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Will Rogers Collection: Volume 1... American comedic legend Will Rogers is known for his hilarious one-liners and... more info $59.98was $59.98 Buy Now

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Also Known As: William Penn Adair Rogers Died: August 15, 1935
Born: November 4, 1879 Cause of Death: airplane crash
Birth Place: Indian Territory, Oklahoma, USA Profession: actor, vaudevillian, circus performer, politician, writer, columnist, cowboy, lecturer

Biography CLOSE THE FULL BIOGRAPHY

A folksy humorist and political pundit whose homespun philosophy and irreverent wit struck a deep nerve in the public consciousness, Will Rogers became one of the most beloved performers in the nation on radio, film and the stage. Rogers first rose to stardom in Wild West shows and on the Broadway stage with the Ziegfeld Follies, where he showcased his exceptional lariat and horse riding skills while delivering humorous monologues about the day's headlines. Because of his immense popularity in New York, Hollywood naturally came calling and Rogers moved to the West Coast to start a film career. Though he made 48 films during the silent era, Rogers was unable to fully project the folky charm he easily conveyed in his monologues. He left the film business in 1927 for a short time and focused on world travel, becoming an avid advocate of commercial air service, which he expressed in his daily newspaper column and later on his popular radio show. Rogers returned to films in the sound era and found great success basically playing variations of himself in comedies like "They Had to See Paris" (1929), "A Connecticut Yankee" (1931), "The State Fair" (1933) and "Doctor Bull" (1934). But his love of aviation...

A folksy humorist and political pundit whose homespun philosophy and irreverent wit struck a deep nerve in the public consciousness, Will Rogers became one of the most beloved performers in the nation on radio, film and the stage. Rogers first rose to stardom in Wild West shows and on the Broadway stage with the Ziegfeld Follies, where he showcased his exceptional lariat and horse riding skills while delivering humorous monologues about the day's headlines. Because of his immense popularity in New York, Hollywood naturally came calling and Rogers moved to the West Coast to start a film career. Though he made 48 films during the silent era, Rogers was unable to fully project the folky charm he easily conveyed in his monologues. He left the film business in 1927 for a short time and focused on world travel, becoming an avid advocate of commercial air service, which he expressed in his daily newspaper column and later on his popular radio show. Rogers returned to films in the sound era and found great success basically playing variations of himself in comedies like "They Had to See Paris" (1929), "A Connecticut Yankee" (1931), "The State Fair" (1933) and "Doctor Bull" (1934). But his love of aviation led to Rogers' untimely death in an airplane accident in Alaska in 1935, leaving a country bereft and without its voice of small-town individualism in opposition to big business, mechanization, politicians and hypocrisy.

Born on Nov. 4, 1879 in Indian Territory, OK, Rogers was raised on his family's Dog Iron Ranch near present day Oologah, OK, by his father, Clement, a former Confederate veteran and judge, and his mother, Mary. Both his parents were part Cherokee, making Rogers about a quarter Native American. The youngest of eight children, the easygoing Rogers often clashed with his hard-driving father, a rift that was exacerbated after the death of his mother in 1890. A self-admittedly poor student, he dropped out of school in the 10th grade and set out for adventure in 1901 by seeking his fortune as a gaucho in Argentina. But after a few months, Rogers lost all his money and set sail for South Africa, where he broke horses for the British Army after the Boer War. In 1902, he sought work as a wrangler with Texas Jack's Wild West show, but after demonstrating a rope trick, was hired on as an entertainer instead. Rogers learned a great deal from Texas Jack, but soon moved on with his blessing to the Wirth Brothers Circus in Australia, where he performed as a rider and rope artist before returning to the United States.

While at Madison Square Garden in New York City, Rogers roped a steer that had broken loose in the stands and won over the crowd. The incident was front page news and gave him a wider audience who wanted to see more cowboy heroics. Rogers soon performed his vaudeville act - which consisted of cowboy tricks mixed in with a monologue on the day's news that spawned his famous line, "All I know is what I read in the papers" - to growing popularity and eventually joined the famed Ziegfeld Follies. With the Follies, Rogers dropped his monologue in favor of daring tricks, and by 1916, he was one of the production's biggest stars, having built a reputation for satirical performances and his off-the-cuff humor. In 1918, Hollywood came calling and cast Rogers in his first movie, "Laughing Bill Hyde," which marked the beginning of his three-year contract with Goldwyn Pictures. Making more money than he ever did on Broadway, Rogers moved out west and set up his own production company in Santa Monica, CA. But while he enjoyed performing on the big screen, Roger's act suffered because his previous success with his comedic monologues was lost in the silent era.

