William "Will" Penn Adair Rogers (November 4, 1879 – August 15, 1935) was an American cowboy, comedian, humorist, social commentator, vaudeville performer and actor and one of the best-known celebrities in the 1920s and 1930s.
Known as Oklahoma's favorite son, Rogers was born to a prominent Cherokee Nation family in Indian Territory (now part of Oklahoma). He traveled around the world three times, made 71 movies (50 silent films and 21 "talkies"), wrote more than 4,000 nationally-syndicated newspaper columns, and became a world-famous figure. By the mid-1930s, Rogers was adored by the American people. He was the leading political wit of the Progressive Era, and was the top-paid Hollywood movie star at the time. Rogers died in 1935 with aviator Wiley Post, when their small airplane crashed near Barrow, Alaska.
His vaudeville rope act led to success in the Ziegfeld Follies, which in turn led to the first of his many movie contracts. His 1920s syndicated newspaper column and his radio appearances increased his visibility and popularity. Rogers crusaded for aviation expansion, and provided Americans with first-hand accounts of his world travels. His earthy anecdotes and folksy style allowed him to poke fun at gangsters, prohibition, politicians, government programs, and a host of other controversial topics in a way that was readily appreciated by a national audience, with no one offended. His short aphorisms, couched in humorous terms, were widely quoted: "I am not a member of an organized political party. I am a Democrat."
Rogers even provided an epigram on his most famous epigram:
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 dident like." I am so proud of that, I can hardly wait to die so it can be carved.
Will Rogers was born on the Dog Iron Ranch in Indian Territory, near present-day Oologah, Oklahoma. The house he was born in had been built in 1875 and was known as the "White House on the Verdigris River." His parents, Clement Vann Rogers (1839–1911) and Mary America Schrimsher (1838–1890), were both Cherokee, and Rogers himself was 9/32 (just over 1/4) Cherokee. Rogers quipped that his ancestors didn't come over on the Mayflower but they "met the boat." Mary Rogers was quarter-Cherokee and a hereditary member of the Paint Clan. She died when Will was 11, and his father remarried less than two years after her death.
Rogers was the youngest of eight children. He was named for the Cherokee leader Col. William Penn Adair. Only three of his siblings, sisters Sallie Clementine, Maude Ethel, and May (Mary), survived into adulthood.
The father, Clement, was a leader within Cherokee society. A Cherokee judge, he was a Confederate veteran and served as a delegate to the Oklahoma Constitutional Convention. Rogers County, Oklahoma is named in honor of Clement Rogers. He served several terms on the Cherokee Senate. Clement Rogers achieved financial success as a rancher and used his influence to help soften the negative affects of white acculturation on the tribe. Roach (1980) presents a sociological-psychological assessment of the relationship between Will and his father during the formative boyhood and teenage years. The father had high expectations for his son and desired him to be more responsible and business-minded. Will was more easygoing and oriented toward the loving affection offered by his mother, Mary, rather than the harshness of his father. The personality clash increased after the mother's death, and young Will went from one venture to another with little success. Only after Will won acclaim in vaudeville did the rift begin to heal, but Clem's untimely death in 1911 precluded a full reconciliation.
Rogers was a good student and an avid reader of The New York Times, but he dropped out after the 10th grade. He later claimed he was a poor student, saying that he "studied the Fourth Reader for ten years." He was much more interested in cowboys and horses, and learned to rope and use a lariat.
Rogers worked the Dog Iron Ranch for a few years. Near the end of 1901, he and a friend left home with aspirations to work as gauchos in Argentina. They arrived in Argentina in May 1902, and spent five months trying to make it as ranch owners in the pampas. Rogers and his partner lost all their money, and in his words, "I was ashamed to send home for more," so the two friends separated and Rogers sailed for South Africa. It is often claimed he took a job breaking in horses for the British Army, but the Boer War had ended three months earlier. Rogers actually got work at Piccione's ranch in Mooi River Station.
