The Story of Will Rogers


1h 49m 1952
The Story of Will Rogers

Brief Synopsis

Oklahoma lad grows up to become America's favorite humorist.

Film Details

Also Known As
The Will Rogers Story
Genre
Biography
Release Date
Jul 26, 1952
Premiere Information
World premiere in Claremore, OK: 9 Jul 1952; Los Angeles opening: 10 Jul 1952; New York opening: 17 Jul 1952
Production Company
Warner Bros. Pictures, Inc.
Distribution Company
Warner Bros. Pictures, Inc.
Country
United States
Location
Beverly Hills, California, United States; Calabasas--Warner Ranch, California, United States; Santa Monica, California, United States
Screenplay Information
Based on the true short story "Uncle Clem's Boy" by Mrs. Will (Betty Blake) Rogers in The Saturday Evening Post (Oct--Nov 1940).

Technical Specs

Duration
1h 49m
Sound
Mono (RCA Sound System)
Color
Color (Technicolor)
Theatrical Aspect Ratio
1.37 : 1

Synopsis

In 1900, in Oolagah, Oklahoma Indian Territory, congressmen are meeting at the house of Clem Rogers, a prominent citizen of Oklahoma and the Cherokee nation, to decide on Oklahoma statehood. Meanwhile, Betty Blake meets Will Rogers, a cowpoke returning home after two years of drifting, while she is helping her brother-in-law, station master Dave Marshall, at the train station. Betty ignores Will's friendly advances, but later learns that he is the son of Clem, who is anxious that Will take his place in the community. Clem wants Will to run their ranch, but Will is happiest meeting people and doing rope tricks, and his management style is too easygoing for Clem. Two weeks later, Betty sells Will and his friend, Dusty Donavon, two one-way tickets out of town. Through postcards that Will sends her, Betty learns that Will and Dusty sign up with a Wild West Show in South America and make a worldwide tour. When the troupe performs at the 1904 St. Louis World's Fair, Betty attends, and after the show, Will proposes to her. Although Will has talked of settling down, Betty learns on a train to Niagara Falls that both Dusty and Will's horses are accompanying them, as Will has signed on with a traveling show to finance their honeymoon. Almost one thousand performances later, Will and the pregnant Betty are planning to return to Oolagah, when Will is written up in a newspaper for lassoing a dangerous bull that got loose during a performance at New York City's Madison Square Garden. Seeing the article, Bert Lynn, a theatrical agent, offers Will a job at Oscar Hammerstein's Victoria Theater on Times Square, but Will's rope tricks, performed astride his horse, do not transfer well to vaudeville, and his act is soon canceled. After six months of unemployment and with the baby almost due, Will is offered a job at a Brooklyn theater as a last-minute fill-in performer, but Dusty and the horse are delayed, so Will begins his act alone. As he fumbles with his rope and chatters nervously, the audience finds Will's self-effacing, down-home presence appealing, and a new comedy act is born that night, as well as his first child. Soon he is headlining with Eddie Cantor at the Ziegfeld Follies, where he adds humorous political commentary to his act, poking fun at all sides of an issue. Believing that Will's morale-building humor expresses the heart of the American people, President Woodrow Wilson urges Will to write, but Will is uncomfortable being taken seriously. A few years later, Will buys a ranch for Betty and their three children in Santa Monica, California, and works in films. Clem shows up at the ranch, urging Will to create more than pie-in-the-face comedies, and even Betty urges Will to use his influence and humor responsibly. After meeting Wiley Post, an airplane pilot and fellow Cherokee, Will learns to fly and becomes a supporter of General Billy Mitchell's campaign to develop aviation for national defense. When Mitchell is charged with insubordination, Will begins a public speaking tour in support of the general that makes people laugh, as well as think. Will also begins writing a syndicated newspaper column and later, makes a European tour, finding himself welcomed by heads of state and the common people. When he returns, the United States is hard hit by the Depression, and Will is troubled to see his childhood neighbors and friends leave Oolagah to find work in the cities. After getting financial support from John D. Rockefeller and Henry Ford, Will gathers celebrities such as Fanny Brice, Marilyn Miller, Al Jolson and Eddie Cantor to throw "monster benefit" relief performances all over the country. For months, working long hours, Will flies across the country to build morale and make money for those in distress, with Wiley as his pilot. When election time rolls around, both Democratic and Republican parties adopt a relief platform, and at the Democratic National Convention, Will is nominated as a "favorite son." During his speech in support of Franklin D. Roosevelt, Will, who is honored to be "accepted by the people he comes from," tells the crowd, "I never met a man I didn't like." Witnessing the event, Clem, an Oklahoma senator, finally realizes that Will's gift to uplift and teach using humor is an important accomplishment. Later, Betty watches Will take off with Wiley for Alaska to back an appropriation bill for Alaskan defense, and has an ominous premonition, as Will has Wiley circle the plane to wave one last goodbye.

