Famed humorist, vaudevillian and radio personality and actor Will Rogers was born William Penn Adair Rogers on this date on the Dog Iron Ranch near the Cherokee (Tsalagi) town of Oologah in what was then "Indian Territory" (now located in Okalahoma in a county named for Rogers). Both of Rogers' parents were Tsalagi (Cherokee), with his mother being from the Paint Clan; he was named for the Cherokee Colonel William Penn Adair [Note: there will be NO talk of blood quantums here (!)--for that please see Wikipedia]. Rogers often told people that he was born in Claremore (which is where his memorial is placed) because "only an Indian could pronounce 'Oologah.'" Rogers' forays into public life span so many different outlets it's hard to name them all, especially considering that he died in his mid-50's. Of course, he wouldn't be here on this blog if it were not for his silent film acting; but before this, he was: a cowboy (both entertainment and real), a circus performer, a vaudevillian (he was a member of Ziegfeld Follies), a bonafide stage actor and newspaper man. His first film appearance is listed as dating from 1918 with the starring role in Laughing Bill Hyde. After this he was given a contract by Samuel Goldwyn for 3 years at a substantial increase from his current Broadway pay. Rogers moved to the west coast and purchased a ranch. He settled into the film business, despite that he found the medium stifling. He was first and foremost a comic with a voice. He did find an outlet in title card writing, but it wouldn't be until talkies came along that his film acting really came into it's own. He did have a substantial impact on silent comedies, despite his viewing the medium as stunted. He wound up with a contract with Hal Roach in 1923 for a year that was good for a dozen comedic shorts that became some of his best remembered silent work. He took a movie acting hiatus starting in 1924, having become a star and tired of the grind of over-acting without his voice; he took to the tour circuit, traveling the all over the U.S. and eventually to Europe. It was in the UK that he next turned up in film in the British National Film produced Tiptoes in 1927. He was in just one additional silent film in his career, before appearing for the first time in the all sound musical Happy Days in a small minstrel role; it was filmed in 1929 but not released until 1930. The first full sound film that the public got to see him in was actually filmed after Happy Days, but released in September of 1929. He was the full-fledged star of They Had To See Paris, a Fox film in which he played as mechanic from--of all places--Oklahoma, Pike Peters. The film brought him a whole new level of stardom. From this point on he would appear in a variety of big Hollywood films along side the likes of Janet Gaynor, Mickey Rooney, Myrna Loy and Ray Milland, just to name a few. He even appeared with Boris Karloff. In many of these roles, he was basically playing himself. In addition to becoming a kind of movie star, he also became a huge star of the radio, with people tuning in coast to coast to hear his humorous rants and rambles. All of this was cut short when a small prop plane that he was traveling on, piloted by aviator Wiley Post, crashed close to Point Barrow Alaska, killing both men instantly. Rogers had become an aviation enthusiast and was on the plane when it was being tested by Post on multiple flights for the Lockheed Co. The date was the 15th of August 1935 and Rogers was 55 years old. He was first interred in Forest Lawn in Glendale, where so many other famous luminaries had been laid to rest. In May of 1944 his body was exhumed and moved to it's current burial place in the Will Rogers Memorial in Claremore, Oklahoma (the town that he had joked about being born in). The Rogers family tomb is there, adjacent to the Will Rogers Memorial Museum. During his time in silent films, he appeared in nearly 50 comedies. Please consult links below for so much more! Wado (thanks) for reading!
|Funeral 1935 in Glendale, California|
|Memorial in Point Barrow, Alaska--dedicated in 1982|