He began his show business career as a trick roper in "Texas Jack's Wild West Circus":
He (Texas Jack) had a little Wild West aggregation that visited the camps and did a tremendous business. I did some roping and riding, and Jack, who was one of the smartest showmen I ever knew, took a great interest in me. It was he who gave me the idea for my original stage act with my pony. I learned a lot about the show business from him. He could do a bum act with a rope that an ordinary man couldn't get away with, and make the audience think it was great, so I used to study him by the hour, and from him I learned the great secret of the show business—knowing when to get off. It's the fellow who knows when to quit that the audience wants more of.
Grateful for the guidance but anxious to move on, Rogers quit the circus and went to Australia. Texas Jack gave him a reference letter for the Wirth Brothers Circus there, and Rogers continued to perform as a rider and trick roper, and worked on his pony act. He returned to the United States in 1904, and began to try his roping skills on the American vaudeville circuits.
On a trip to New York City, Rogers was at Madison Square Garden when a wild steer broke out of the arena and began to climb into the viewing stands. Rogers quickly roped the steer to the delight of the crowd. The feat got front page attention from the newspapers, giving him valuable publicity and an audience eager to see more. William Hammerstein came to see his vaudeville act, and quickly signed Rogers to appear on the Victoria Roof—which was literally on a rooftop—with his pony. For the next decade, Rogers estimated he worked for fifty weeks a year at the Roof and at the city's myriad vaudeville theaters.
Rogers described these early years at the Fifteenth Anniversary of the Columbia Theater in New York City. "I got a job on Hammerstein's Roof at $140 a week for myself, my horse, and the man who looked after it. I remained on the roof for eight weeks, always getting another two week extension when Willie Hammerstein would say to me after the Monday matinee, 'you're good for two weeks more'.. . Marty Shea, the booking agent for the Columbia, came to me and asked if I wanted to play burlesque. They could use an extra attraction... I told him I would think about it, but 'Burlesque' sounded to me then as something funny." Shea and Sam A. Scribner, the general manager of the Columbia Amusement Company, approached Rogers a few days later; Shea told Scribner Rogers was getting $150 and would take $175. "'What's he carrying?' Scribner asked Shea. 'Himself, a horse, and a man'. answered Shea." Scribner replied "'Give him eight weeks at $250'".
In 1908, Rogers married Betty Blake, and the couple had four children: Will Rogers, Jr. (Bill), Mary Amelia (Mary), James Blake (Jim), and Fred Stone. Bill became a World War II hero, played his father in two films, and became a member of Congress. Mary became a Broadway actress, and Jim was a newspaperman and rancher; Fred died of diphtheria at age two. The family lived in New York, but they managed to make it home to Oklahoma during the summers. In 1911, Rogers bought a 20-acre (8.1 hectare) ranch near Claremore, Oklahoma, which he intended to use as his retirement home, for US$500 per acre.
In the fall of 1915, Rogers began to appear in Florenz Ziegfeld's Midnight Frolic. The variety revue began at midnight in the top-floor night club of Ziegfeld's New Amsterdam Theatre, and drew many influential—and regular—customers. By this time, Rogers had refined his act to a science. His monologues on the news of the day followed a similar routine every night. He appeared on stage in his cowboy outfit, nonchalantly twirling his lasso, and said, "Well, what shall I talk about? I ain't got anything funny to say. All I know is what I read in the papers." He then made jokes about what he had read in that day's newspapers. The line "All I know is what I read in the papers" is often incorrectly described as Rogers's most famous punch line, when it was in fact his opening line.
His run at the New Amsterdam ran on into 1916, and Rogers's obvious popularity led to an engagement on the more famous Ziegfeld Follies. At this stage Rogers' act was strictly physical, a display of daring riding and clever tricks with his lariat. He discovered that audiences identified the cowboy as the arch-typical American—doubtless aided by Theodore Roosevelt's image as a cowboy. Rogers' cowboy showed an unfettered man free of institutional restraints, with no bureaucrats to order his life. When he came back to the United States and worked in Wild West shows, he noticed that audiences were just as fascinated by his frontier, Oklahoma twang. By 1916, a featured star in Ziegfeld's Follies on Broadway, he moved into satire by transforming the "Ropin' Fool" to the "Talkin' Fool". At one performance, with President Woodrow Wilson in the audience, he improvised a "roast" of presidential policies that had Wilson, and the entire audience, in stitches and proved his remarkable skill at off-the-cuff, witty commentary on current events. The rest of his career he built around that skill.
