Will Rogers was a man of the people. Part Cherokee, he was born and raised in Oologah, Indian Territory (in what is now Oklahoma). He grew up calling both Native Americans and settlers his family and friends. He was a cowboy and frontiersman, a record-holding lasso thrower, a vaudeville star, a Broadway hit, a beloved movie star, a newspaper columnist, a best-selling author, a friend of the presidents, a political commentator, an avid aviation enthusiast, and a real, honest epitome of the great and patriotic American.
Growing up on his family’s ranch, Rogers’ wild spirit pulled him in and out of formal school as he pursued the cowboy life. He became a technical lasso thrower, traveling to perform with successful Wild West shows, and even earned a Guinness World Record for throwing three ropes simultaneously. His unfinished schooling did not mean his intellect was lacking, though, and when he took his show to vaudeville, it was his quick wit, warm charm, and sharp intellect that won over audiences as he spoke of simple, slower, moral life.
It wasn’t long until his charming personality and bright mind took him to Broadway, where he continued to give social commentary through his likable “country bumpkin” persona. But, this persona didn’t fool folks for long; Rogers was clearly no “bumpkin,” but instead, a thoughtful, intelligent, and kind spirit, and he found major success on the big screen as such.
From silent movies to “talkies,” America loved Will Rogers films. His appeal had spread from one stage to another and then on to the big screen. While he gained great favor through his acting career, Rogers also found acclaim through his writing. As the writer of a regular column for the Saturday Evening Post in the 1910s and 1920s, Rogers reached Americans where they were with sentiments that could have been their own. The things he had echoed his whole career—in various forms and mediums—he wrote about in his columns: insights about current events, his distrust of politics, his feelings that money wasn’t all that mattered, and his longing for a slower, more moral American life. He noted that day-to-day life was much more important to the human spirit and the spirit of the nation than were politics or money or fads. His all-in-good-fun-honesty brought a knowing unity among Americans.
Will Rogers had come a long way. He had written several best-selling books, served as a good will ambassador, befriended presidents, and charmed a nation. And though he had found great success, he was quite grounded in his beliefs throughout his life, and he never forgot the spirit of his foundation.
Will Rogers died pursuing his cowboy-like frontier adventure, as his plane crashed on an excursion to Alaska. Some would say he was the last of those American heroes looking to a simpler life; the nation would soon turn their eyes to the future while the world was rocked by the war.
He was, arguably, the most beloved man in America during his lifetime. His life was marked by patriotism, intelligence, skill, wit, integrity, and conviction, and he struck a chord of deep American sentimentality with his fans.
His was an investment in a life of uncompromising commitment.