Rogers continued making movies throughout the silent era, however, including "Jubilo" (1919), "Water, Water Everywhere" (1920) and "The Ropin' Fool" (1921), which basically showed off his roping skills and little else. In 1922, the multifaceted Rogers began writing a weekly column, "Slipping the Lariat Over," which was syndicated in major papers like The New York Times and The Saturday Evening Post, and offered humorous observations and delivered pointed jabs on a variety of subjects, but most often politicians. After leaving Samuel Goldwyn's employ, Rogers worked with legendary producer Hal Roach and made 12 pictures within a year, but made only a handful of movies before leaving the film business for a short spell. During this period, Rogers traveled widely across the United States on his so-called lecture tour and became the first civilian to fly coast-to-coast. Meanwhile, his trip to Europe in 1926, where he saw great advances in commercial airlines, sparked a lifelong advocacy of aviation in the United States, which he often promoted via his syndicated column to shape public opinion in support of building commercial air service in America.

But with the advent of sound, Rogers returned to features, where he was able to fully realize his potential and quickly became a major star. He made his talkie debut in "They Had to See Paris" (1929), where he played a genteel, but poor family man who suddenly strikes oil and becomes filthy rich, allowing him and his social-climbing wife to live the high life. From there, Rogers played any number of homespun types in movies like Henry King's "Lightnin'" (1930) and the satirical comedy of manners "Ambassador Bill" (1931), where he played a cattle baron-turned-foreign diplomat. In a rare case of serendipity, Rogers' folksy rural humor joined forces with another American humorist, Mark Twain, when he starred in "A Connecticut Yankee" (1931), where he played an Everyman who finds himself suddenly transported back to King Arthur's Camelot after a blow to the head. Building upon his ever-growing popularity, Rogers was a homespun farmer in "The State Fair" (1933) and an unlettered small town doctor dealing with a typhoid epidemic in "Doctor Bull" (1934).

Also during this time, Rogers was the star of his own radio program, where he effortlessly rambled from one subject to the next, often leading him to lose track of time and be cut off while still speaking. To remedy the problem, he set an alarm clock that could be heard on air which led to his program to being humorously called "Will Rogers and His Famous Alarm Clock." But film remained his biggest medium and Rogers began a brief, but fruitful collaboration with director John Ford on "David Harum" (1934), where he was an upstate New York rancher. From there, he starred in his most notable film, "Judge Priest" (1934), playing an easygoing judge constantly at odds with the self-righteous citizens of small town Kentucky in the 19th century. Rogers starred once more for Ford, this time in "Steamboat around the Bend" (1935), where he appeared alongside old friend and fellow humorist, Irvin S. Cobb. Having played the lead in a 1934 production of Eugene O'Neill's stage play, "Ah, Wilderness!," Rogers originally agreed to star in a 1935 film version for MGM, but a negative fan reaction to a particular scene prompted him to back out of the role, which soon proved a fateful decision.

In July 1935, Rogers convinced friend and pilot Wiley Post to fly him around Alaska to search out new material for his column. The pair embarked in early August from Seattle, WA. As Post flew the craft - a modified seaplane built from two different Lockheed models the company refused to support due to the incompatibility of the parts - Rogers wrote his columns on a typewriter. On August 15, they left Fairbanks, AK and headed for Point Barrow, only to re-land in a lagoon due to bad weather. Upon taking off once more, the engine sputtered and the nose-heavy aircraft plunged 50 feet into the lagoon, killing Rogers and Post instantly. A nation mourned the death of a favored son as memorials across the country were erected in his honor, particularly in his home state of Oklahoma and his adopted state of California. Over the years, everything from schools and parks to roads and airports were named after him. The same year he died, the Will Rogers Institute was formed to raise money for medical research by asking for donations before the screening of movies, a fixture of movie-going life for decades. Meanwhile, his son, Will Rogers, Jr., starred in a 1952 film biography, "The Story of Will Rogers" and also portrayed his father in "Look for the Silver Lining" (1949) and "The Eddie Cantor Story" (1953). Years later, James Whitmore portrayed Rogers on stage in a one-man show, and in the 1991 Tony Award-winning musical, "The Will Rogers Follies," he was played by Keith Carradine.

By Shawn Dwyer

VIEW THE FULL BIOGRAPHY

Filmographyclose complete filmography

CAST: (feature film)

2.
 The County Chairman (1935) Jim Hackler
3.
 Steamboat Round the Bend (1935) Doctor John Pearly
4.
 Life Begins at 40 (1935) Kenesaw H. Clark
5.
 Doubting Thomas (1935) Thomas Brown
6.
 In Old Kentucky (1935) Steve Tapley
7.
 Handy Andy (1934) Andrew Yates
8.
 Judge Priest (1934) Judge [William Pitman] Priest
9.
 David Harum (1934) David Harum
10.
 State Fair (1933) Abel Frake
VIEW THE FULL FILMOGRAPHY

