Friday, August 16, 2013

Remembering Will Rogers November 4, 1879 - August 15, 1935

William Penn Adair Rogers remains the "American humorist."

Rogers was born in Oklahoma and was the eighth and final child whose father was a rancher and mother part Cherokee Indi

At a very early age, Rogers perfected the art of the lasso and roping.  He had difficulty taking school very seriously.  He eventually went to South Africa in the early 1900's where he made his show business debut in a wild west circus.  In 1905, he performed his act in Madison Square Garden as a rough rider in a rodeo show.  During the show, a steer got loose and went on a rampage towards the stands and Rogers, with his lasso talent, saved many people from serious injury and, needless to say, he received much publicity.  He would soon take his talent to vaudeville where he performed both in the U.S. and abroad.  In the meantime, he met the love of his life, Betty Blake.  He often claimed "The day I roped Betty, I did the star performance of a lifetime."

Soon Will moved his efforts in to real acting.  He appeared in "The Wall Street Girl" and then associated himself with the Ziegfeld Follies.  During his roping act, Will would spout observations on the absurdities of pompous individuals and politicians. During that time, he made his film debut in "Laughing Bill Hyde."  Soon, he would author two books including "The Cowboy Philosopher."  He also began his fame as a writer having written columns for a syndicated newspaper  and eventually began lecturing and performing his monologues.  Many world leaders, heads of royalty, writers, and "the average man" were attracted to Rogers.  He continued performances on Broadway for a short time until 1928 when he did his last Broadway gig in "Three Cheers"  His popular role that drew sellout crowds was in "Ah, Wilderness" that received rave reviews.  During his writing career, he wrote over 4000 columns and created his own talk show.  He is remembered for his off the cuff quips and comments.

Rogers had many friends including a pilot by the name of Wiley Post.  Post was a recognized aviator and in 1935, he was exploring flight routes from Seattle to Russia.  Rogers decided to go with his friend and document his experiences thru his columns to his thousands of readers.

Original funeral plan at Forest Lawn for Will Rogers
Rogers and Wiley took off from Seattle, when a few days later, Wiley lost course and landed in Point Barrow, Alaska.  When he got his bearings, the pair took off again but shortly after takeoff, the plane's engine quit and the plane crashed.  Both Rogers and Wiley were killed.

The world was shocked at this sudden horrific news.

An estimated 100,000 people gathered to mourn his passing.  Nearly 90 people a minute filed by his casket at Forest Lawn Memorial Park in Glendale (original instructions from Rogers service pictured)  Persons from all walks of life were there and 400 policemen from Los Angeles directed the parking.  His casket was banked with flowers that were designed with the American Flag.  The casket sat near the entrance to the cemetery near the cemetery pond.

Will Rogers service
Rogers funeral was private and those included were U.S President Franklin D. Roosevelt.  Roosevelt said of Rogers "The American nation, to whose heart he brought gladness, will hold him in everlasting remembrance." At the same time, the Hollywood Bowl seated nearly 35000 people along with the Community Presbyterian Church of Beverly Hills.  Memorial services were also held in the Claremore, Oklahoma.  Over 12000 theaters across the US darkened their lights for two minutes in honor of him.

Rogers memorial at Universal studios
Will Rogers was initially buried at a Los Angeles Cemetery.  His wife, Betty had him reinterred on May 22, 1944 in a crypt in the gardens of Claremont Memorial to Will Rogers in Claremont, Oklahoma (photo)  His wife and son, Fred rest with Rogers.

I will end with a quote from Rogers

"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 didn't like. I am so proud of that, I can hardly wait to die so it can be carved."

Will Rogers grave 

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