Cast

Will Rogers Jr.

His father [Will Rogers]

Jane Wyman

Mrs. Will [Betty Blake] Rogers

Carl Benton Reid

Clem Rogers

Eve Miller

Cora Marshall

James Gleason

Bert Lynn

Slim Pickens

Dusty Donavon

Noah Beery Jr.

Wiley Post

Mary Wickes

Mrs. Foster

Steve Brodie

Dave Marshall

Pinky Tomlin

Orville James

Margaret Field

Sally Rogers

Eddie Cantor

Himself

Brian Daly

Tom McSpadden

Jay Silverheels

Joe Arrow

Richard Kean

Reginald Cavendish

Earl Lee

President Woodrow Wilson

William Forrest

Florenz Ziegfeld

Dave Butler

Dave Butler

Virgil "slats" Taylor

Art Fraser

Robert Scott Correll

Will Rogers, Jr., older

Carol Ann Gainey

Mary Rogers, older

Michael Gainey

Jimmy Rogers, older/Will Jr., younger

Carol Nugent

Mary Rogers, younger

Jack Burnette

Jimmy Rogers, younger

Morgan Brown

Congressman Johnson

Ralph Moody

Dr. Bushyhead

Joe Haworth

Indian timer

Jack Mower

Conductor

Eddie Marr

Barker

Paul Mcwilliam

Dead-Eye Dick

Madge Journeay

Honey Girl Kate

Millie Carroll

Ziegfeld girl

Bill Walker

Porter

Will Morrisey

Announcer

Jack Harris

Reporter

Rod Rogers

Reporter

Forrest Taylor

Western actor

Dub Taylor

Actor

Gayne Whitman

Manager

Charles Wagenheim

Sam

Olan Soule

Secretary

John Close

Secret Service man

Norman Phillips

Harry, assistant director

Charles Kane

Bradley

James Dodd

Assistant director

John Hedloe

Assistant director

Sam Mckim

Scotty, flier

Michael Pierce

Young flier

Todd Karnes

Mechanic

Richard Clark

Mechanic

Howard Hagen

Freddie Welch

Danny Jackson

Messenger boy

John Wood

Jake, electrician

Angie O. Poulos

Greek

Molly Glessing

Clerk

Alfred Meissner

Man from Oklahoma

Fern Barry

Woman from Oklahoma

Sheila Hayward

Emma, Orville's wife

Christine Vaught

Orville's daughter

Leo Curley

Delegation chairman

Marshall Bradford

Chairman

Monte Blue

Delegate

Bob Rose

Guy Wilkerson

Denver Dixon

Linda Ware

Film Details

Also Known As
The Will Rogers Story
Genre
Biography
Release Date
Jul 26, 1952
Premiere Information
World premiere in Claremore, OK: 9 Jul 1952; Los Angeles opening: 10 Jul 1952; New York opening: 17 Jul 1952
Production Company
Warner Bros. Pictures, Inc.
Distribution Company
Warner Bros. Pictures, Inc.
Country
United States
Location
Beverly Hills, California, United States; Calabasas--Warner Ranch, California, United States; Santa Monica, California, United States
Screenplay Information
Based on the true short story "Uncle Clem's Boy" by Mrs. Will (Betty Blake) Rogers in The Saturday Evening Post (Oct--Nov 1940).

