Will Rogers

Will Rogers was a cowboy that did rope tricks. He was loved by the crowds
that watched him. “Onto the stage ambled a friendly-faced, tousled-haired man
wearing a cowboy getup and carrying a collection of lassos in his hand. He smiled
at the audience, then threw out one of the ropes, twirling it in a circle in preparation
for one of the complicated rope tricks he was hired to perform. But as he went into
the trick, he miscalculated the size of the small stage, and the rope whacked into the
backdrop and fell to the ground with a loud thud. The audience was silent as the
obviously embarrassed cowboy reached down and picked it up. Without a word, he
tried the trick a second time. Again, the rope slammed loudly onto the stage floor.
Show directors had a standard way of dealing with such a disasters-get the
performer away from the audience as fast as possible, or “give’em the hook” in the
theater parlance. As the curtain came down on the rope twirler, Buck thought sadly
that the curtain had probably been drawn on the young hopeful’s career.
To his surprise, the audience was thinking differently. Instead of hurling
jeers and catcalls, people here and there began to clap, and soon the entire theater
was filled with the sound of applauses. The curtain went back up, but when the
audience saw another musical number was next, they booed and hooted, demanding
the return of the clumsy cowboy. They did not care that he had botched his
act-there was something so appealing about him that the audience just wanted to see
more of him.


The curtain went back down; after a few tense moments, it rose again as the
cowboy, his smile even broader this time out, sauntered back onstage. The act went
well this time out, and the audience responded with a standing ovation. Buck was
impressed. It did not take too much imagination to recognize that he had found a
real crowd pleaser.”1
In 1915, Will was becoming a follies star. He quickly got bored of his act.
“By 1915, Rogers had become a staple of the vaudeville circuit. He had no trouble
getting jobs, and his act inevitably drew raves from the critics and the public alike.
Recognition and good pay were not quite enough for Rogers, however, for he
quickly grew bored doing the same type of act over and over. A man of tremendous
energy, Rogers always had to have new challenges in order to maintain the level of
concentration he needed to be at his absolute best as a performer.”2
War World I helped Will’s career. He became a cracker-box humorist.
“In the Follies his famous line, “Well, all I know is what I read in the papers,”
introduced new highlights which he learned to bring into homely but unexpected
focus. “I never told a story in my life,” he once said. “What little humor I’ve got
pertains to now.” What the Civil War had been to earlier cracker-box humorists,
and the Spanish-American War to Mr. Dooley, the First World War became to the
rising star of Will Rogers-and continued through its sequels from the Peace
Conference (“The United States never lost a war or won a conference”) to the
Coolidge bull market (“Two thirds of the people promote while one-third provide”).
As a Westerner, Rogers understood the Virginian’s famous formula, “When you
say that, smile!” With a jester’s immunity he deflated rhetoric, buncombe, and
group smugness; and surprisingly few tempers were lost. ”3


Will started writhing newspaper articles in 1922. He was a popular writer.
“ In November 1922 Rogers had begun a long series of weekly articles for The New
York Times and the Times from London, July 29, 1926, about Lady Astor’s visit to
Manhattan, set the tradition of his daily telegram, one terse paragraph that curbed
his genial wordiness and proved to be his most popular medium. Syndication
carried it to some 350 newspapers, with an estimated 40,000,000 readers. Writing
almost constantly of politics, and belonging nominally to the Democratic party
(because “it’s funnier to be a Democrat”), Rogers wisely chose the nonpartisan
point of view.”4
Will loved to travel. Even if it could cost him his life. “In the late summer of
1935 he planned a flight north to the Orient with his fellow Oklahoman, Wiley Post
[q.v.]. About fifteen miles from Point Barrow, Alaska, on Aug. 15, their
monoplane developed engine trouble and, with an Eskimo hunter as sole spectator,
crashed into shallow water, killing both pilot and