An editorial in The New York Times said that "Will Rogers in the Follies is carrying on the tradition of Aristophanes, and not unworthily." Rogers branched into silent films too, for Samuel Goldwyn's company Goldwyn Pictures. He made his first silent movie, Laughing Bill Hyde, filmed in Fort Lee, New Jersey, in 1918. Many early films were made near the major New York performing market, so Rogers could make the film, yet still rehearse and perform in the Follies. He eventually appeared in most of the Follies, from 1916 to 1925.
Hollywood discovered Rogers in 1918, as Samuel Goldwyn gave him the title role in Laughing Bill Hyde. A three-year contract with Goldwyn, at triple the Broadway salary, moved Rogers west. He bought a ranch in Santa Monica and set up his own production company. While Rogers enjoyed film acting, his appearances in silent movies suffered from the obvious restrictions of silence—not the strongest medium for him, having gained his fame as a commentator on stage. It helped somewhat that he wrote a good many of the title cards appearing in his films. In 1923, he began a one-year stint for Hal Roach and made 12 pictures. Among the films he made for Roach in 1924 were three directed by Rob Wagner: Two Wagons Both Covered, Going to Congress and Our Congressman. He made two other feature silents and a travelogue series in 1927, and did not return to the screen until his time in the 'talkies' began in 1929.
He made 48 silent movies, but with the arrival of sound in 1929 he became a top star in that medium. His first sound film, They Had to See Paris (1929), finally gave him the chance to exercise his verbal magic. He played a homespun farmer (State Fair) 1933, an old-fashioned doctor (Dr. Bull) 1933, a small town banker (David Harum ) 1934, and a rustic politician (Judge Priest) 1934. He was also in County Chairman (1935), Steamboat 'Round the Bend (1935), and In Old Kentucky (1935). His favorite director was John Ford.
Rogers appeared in 21 feature films alongside such noted performers as Lew Ayres, Billie Burke, Richard Cromwell, Jane Darwell, Andy Devine, Janet Gaynor, Rochelle Hudson, Boris Karloff, Myrna Loy, Joel McCrea, Hattie McDaniel, Ray Milland, Maureen O'Sullivan, ZaSu Pitts, Dick Powell, Bill "Bojangles" Robinson, Mickey Rooney, and Peggy Wood. He was directed three times by John Ford. He appeared in three films with his friend Stepin Fetchit (aka Lincoln T. Perry): David Harum (1934), Judge Priest (1934) and The County Chairman (1935).
With his voice becoming increasingly familiar to audiences, he was able to basically play himself, without normal makeup, in each film, managing to ad-lib and even work in his familiar commentaries on politics at times. The clean moral tone of his films led to various public schools taking their classes, during the school day, to attend special showings of some of them. His most unusual role may have been in the first talking version of Mark Twain's novel A Connecticut Yankee in King Arthur's Court. His popularity soared to new heights with films including Young As You Feel, Judge Priest, and Life Begins at 40 with Richard Cromwell and Rochelle Hudson.
Newspapers and magazines
Rogers demonstrated multiple skills, and was an indefatigable worker. He toured the lecture circuit. The New York Times syndicated his weekly newspaper column, 1922-35. Going daily in 1926 his short "Will Rogers Says" reached forty million newspaper readers. He wrote frequently for the mass-circulation upscale magazine, The Saturday Evening Post, where Rogers advised Americans to embrace the frontier values of neighborliness and democracy on the domestic front while remaining clear of foreign entanglements. He took a strong, highly popular stand in favor of aviation, including a military air force of the sort his flying buddy, General Billy Mitchell, advocated.
