Thursday, November 04, 2010

In Memoriam: Will Rogers

Maybe it's just my natural cynicism talking, but there's something about the homespun aw-shucks folksiness of Will Rogers that's never sat right with me; he is most famous for saying 'I never met a man I didn't like', yet every time I hear it my bullshit-detector starts a-quiverin' somethin' fierce. I mean, I am well into men, and I've met literally thousands of them I fairly despise...

Photo Sharing and Video Hosting at PhotobucketOf course, he is a product of a different time and place than I am, which is the same Will Rogers-esque homily I often use to explain away any incongruities I might encounter, wherever whenever and in whomever I might encounter them.

Born on this day in 1879, Oklahoma's favourite son never let a lack of interest in book-learning slow him down; he left the Dog Iron Ranch where he was born (near present-day Oologah, Oklahoma) in 1901, setting out for Argentina, where he planned to be a gaucho. When that plan fell through, he headed to South Africa, where he broke horses for the British until the end of the Boer War.

Once his services were no longer needed, he hired himself out to a series of circuses - visiting Australia in the process. By the time he returned Stateside a few years later he was already a seasoned performer, doing tricks with a lariat while discussing the news of the day in a gentle, conversational tone and with a commonsensical insight which was in every way wiser than (and therefore preferable to) the more overtly intellectual (and therefore somewhat off-putting) approach favoured by the other pundits of that era.

By 1915, Rogers was appearing in Florenz Ziegfeld's Midnight Frolic, a nightly revue at a cabaret built on the top floor of the fabled New Amsterdam Theatre in the heart of Times Square, which was then the epicentre of American show business; contacts he made there quickly became fans, and those fans in high places were to serve him very well indeed as he made his way from stage to screen and then to radio.

Friend to Kings and cowboys, Presidents and postmen alike, when Rogers died in August 1935 at the outset of a round-the-world flight with his friend Wiley Post, it was said to be the greatest single outpouring of public grief America had seen since the death of Lincoln; to this day tributes to him abound throughout Oklahoma and beyond. He's been revived on Broadway (portrayed by Keith Carradine) and lives on through the magic of DVD, even within the collection of the Pop Culture Institute, which is curated by none other than cynical old me.
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Seumas Gagne said...

My Dad worshipped him. He was a really encouraging figure for smart people with no pedigree or college education. I supposed it would be natural for an American to admire that and a Canadian to be disinclined to provide any material encouragement so such cretinous and non-standard modes of life non-management. If he didn't want to be a nobody he shouldn't have had those parents, should he have?

michael sean morris said...

Uh... Whuh?