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21 August 2012 / leggypeggy

Will Rogers—one of a kind

Charles Russell did a sculpture of Rogers on a ‘horse with no name’. They disagreed about the brand the horse should have and other aspects of the piece, so more than one sculpture was made. This is a fragile, one-of-a-kind, hand-painted plaster copy that Russell gave to Betty and Will Rogers. It has been on display since 1999.

‘We honor the memory of Oklahoma’s beloved native son. A modest, unspoiled child of the plains, cowboy, actor, humorist and world traveler whose homely philosophy and superior gifts brought laughter and tears to princes and commoners alike. His aversion to sham and deceit, his love of candor and sincerity, coupled with abounding wit and affable repartee, won for him universal homage and an appropriate title, “Ambassador of Good Will”.’

Presented by the Cherokee Nation

The world lost a remarkable man when Will Rogers died in a plane crash in Alaska in 1935.

He was only 55 then, but had already travelled around the world three times, made 71 movies, written more than 4000 nationally syndicated newspaper columns, spoken regularly on radio and become one of the world’s best-known celebrities.

A native of Oklahoma, Rogers was one-quarter Cherokee Indian. He was down-to-earth, extremely proud of his heritage, believed in hard work and symbolized the self-made man.

In his early 20s, he tried his luck as a cowboy/rancher in Argentina and South Africa. On returning to America, his rope skills—he was taught by a freed slave—got him a job in Texas Jack’s Wild West Circus.

Will Rogers

He then had a stint in a circus in Australia before embarking on the vaudeville circuit in the US.

His rise to stardom began on a trip to New York City. A wild steer broke out of the arena in Madison Square Garden and began to climb into the viewing stands. Rogers nonchalantly roped the marauding steer and made front-page news.

From there came a chain of successes. He and his horse worked 10 years on the Victoria Roof, then on to the Ziegfeld Follies.

His riding and roping skills were soon joined by sharp satire. That happened after a performance attended by then president, Woodrow Wilson. Rogers improvised a ‘roast’ of presidential policies that had Wilson, and the entire audience, ‘rolling in the aisles’. The performance proved his remarkable skill at off-the-cuff, witty commentary on current events, and ever-after Rogers built his career around that skill.

I could write pages and pages about Rogers. He was just so inspiring. He was a family man, a movie star, a newspaper and radio man, and much more. He wrote for the Saturday Evening Post and his daily ‘Will Rogers Says’ column reached 40 million newspaper readers.

The items on the floor of this display case were in Rogers’ pocket when he died.

We spent ages at the Will Rogers Memorial and could have spent hours longer. We even took time to watch several short films. One was a movie clip. Another was an amusing piece about a day of life with his family and the third was ‘Ropin’ Fool’, which showcased his amazing skills with a lasso. Imagine roping all four legs of a horse as the critter gallops by!

Rogers has been honoured in many ways. Twice he’s been featured on US postage stamps. Plenty of places, buildings and roads throughout the country are named for him. In fact, Route 66 is known as the Will Rogers Highway, and there’s a plaque to prove it at the western terminus in Santa Monica.

Oklahoma leaders asked Rogers to represent the state as one of their two statues in the National Statuary Hall Collection in the US Capitol in Washington DC. He agreed on the condition that his image would be placed facing the House Chamber, supposedly so he could ‘keep an eye on Congress’. His is the only statue to face the Chamber entrance. Guides at the Capitol say each President rubs the left shoe of Rogers’ statue for good luck before entering the House Chamber to give the State of the Union Address.

Rogers’ shoes get a good rub. This statue is in Oklahoma.

If you ever get to Tulsa, take time to go to the memorial in Claremore and learn more about this remarkable man. The woman in the gift shop said the Will Rogers collection is slowly being uploaded to the internet. There’s a university nearby and the students are obliged to do community service each year. Most opt to do something that supports and promotes the memorial.

For now I’ll leave you with some of Rogers’ quotes. He was famous for his folksy ways and colourful use of language, and was the leading political wit of the Progressive Era in America. Amazing how relevant some of his comments are today.

‘Our foreign policy is an open book—a checkbook.’

‘Everything is changing. People are taking the comedians seriously and the politicians as a joke.’

‘Income tax has made more liars out of Americans than golf.’

‘I am not a member of an organized political party. I am a Democrat.’

Ropin’ Fool

‘There are three kinds of men.
The ones that learn by reading.
The few who learn by observation.
The rest of them have to touch an electric fence.’

‘Lettin’ the cat out of the bag is a lot easier than puttin’ it back in.’

‘Be thankful we’re not getting all the government we’re paying for.’

And perhaps his most well-known—‘I have never yet met a man that I dident like.’ It is part of a much longer quote (look it up) and Rogers often used the spelling dident.

You can read lots more about Will Rogers at Wikipedia.

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Leave a Comment
  1. Susan / Aug 21 2012 6:37 am

    Great blog as usual. Love you. Things are quieting down here. Nice but not nice.


    • leggypeggy / Aug 21 2012 2:06 pm

      Getting quiet at your house? Surely you jest!



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