Rogers began a weekly column, titled "Slipping the Lariat Over," at the end of 1922. He had already published a book of wisecracks and had begun a steady stream of humor books. Through the continuing series of columns for the McNaught Syndicate between 1922 and 1935, as well as in his personal appearances and radio broadcasts, he won the loving admiration of the American people, poking jibes in witty ways at the issues of the day and prominent people—often politicians. He wrote from a non-partisan point of view and became a friend of presidents and a confidant of the great. Loved for his cool mind and warm heart, he was often considered the successor to such greats as Artemus Ward and Mark Twain. Rogers was not the first entertainer to use political humor before his audience. Others, such as Broadway comedian Raymond Hitchcock and Britain's Sir Harry Lauder, preceded him by several years. The legendary Bob Hope is the best known political humorist to follow Rogers's example.
From about 1925 to 1928, Rogers traveled the length and breadth of the United States in a "lecture tour". (He began his lectures by pointing out that "A humorist entertains, and a lecturer annoys.") During this time he became the first civilian to fly from coast to coast with pilots flying the mail in early air mail flights. The National Press Club dubbed him "Ambassador at Large of the United States." He visited Mexico City, along with Charles Lindbergh, as a guest of U.S. Ambassador Dwight Morrow. (Morrow's daughter Anne later married Lindbergh.) Rogers gave numerous after-dinner speeches, became a popular convention speaker, and gave dozens of benefits for victims of floods, droughts, or earthquakes.
He made a trip to the Orient in 1931 and to Central and South America the following year. In 1934, he made a globe-girdling tour and returned to play the lead in Eugene O'Neill's stage play Ah, Wilderness! He had tentatively agreed to go on loan from Fox to MGM to star in the 1935 movie version of the play; however, his concern over a fan's reaction to the 'facts-of-life' talk between his character and its son caused him to decline the role—and that freed up his schedule allowing him to fly with Wiley Post that summer.
Radio was the exciting new medium, and Rogers became a star there as well, recycling his newspaper pieces. From 1930 to 1935, he made radio broadcasts for the Gulf Oil Company. This weekly Sunday evening show, The Gulf Headliners, ranked among the top radio programs in the country. Since he easily rambled from one subject to another, reacting to his studio audience, he often lost track of the half-hour time limit in his earliest broadcasts, and was cut off in mid-sentence. To correct this, he brought in a wind-up alarm clock, and its on-air buzzing alerted him to begin wrapping up his comments. By 1935, his show was being announced as "Will Rogers and his famous Alarm Clock."
In January 1934, Rogers used a taboo word that led the NAACP to protest. He used the word “nigger” in a radio skit, referring to a song as a “nigger spiritual” Rogers had used the word in print in his syndicated newspaper columns on a few occasions, but this was evidently the first time he used it on the radio.
Rogers was a staunch Democrat, but he also supported Republican Calvin Coolidge. Democrat Franklin D. Roosevelt was his favorite. Although he supported Roosevelt's New Deal, he could just as easily joke about it:
Lord, the money we do spend on Government and it’s not one bit better than the government we got for one-third the money twenty years ago.
Rogers served as a goodwill ambassador to Mexico, and a brief stint as mayor of Beverly Hills. During the depths of the Great Depression, angered by Washington's inability to feed the people, he embarked on a cross country fund raising tour for the Red Cross.
Presidential campaign, 1928
Rogers thought all campaigning was bunk. To prove the point he mounted a mock campaign in 1928 for the presidency. His only vehicle was the pages of Life, a weekly humor magazine. Rogers ran as the "bunkless candidate" of the Anti-Bunk Party. His only campaign promise was that, if elected, he would resign. Every week, from Memorial Day through Election Day, Rogers caricatured the farcical humors of grave campaign politics. On election day he declared victory and resigned.
Asked what issues would motivate voters? Prohibition: "What's on your hip is bound to be on your mind" (July 26).
Asked if there should be presidential debates? Yes: "Joint debate--in any joint you name" (August 9).
How about appeals to the common man? Easy: "You can't make any commoner appeal than I can" (August 16).
