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The Great Communicator, Will Rogers

Updated on October 29, 2011

Will Rogers

He was born in 1879 as William Penn Adair Rogers on a ranch in the Cherokee Nation near what later became Oologah, Oklahoma. But America came to know him as just Will Rogers.

Rogers was part Cherokee Indian, a cowboy and national figure. He was a star on Broadway making 71 movies during the 1920s and 30’s and was also a popular broadcaster and syndicated newspaper columnist. Presidents, Senators and Kings considered him a friend and frequently sought his advice.

Roger’s down home folksy comments and observations made him a house hold name. In his early years, a former slave taught him the art of lassoing and how to work Texas Longhorn cattle on the family ranch. Later he would be listed in the Guinness Book of Records for throwing three lassos at once. His lariat expertise was included in the classic movie, "The Ropin' Fool."

Became A Cowboy

He wasn’t what some would call an educated man. He quit school after the 10th grade to become a cowboy in a cattle drive. He always regretted not finishing school, but he made it a point to never stop learning. In later life he referred to himself as a poor student, commenting he "studied the Fourth Reader for ten years."

His talents earned him jobs in Wild West shows and on vaudeville stages. He began telling jokes which made him even more famous than his roping skills. Rogers’ simple, matter of fact, home spun humor, put pure truth in simple words which endeared him to audiences around the world. He often made cutting commentary on the politics of the day, however, people never seemed to take offense at his disarming, off the cuff remarks. Probably because what he said always contained a grain of truth.

For example, take these few pearls of down home wisdom. “Ancient Rome declined because it had a Senate. Now, what’s going to happen to us with both a Senate and a House?” And “Nothing you can’t spell will ever work.”

A Common Man

During his life Will Rogers remained a simple Oklahoma cowboy, someone the common man could relate to. This is the man who made the quote "I never met a man I didn't like" famous. He had sincere love and respect for humanity, giving money to disaster victims and raising thousands of dollars for the Red Cross and Salvation Army.

Basically a simple man, he enjoyed simple things like riding horseback, roping steers and polo. He once commented there was something wrong with anybody that didn't like a horse. Rogers made many such well known quotes such as “An ignorant person is one who doesn’t know what you just found out.” Or “I’m not a real movie star. I’ve still got the same wife I started out with twenty-eight years ago.”

His easy going style allowed him to make fun at gangsters, politicians and a variety of controversial subjects. He once quipped "I am not a member of an organized political party. I am a Democrat."

Rogers even poked fun of himself. “When I die, my epitaph or whatever you call those signs on gravestones is going to read: I joked about every prominent man of my time, but I never met a man I didn’t like. I am so proud of that I can hardly wait to die so it can be carved.”

By the 1930’s he had become a world famous celebrity loved by America. Rogers also loved to fly and became a prominent crusading force for aviation expansion and writing firsthand accounts of his world travels.

One amusing account tells of Rogers performing at Madison Square Garden when a wild steer broke out of the arena and began climbing into the stands. Rogers promptly lassoed the steer, delighting the crowd. The story got front page billing from newspapers, giving him an audience clamoring to see more.

It was while performing he learned his most valuable lesson about show business…knowing when to get off. “It's the fellow who knows when to quit that the audience wants more of.” Rogers said.

Rogers possessed multiple skills. He toured the lecture circuit and The New York Times syndicated his weekly newspaper column which eventually became a daily feature. He also wrote frequently for the Saturday Evening Post.

From about 1925 to 1928, Rogers traveled the United States on lecture tours. During these lectures he would begin by pointing out "A humorist entertains, and a lecturer annoys!" The National Press Club described him as an "Ambassador at Large of the United States." Rogers also gave dozens of benefits for victims of floods, droughts and earthquakes.

Rogers claimed to be a Democrat but he also supported Republican Calvin Coolidge. And although he supported Roosevelt's New Deal, he could also make jokes about it: “Government is not one bit better than the government we got for one-third the money twenty years ago.”

Rogers considered all campaigning as bunk. To make the point he concocted a mock campaign in 1928 for the presidency running as the "bunkless candidate" of the Anti-Bunk Party. He promised that, if elected, he would resign. On Election Day he declared victory and did just that.

People would ask questions such as what issues would motivate voters. On the subject of prohibition: "What's on your hip is bound to be on your mind." He was asked about presidential debates. Yes: "A Joint debate, in any joint you name." What does the farmer need? "He needs a punch in the jaw if he believes that either of the parties cares a damn about him after the election"

And on the subject of ugly campaign rumors he replied “Don't worry. The things they whisper aren't as bad as what they say out loud."

Rogers represented all Americans by being able to mingle with all social classes. This quote emphasizes what he was about. "The average citizen knows only too well that it makes no difference to him which side wins. He realizes that the Republican elephant and the Democratic donkey have come to resemble each other so closely that it is practically impossible to tell them apart; both of them make the same braying noise, and neither of them ever says anything. The only perceptible difference is that the elephant is somewhat the larger of the two.”

Here are a few more of his famous quotes:

"Everybody says this here thing we're involved in ain't a real war. Congress says it ain't a war. The President says it ain't a war. 'Course the guys over here getting shot at say it's the best damned imitation they ever saw."

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

"The income tax has made more liars out of Americans than golf."

"Our foreign policy is an open book - a checkbook."

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

"A senator got up today in Congress and called his fellow senators sons of wild jackasses. Now, if you think the senators were hot, imagine how the jackasses must feel."

It was on a flight to Alaska on August 15, 1935 with a pilot named Wiley Post that their plane crashed and both men lost their lives.

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