Technical Specs

Duration
1h 49m
Sound
Mono (RCA Sound System)
Color
Color (Technicolor)
Theatrical Aspect Ratio
1.37 : 1

Articles

The Story Of Will Rogers


The Will Rogers story seems, in retrospect, so tailor-made for the movies that is remarkable the tale took nearly twenty years to reach the silver screen. The death in an air crash in August 1935 of the cowboy turned humorist and movie star had sent the nation reeling in the waning years of the Depression... and Hollywood studio moguls scrambling to cast the perfect actor in the part. With rights to the memoirs of Rogers' widow going to Warner Brothers, it fell to in-house director Michael Curtiz to match the leading man to the legend. Negotiations and false starts slowed progress on the project for over a decade, as such actors as Fredric March, Gary Cooper, and Joel McCrea either turned down the opportunity flat or suffered a last minute change of heart (as was the case with McCrea, who had appeared in a few early films with Rogers), fearing they could not do the American icon justice. Finally, Curtiz hit upon the notion of casting Rogers' won, Will Jr., in the role, and with that The Story of Will Rogers (1952) went before the cameras in the first months of 1952. A dead ringer for his father in appearance and mannerisms, Rogers lacked only his father's experience, prompting Curtiz to pack his supporting cast with seasoned players, among them Jane Wyman (as Mrs. Will Rogers), Eddie Cantor (as himself), and Noah Beery, Jr., as Wylie Post, Rogers' pilot and companion on his fateful final tour.

By Richard Harland Smith
The Story Of Will Rogers

The Story Of Will Rogers

The Will Rogers story seems, in retrospect, so tailor-made for the movies that is remarkable the tale took nearly twenty years to reach the silver screen. The death in an air crash in August 1935 of the cowboy turned humorist and movie star had sent the nation reeling in the waning years of the Depression... and Hollywood studio moguls scrambling to cast the perfect actor in the part. With rights to the memoirs of Rogers' widow going to Warner Brothers, it fell to in-house director Michael Curtiz to match the leading man to the legend. Negotiations and false starts slowed progress on the project for over a decade, as such actors as Fredric March, Gary Cooper, and Joel McCrea either turned down the opportunity flat or suffered a last minute change of heart (as was the case with McCrea, who had appeared in a few early films with Rogers), fearing they could not do the American icon justice. Finally, Curtiz hit upon the notion of casting Rogers' won, Will Jr., in the role, and with that The Story of Will Rogers (1952) went before the cameras in the first months of 1952. A dead ringer for his father in appearance and mannerisms, Rogers lacked only his father's experience, prompting Curtiz to pack his supporting cast with seasoned players, among them Jane Wyman (as Mrs. Will Rogers), Eddie Cantor (as himself), and Noah Beery, Jr., as Wylie Post, Rogers' pilot and companion on his fateful final tour. By Richard Harland Smith

