About Will Rogers

Will Rogers is one of my heroes. He is one of the main reasons I blog. Throughout my life I have been reading the expansive legacy of words and humor he left behind. Let me tell you a little about him.

Will Rogers was born November 4, 1879 in Indian Territory and what is now Oklahoma. It is uncertain just how much formal schooling he had but he definitely continued learning throughout is extensive travels. Will was a plain-spoken, many say folksy, but he had a definite gift of being able to talk to the “common” man who was struggling through the depression of the 1930s. He was the most widely read newspaper columnist, radio commentator, and box office hit of his day.  He was a welcomed guest of presidents and other world dignitaries and people were thrilled when he talked about them in his newspaper column or radio show. Even if he did, and he often did, throw some rather sharp but civil barbs at them.

Unfortunately for history Will’s life was cut short when he died in a plane crash in Alaska with his longtime friend Wiley Post in 1935.

See the Blogroll at the right for more info about Will and his times. There are many books about Will and his writings. Check them out at your library, bookstore, or on Amazon.com

Here is some of what Wikipedia says about Will:

After Rogers gained recognition as a humorist-philosopher in vaudeville, he gained a national audience in acting and literary careers from 1915 to 1935. In these years, Rogers increasingly expressed the views of the “common man” in America. He downplayed academic credentials, noting, “Everybody is ignorant, only on different subjects.” Americans of all walks admired his individualism, his appreciation for democratic ideas, and his liberal philosophies on most issues. Moreover, Rogers extolled hard work and long hours of toil in order to succeed, and such expressions upheld theories of many Americans on how best to realize their own dreams of success. He symbolized the self-made man, the common man, who believed in America, in progress, in the American Dream of upward mobility, and whose humor never offended even those who were the targets of it.

America in the 1920s was disenchanted and alienated from the outside world. Rogers seemed to many an anchor of stability; his conventional home life and “old fashioned” morality reminded people of an innocent past. His newspaper column, which ran from 1922 to 1935, stressed both “old” morality and the belief that political problems were not as serious as they sounded. In his films, Rogers began by playing a simple cowboy; his characters evolved to explore the meaning of innocence in film. In his last movies, Rogers explores a society fracturing into competing classes from economic pressures. Throughout his career, Will Rogers was a link to a better, more comprehensible past.

In 1926, the high-circulation weekly magazine The Saturday Evening Post financed a European tour for Rogers in return for the publication of his articles. Rogers made whirlwind visits to numerous European capitals and met with both international figures and common people. His articles reflected a fear that Europeans would again go to war, and thus he recommended that the United States should assume an isolationist posture. He reasoned that for the moment American needs could best be served by concentrating on domestic questions and avoiding foreign entanglements. He commented:

America has a unique record. We never lost a war and we never won a conference in our lives. I believe that we could without any degree of egotism, single-handed lick any nation in the world. But we can’t confer with Costa Rica and come home with our shirts on.

Rogers was famous for his use of language. He effectively utilized up-to-date slang and invented new words to fit his needs. He also made frequent use of puns and terms which closely linked him to the cowboy tradition, as well as speech patterns using a southern dialect.

Brown (1979) argues that Rogers held up a “magic mirror” that reflected iconic American values. Rogers was the archtypical “American Democrat” thanks to his knack of moving freely among all social classes, his stance above political parties, and his passion for fair play. He represented the “American Adam” with his independence and self-made record. Rogers furthermore represented the “American Prometheus” through his commitment to utilitarian methods and his ever-optimistic faith in future progress.