I watched a movie with my folks last night called The Will Rogers Story, and I learned a lot about this most amazing American.
A Cherokee (with lots of other nationalities mixed in) born in Oklahoma when it was still the Indian Territory, he was a cowhand in Texas, Argentina and South Africa before getting a job with a Wild West Show.
With his talent for doing tricks with a lariat, he got a job on Broadway, of all places, with the Ziegfield Follies. He later became a movie star in silent films, and was even more successful in the talkies.
Then he started writing a newspaper column that was immensely successful and allowed him to travel all over the world. US presidents from Hoover to Roosevelt used to call him up to explain their policies because he had so much influence with the American people. He had the most popular newspaper column and the most popular radio show in the country.
Among his famous sayings are: “I only know what I read in the papers,” “I never yet met a man I didn’t like,” and “Whenever Congress makes a joke, it’s a law and whenever they make a law, it’s a joke.”
He used his success to help those in need. Whenever there was a disaster, he immediately flew there and reported on it. During the Depression he worked tirelessly to help the unemployed.
When he died in a plane crash in 1935, they say, it prompted the greatest outpouring of national grief since the death of Abraham Lincoln.
The movie ended with this tribute from Ogden Nash:
“I worked with grin and gum and lariat
To entertain the proletariat.
And with my Oklahomely wit
I brightened up the world a bit.”