William Penn Adair Rogers was born in the Cherokee Indian Territory (now Oklahoma) in 1879. A young boy with a knack for entertaining would grow up to be a world-famous humorist, performer, and even earn the nickname, "Oklahoma's Favorite Son."
Rogers grew up on his family's ranch but left his school in Missouri after 10th grade. He admitted that he was a poor student despite his affinity for reading. He was much more interested in cowboys and horses which makes sense because he is still regarded as one of the best ropesmen of all time.
Before becoming a cowboy in the United States, a young Will Rogers first landed a job with the "Texas Jack's Wild West Circus" in South Africa as a trick roper. He then spent time in Australia before returning to his home country. He first started showing off his roping skills at the St. Louis World's Fair, but Rogers gained critical acclaim when he performed at Madison Square Garden in New York City in 1905. His skills roping a steer and entertaining the crowd earned him a place on the front of the newspapers. For the next decade, he found himself incredibly busy because Willie Hammerstein brought him onto his Victoria Roof vaudeville show. For 50 weeks a year, he was on the road doing what he did best.
In 1916, the ropin' fool really connected with audiences as the archetypal cowboy in Ziegfeld Follies. And a couple of years later, Hollywood came calling. Samuel Goldwyn gave Rogers a three-year contract and moved him out to California. Though Rogers starred in 48 silent films, he was a stage guy, and the silence was difficult for him. He helped write many of the title cards for his films to add humor. He found his footing once "talkies" came around in 1929. His talking motion pictures were major successes and made him one of the highest-paid actors in the '30s — They Had to See Paris, County Chairman, Steamboat Round the Bend, In Old Kentucky and A Connecticut Yankee in King Arthur's Court.
In 1922, the entertainer got a weekly newspaper column with The New York Times, "Slipping the Lariat Over," as well as a daily column, "Will Rogers Says." He also wrote for the magazine The Saturday Evening Post. Rogers became a radio show star in 1929 in the Sunday radio broadcast, The Gulf Headliners. The guy was a hard worker, to say the least.
But Rogers didn't spend all of his time traveling around with Wild West Shows or starring in films. He married Betty Blake in 1908 and the happy couple had four children together, Will Rogers, Jr., Mary Amelia, James Blake and Fred Stone.
Rogers was also passionately political. He was a Democrat, but publicly supported Republican Calvin Coolidge as well as Democrat Franklin D. Roosevelt. But more importantly, Rogers made a name for himself as the cowboy philosopher and humorist. Sadly in 1935, Rogers passed away in a plane crash with the famous aviator Wiley Post. Today you can visit the Will Rogers Memorial Museum in Claremore, Oklahoma, to honor the famed American humorist and see memorabilia, photographs, and more from his celebrated life.
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