What does the farmer need? Obvious: "He needs a punch in the jaw if he believes that either of the parties cares a damn about him after the election" (August 23).
Can voters be fooled? Darn tootin': "Of all the bunk handed out during a campaign the biggest one of all is to try and compliment the knowledge of the voter" (September 21).
What about a candidate's image? Ballyhoo: "I hope there is some sane people who will appreciate dignity and not showmanship in their choice for the presidency" (October 5).
What of ugly campaign rumors? Don't worry: "The things they whisper aren't as bad as what they say out loud" (October 12).
Philosophy and style
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 archetypical "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.
Quotes and one-liners
One of Will Rogers' most famous lines, "I have never yet met a man that I dident like," was part of a longer quotation and in its original form was in reference to Leon Trotsky:
"I bet you if I had met him and had a chat with him, I would have found him a very interesting and human fellow, for I never yet met a man that I dident like. When you meet people, no matter what opinion you might have formed about them beforehand, why, after you meet them and see their angle and their personality, why, you can see a lot of good in all of them. "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. "Every guy just looks in his own pocket and then votes. And the funny part of it is that it's the last year of an administration that counts. A president can have three bad ones and then wind up with everybody having money in the fourth, and the incumbent will win so far he needn't even stay up to hear the returns. Conditions win elections, not speeches. "I bet any Sunday could be made as popular at church as Easter is, if you made 'em fashion shows too. The audience is so busy looking at each other that the preacher might as well recite "Gunga Din". "Be thankful we're not getting all the government we're paying for." "Mother's Day, it's beautiful thought, but it's somebody's hurtin' conscience that thought of the idea. It was someone who had neglected their mother for years, and then they figured out: I got to do something about Momma. And knowing Momma was that easy, they figured, “we'll give her a day, and it will be all right with Momma.” Give her a day, and then in return Momma gives you the other 364. See? "One sure certainty about our Memorial Days is that as fast as the ranks from one war thin out, the ranks from another take their place. Prominent men may run out of Decoration Day speeches, but the world never runs out of wars. People talk peace, but men give up their life's work to war. "Thanksgiving Day! In the days of our founders, they were willing to give thanks for mighty little, for mighty little was all they expected. … Those old boys in the Fall of the year, if they could gather a few pumpkins, potatoes and some corn for the Winter, they was in a thanking mood. But if we can't gather in a new car, a new radio, a new tuxedo and some Government relief, we feel like the world is agin' us. "Everything is changing. People are taking the comedians seriously and the politicians as a joke." "Americans will feed anyone that's not close to them." "Our foreign policy is an open book - a checkbook." "I belong to no organized party, I'm a Democrat." "Lettin' the cat out of the bag is a lot easier than puttin' it back in." "People who fly into a rage always make a bad landing." "The income tax has made more liars out of Americans than golf." "If stupidity got us in this mess, why can't it get us out?" "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." "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." "Even if you are on the right track, you'll get run over if you just sit there."
Aviation and death
Rogers became an advocate for the aviation industry after noticing advancements in Europe and befriending Charles Lindbergh, the most famous aviator of the era. During his 1926 European trip he witnessed the European advances in commercial air service and compared them to the almost nonexistent facilities in the United States. Rogers' newspaper columns frequently emphasized the safety record, speed, and convenience of this means of transportation, and he helped shape public opinion on the subject.
In 1935 the famed aviator Wiley Post, an Oklahoman, became interested in surveying a mail-and-passenger air route from the West Coast to Russia. He attached a Lockheed Explorer wing to a Lockheed Orion fuselage, fitting floats for landing in the lakes of Alaska and Siberia. Rogers visited Post often at the airport in Burbank, California while he was modifying the aircraft, and asked Post to fly him through Alaska in search of new material for his newspaper column. When the floats Post had ordered did not arrive at Seattle in time, he used a set that was designed for a larger type, making the already nose-heavy hybrid aircraft still more nose-heavy. However, according to the research of Bryan Sterling, the floats were the correct type for the aircraft.