Milestones close milestones

:
Raised in Clairemore, Oklahoma; called it his "home town"
:
Sold cows from his cattle ranch for $7,000 and with friend set off for Argentina but instead traveled to New Orleans, New York, England and Rio (where he learned new rope techniques)
:
Made debut in a Johanesburg, South Africa Wild West Show with a roping and horse riding act during the Boer War
:
Went to Australia; joined Wirth shows there and traveled to Japan, China, and returned to San Francisco
1905:
Legend has it that Rogers was playing with the Wild West Show in New York when an animal got loose and Rogers roped it, capturing the public's attention; hired to perform on Hammerstein's roof
:
Performed in vaudeville where he first spoke to the audience during his lassoing act to explain what he was about to attempt
1912:
Entered musical comedy
1917:
First starred with the Ziegfeld Follies
1918:
Went to Hollywood; made film debut in short, "Laughing Bill Hyde"
1924:
After making several silent films for Samuel Goldwyn and three others which he produced, wrote and directed (and which bankrupted him), starred in several Hal Roach two-reel comedies and then returned to the "Follies" on Broadway
1927:
Filmed "Tiptoes" in England
1929:
Made first talking feature film, "They Had to See Paris"
1929:
Signed to long-term contract by Fox
:
Wrote for various magazines and newspapers and contributed a daily syndicated column and a weekly article of comment to the "New York Times"
1928:
Was in a plane accident in Las Vegas while on route to the Republican National Convention (June)
1935:
Killed when the new motor of the Arctic sky cruiser piloted by aviator Wiley Post (who had twice flown around the globe--once alone) faltered and caused the plane to fall fifty feet head-on into a river bank; the two had left Fairbanks under poor weather conditions and had briefly sat out fog on Harding Lake before resuming trip to Point Barrow Alaska, on route to Siberia and then Moscow
VIEW ALL MILESTONES

Education

Willow Hassell School: Neosho , Missouri -
Kemper Military Academy: Booneville , Mississippi -

Notes

Rogers jokingly suggested his own epitaph for his tombstone: "I joked about every prominent man in my lifetime, but I never met one I didn't like."--quoted in "New York Times" obituary, August 17, 1935

"Will Rogers was an American institution--a mixture of Norman Rockwell and Eleanor Roosevelt who told jokes about people and politics and did rope tricks. He represented horse sense, conformist nonconformity, rural virtues, wry humor and uncommon decency. He was to the horses that grazed what Damon Runyon was to the horses that raced."--Clive Barnes review of "Will Rogers Follies" ("New York Post," May 2, 1991)

"Will Rogers had what it takes to tickle the national funny bone. His wry countenance, with its occasionally wistful expression, was comical to see, and his consciously cultivated drawl lent a rustic savor to his sophisticated quips. Most important of all, he had the knack of translating into trenchant phrases the inchoate thoughts of masses of 'average' Americans.

"He razzed Congress unmercifully, twitted Presidents and Kings, kidded the American public for falling for the blandishments of European borrowers, and he echoed the generally held impression that politicians should do more and talk less"--"New York Times" obituary, August 17, 1935

Director Frank Borzage commented that Rogers's great quality "was his own ability to make audiences forget that he was a comedian. This quality of his was very apparent in the scenes where Rogers was called upon to portray the simple, human emotions that touch the very soul of mankind. The sincerity and conviction with which he did them is what might be expected of a great tragedian. Audiences forget Rogers the wisecracker and think of him as a human being torn with emotion." (quoted in "The Great Movie Comedians" by Leonard Maltin, 1978)

Rogers, in discussing his slight Cherokee heritage, quipped that his ancestors had not come over in the Mayflower; they had "met the boat."--("New York Times" obituary, August 17, 1935)

Companions close complete companion listing

wife:
Betty Blake. Married in 1908; also from Oolagah.

Family close complete family listing

son:
Will Rogers Jr. Actor, politician. Born on October 20, 1911 in NYC; former Oklahoma State Senator; starred in the 1952 film biography, "The Story of Will Rogers" and played his father in "Look for the Silver Lining" (1949) and "The Eddie Cantor Story" (1953); committed suicide on July 10, 1993 at age 81.
daughter:
Mary Rogers. Born in 1913; died in 1989.
son:
James Rogers. Actor, rancher. Born in 1915; as a child appeared with father in silent film, "Doubling for Romeo" (1921); had a brief career in films during the 1940s; died in April 2000.
son:
Fred Rogers. Born c. 1917; died in 1920 of diptheria at age two.
VIEW COMPLETE FAMILY LISTING

Bibliography close complete biography

"Rogerisms"
"The Cowboy Philosopher on Prohibition, 1919"
"The Cowboy Philosopher on the Peace Conference"
"What We Laugh At, 1920"
"Illiterate Digest"
"Will Rogers in Hollywood" Crown
"Will ROgers, Performer: An Illustrated Biography with a Filmography" McFarland
VIEW COMPLETE BIBLIOGRAPHY

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