Quotes

Trivia

Notes

The working title of the film was The Will Rogers Story. The opening title card reads: "The Story of Will Rogers as told by His Wife." The film opens with shots of the many memorials built to honor Will Rogers, and a voice-over narration comments on Rogers' status as a "folk hero." Voice-over narration by Jane Wyman as "Mrs. Will Rogers" is heard intermittently throughout the film.
       As depicted in the film, the cowboy-philosopher Will Rogers was born in Oolagah, OK, near present-day Claremore, on November 4, 1879. His mother and father, a wealthy rancher and banker, were both part Cherokee. Rogers was a cowboy in the Texas Panhandle, then journeyed to Argentina and on to South Africa. Calling himself "The Cherokee Kid," he toured the world with "Texas Jack's Wild West Circus" as a rope-twirling cowboy, and later performed at the 1904 St. Louis Exposition, and in 1905, at Madison Square Garden in New York. After adding jokes and political humor to his act, Rogers performed in several Broadway musicals, and from 1916 to 1918, starred in the Ziegfeld Follies.
       Rogers made his first screen appearance in the 1918 Rex Beach Pictures production Laughing Bill Hyde, playing the title role (see entry in AFI Catalog of Feature Films, 1911-20). Rogers moved to Southern California with his wife Betty and their children, continued to star in films and became the top box office star in the world. During this time he was also elected the first honorary mayor of Beverly Hills. In 1922, he returned to New York to perform again in the Ziegfeld Follies and in 1926 began writing a weekly syndicated column for the New York Times. Also in 1926, he toured Europe and the Soviet Union, and after his introduction to air travel, flew around South America and the Far East in the early 1930s.
       Fox Film Corp.'s 1935 Steamboat Round the Bend, directed by John Ford and co-starring Anne Shirley and Irvin S. Cobb, was the last film Rogers made, although two other films were released later. As implied in The Story of Will Rogers, Rogers and his pilot, Wiley Post, died in an airplane accident near Point Barrow, AK on August 15, 1935. For more information about Steamboat Round the Bend and the impact of Rogers' death on the entertainment community, see the entry for the film in AFI Catalog of Feature Films, 1931-40.
       Betty Blake Rogers wrote the 1940 Saturday Evening Post serial on which the film is based, and according to a May 1952 Los Angeles Times interview with Will Rogers, Jr., she and Will, Jr. interested Warner Bros. in taking an option on the idea in 1941, three years before she died. Will, Jr. stated that he was tested for the role of his father, as were several Hollywood actors, including Spencer Tracy and Bing Crosby, but, according to an April 1950 Daily Variety news item, the studio let the option lapse. Later, when Warner Bros. revived the idea, they paid $100,000 to the family, and although his only previous theatrical performance was in a high school play, in the Los Angeles Times interview Will, Jr. claimed that his appearance in the title role was part of the deal.
       Although generally pleased with the film's accuracy in portraying Rogers' life, Will, Jr. pointed out that Clem Rogers died while Rogers was still in New York. Other sentimental connections to Rogers' life occur in the film: The director Michael Curtiz played polo with Rogers; the hurdy-gurdy and the stuffed cow appearing in the film belonged to Rogers and were borrowed from his home, which became a museum after his Santa Monica ranch was donated to the State of California and became the Will Rogers State Park. Film clips of several of Rogers' contemporaries, Fanny Brice, Marilyn Miller and Al Jolson, were used in the film.
       Although she did not appear in the final film, Ruth Roman was originally assigned the role of "Betty Rogers," according to an October 1951 Variety news item. According to Warner Bros. production notes, portions of the film were shot on Rogers' ranch in Santa Monica, and the town of Oolagah was recreated at the Warner Ranch in Calabasas, CA.
       The nine-day cross-country ceremonies dedicating the Will Rogers Memorial Highway, culminating in Santa Monica were planned to tie in with the Hollywood premiere of The Story of Will Rogers, according to a July 1952 Hollywood Reporter news item. Another July 1952 Hollywood Reporter news item reported that BHC, which was owned by Will, Jr., published a twelve-page souvenir insert in its weekly edition that contained a biography of Rogers and proclaimed "Will Rogers Week," and was endorsed by the Beverly Hills Chamber of Commerce and Civic Association. The Southern California Motion Picture Council awarded the film a citation of merit, according to an August 1952 Hollywood Reporter news item. In conjunction with the film, Warner Bros. published a brochure about Rogers' life and career for schools and libraries. Warner Bros. also offered a series of "good neighbor" premieres of the film in foreign capitals around the globe, to capitalize on Rogers' memory as a traveling goodwill U.S. ambassador, according to a July 1952 Daily Variety news item.
       On January 12, 1952, Will, Jr., and Jane Wyman reprised their roles in a Lux Radio Theatre broadcast. Will, Jr. also portrayed his father in two other Warner Bros. films, The Eddie Cantor Story in 1953 (see entry above) and Look for the Silver Lining in 1949 (see AFI Catalog of Feature Films, 1941-50). Andrew A. Trimble portrayed Rogers in the 1936 M-G-M production of The Great Ziegfeld and the 1937 Universal production of You're a Sweetheart. Two memorable films from Rogers' later years, both Fox Films productions, were the 1931 A Connecticut Yankee, directed by David Butler and co-starring William Farnum, Maureen O'Sullivan and Myrna Loy, and the 1933 State Fair, directed by Henry King, co-starring Janet Gaynor and Lew Ayres (see AFI Catalog of Feature Films, 1931-40). In the early 1940s, Rogers' second son Jimmy starred with Noah Beery, Jr. in three films directed by Hal Roach: Dudes Are Pretty People, Calaboose and Prairie Chickens (see entries in AFI Catalog of Feature Films, 1941-50).