After making a test flight in July, Post and Rogers left Seattle in the Lockheed Orion-Explorer in early August and then made several stops in Alaska. While Post piloted the aircraft, Rogers wrote his columns on his typewriter. Before they left Fairbanks they signed and mailed a burgee belonging to the South Coast Corinthian Yacht Club. The signed burgee is on display at South Coast Corinthian Yacht Club in Marina del Rey, California. On August 15, they left Fairbanks, Alaska for Point Barrow. They were a few miles from Point Barrow when they became uncertain of their position in bad weather and landed in a lagoon to ask directions. On takeoff, the engine failed at low altitude, and the aircraft, uncontrollably nose-heavy at low speed, plunged into the lagoon, shearing off the right wing and ending inverted in the shallow water of the lagoon. Both men died instantly.
One of Oklahoma's two statues in the National Statuary Hall Collection, housed in the United States Capitol, is of Rogers. The work was paid for by a state appropriation and was sculpted in clay by Jo Davidson, a close friend of Rogers whom he nicknamed the "headhunter" because Davidson was always looking for heads to sculpt, then cast in bronze in Brussels, Belgium. Dedicated on June 6, 1939 before a crowd of more than 2,000 people, the statue faces the floor entrance of the House of Representatives Chamber next to National Statuary Hall. The Architect of the Capitol, David Lynn, said there had never been such a large ceremony or crowd in the Capitol.
Oklahoma leaders asked Rogers to represent the state as one of their two statues in the Capitol, and Rogers agreed on the condition that his image would be placed facing the House Chamber, supposedly so he could "keep an eye on Congress." Of the statues in this part of the Capitol, the Rogers sculpture is the only one facing the Chamber entrance. According to guides at the Capitol, each President rubs the left shoe of the Rogers statue for good luck before entering the House Chamber to give the State of the Union Address.
Oklahoma has named many places and buildings for Rogers. His birthplace is located two miles east of Oologah, Oklahoma. The house was moved about ¾ mile (1.2 km) to its present location overlooking its original site when the Verdigris River valley was flooded to create Oologah Lake. The family tomb is at the Will Rogers Memorial Museum in nearby Claremore, which stands on the site purchased by Rogers in 1911 for his retirement home. In 1944, Rogers' body was moved from a holding vault in California to the tomb; his wife Betty was interred beside him later that year upon her death. A casting of the Davidson sculpture that stands in National Statuary Hall, paid for by Davidson personally, resides at the museum. Both the birthplace and the museum are open to the public.
Will Rogers World Airport in Oklahoma City was named for him, as was the Will Rogers Turnpike, also known as the section of Interstate 44 between Tulsa and Joplin, Missouri. Near Vinita, Oklahoma, a statue of Rogers stands outside the west anchor of the McDonald's that spans both lanes of the interstate. A recent expansion and renovation of the Will Rogers World Airport includes a statue of Will Rogers on horseback in front of the terminal.
There are 13 public schools in Oklahoma named Will Rogers, including Will Rogers High School in Tulsa. The University of Oklahoma named the large Will Rogers Room in the student union for him, as did the Boy Scouts of America with the Will Rogers Council and the Will Rogers Scout Reservation near Cleveland.
In 1947, a college football bowl game was named in his honor, but the event folded after the first year.
Rogers's home, stables, and polo fields are preserved today for public enjoyment as Will Rogers State Historic Park in Pacific Palisades. His widow, Betty, willed the property to the state of California upon her death in 1944, under the condition that polo be played on the field every year. Will Rogers Elementary School in Santa Monica is named for Rogers, as is Will Rogers Elementary School in Ventura. There are two Middle Schools named Will Rogers (one in Long Beach and the other in Fair Oaks). A United States Navy submarine USS Will Rogers is also named in his honor. A small park on Sunset Boulevard and Beverly Drive in Beverly Hills was named Will Rogers Memorial Park after him. Also, a beach in Malibu was named Will Rogers Beach.
U.S. Route 66 is known as the Will Rogers Highway; a plaque dedicating the highway to the humorist is located opposite the western terminus of Route 66 in Santa Monica.
