States on lecture tours, spoke at conventions and delivered after-dinner speeches. Somehow, he also found the time to become a radio and Broadway star, a goodwill ambassador to Mexico and the mayor of Beverly Hills – a largely ceremonial position that he used to mock himself and other politicians.
From 1922 until his death in 1935 Rogers was also a newspaper columnist and prolific author of books and essays.
In 1935, Rogers, a passionate aviator, was killed in an aeroplane crash in Alaska.