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The Lighter Side: Remembering Will Rogers

Joe Guilbeau

In a different era, Will Rogers was known as stage and film actor, a vaudeville performer, a cowboy, a humorist, a newspaper columnist and a social commentator.

Joe Guilbeau

Many people in this generation do not know the extent of his influence and popularity during his relatively short life.

William Penn Adair Rogers was born on Nov. 4, 1879 at Rogers Ranch in Oooloqah Indian Territory (what’s now Oklahoma. His parents were of Cherokee descent.

While growing up on the family ranch, Will worked with cattle and learned to lasso at an early age. He grew so talented with a rope, in fact, that he was placed in “The Guinness Book of World Records” for throwing three lassos at once. One went around the horse’s neck, another circled around the rider and the third flew under the horse, looping all four legs together.

Rogers attended several schools during his childhood, including Kemper Military School in Boonville, Mo., from 1897-98. He dropped out in the 10th grade to become a cowboy. In 1902 and 1903, will traveled in South Africa with “Texas Jack’s Wild West Show,” in which he played “The Cherokee Kid” and did roping tricks. He also traveled in Australia and New Zealand with the Wirth Brothers Circus.

Back in the United States in 1904, Rogers appeared at the World’s Fairs in St. Louis and New York City. He extended his career in entertainment, touring Vaudeville circuits in America, Canada, and Europe from 1905-15. In November, he married Betty Blake, with whom he had four children. She remained a loving, supportive wife to Will until his death.

During his years in the Vaudeville circuits, as well as the time with the Zigfield Follies, Will’s act evolved from the exhibition of his lasso skills that had launched his career, to the development of his own unique repertoire.

He always regretted quitting school, and he enjoyed reading and talking to people.

Those two interests became the basis for his humor, which focused on intelligent and amusing observations about people, life, country, and the government. He made those observations in a simple language that his audience could understand. Soon, audiences hankered for Will’s humor more than his roping feats.

His career broadened beyond the realm of show business, as well.

Rogers wrote six books and 4,000 syndicated columns. I have written 350 newspaper columns, so when you speak of 4,000 columns, I would describe that as a true phenomenon.

Sadly, Will’s life was cut short at 55. In 1935, he planned a vacation with aviator Wiley Post, flying to Alaska with some stops along the way. The ill-fated flight to Alaska, however, took the life of America’s most beloved celebrity.

Tragically, on Aug. 15, 1935, Will and Wiley crashed near Point Barrow, Alaska, taking both of their lives. His untimely death shocked and saddened the nation, and brought took the life of one of the great humorists and social commentators of his time.