The California Theatre in San Bernardino is the site of the humorist's final show. He always performed in front of special jewelled curtains of which he had two.
While he was using one, he would send the other to the site of his next performance. Due to his untimely death, the curtain before which he performed last remained with the California Theatre where the artifact stays to this day, and two memorial murals by Ken Twitchell grace the exterior of the fly loft. The California Theatre also named one of its reception spaces the Will Rogers Room.
The Will Rogers Memorial Center was built in Fort Worth, Texas, in 1936. A mural of Rogers on his horse, Soapsuds, hangs in the lobby of the coliseum, and a bust of Rogers sits in the rotunda of the Landmark Pioneer Tower. A life-size statue of Rogers on Soapsuds, titled Into the Sunset and sculpted by Electra Waggoner Biggs, resides on the lawn.
A casting of Into the Sunset stands in the entrance to the main campus quad at Texas Tech University in Lubbock, Texas. This memorial was dedicated on February 16, 1950, by Rogers' longtime friend, Amon G. Carter. Carter believed Texas Tech was the perfect setting for the statue and that it would fit into the traditions and scenery of west Texas.
The statue stands at 9 feet 11 inches tall and weighs 3,200 pounds; its estimated cost was $25,000. On the base of the statue, the inscription reads "Lovable Old Will Rogers on his favorite horse, 'Soapsuds,' riding into the Western sunset."
Today, Texas Tech tradition and legend surround the statue. According to one legend, the plan to face Will Rogers so that he could be riding off into the sunset did not work out as it would cause Soapsuds' rear to be facing visitors entering campus from downtown. To solve this problem, the horse and Will were turned 23 degrees to the east so the horse's posterior was facing in the direction of Texas A&M, one of the school's rivals.
Before every home football game the Saddle Tramps wrap Old Will with red crepe paper. Will Rogers and Soapsuds have also been wrapped in black crepe paper to mourn national tragedies.
A third casting resides at the Will Rogers Memorial in Claremore, Oklahoma.
In 1936, the NVA Hospital located in Saranac Lake, New York was renamed to the Will Rogers Memorial Hospital in his honor by the National Vaudeville Artists association. It was listed on the National Register of Historic Places in 1983.
Rogers's eldest son, Bill, starred as his father in the 1952 biopic The Story of Will Rogers. Rogers also came to life for modern audiences in the Tony Award-winning musical The Will Rogers Follies, with Keith Carradine in the lead role, and he was also portrayed by James Whitmore in the one-man show Will Rogers' U.S.A.
Colorado Springs philanthropist Spencer Penrose named a monument on Cheyenne Mountain the Will Rogers Shrine of the Sun in honor of his good friend.
On November 4, 1948, the United States Post Office commemorated Rogers with a first day cover of a 3-cent stamp with his image—the inscription reads, "In honor of Will Rogers, Humorist, Claremore, Oklahoma." He was also later honored on the centennial of his birth, in 1979, with the issue of a United States Postal Service 15-cent stamp as part of the "Performing Arts" series.
The Barrow, Alaska airport (BRW), located about 16 miles (26 km) from the location of their fatal airplane crash, is known as the Wiley Post–Will Rogers Memorial Airport.
The final boat of the Benjamin Franklin class ballistic missile submarines USS Will Rogers is named in his honor. It is the only US Naval vessel named for an American humorist.
The Will Rogers Theatre, an Art Deco movie house designed by Rapp and Rapp, opened in Chicago's Belmont-Central shopping district in 1936. It operated until 1986 and was razed in 1987.
The Will Rogers Theater in Charleston, Illinois, also an Art Deco movie house was opened in 1938 and desiged by Roy M. Kennedy. It had 1,000 seats in its single auditorium. The theatre was placed on the Register of Historic Places in 1984. It was later twinned and then closed by AMC in 2010.
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I have the exclusive rights to the sales of this image.
Photographs are also available in larger sizes from 8x12" to 11x14", 12x16", 12x18", 16x20", 20x26" & 20x30".
Email me for a price quote. I'd be happy to create an auction just for you.
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