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