On November 4, 1879, a man who would join Mark Twain to become one of the two people I most often quote was born in Indian territory near what is now Claremore, Oklahoma. Not known as a dedicated student, William Penn Adair “Will” Rogers dad sent him to Kemper Military Academy in Boonville, Mo. as a teenager to help instill discipline in him. Though he didn’t excel at Kemper either, he did go on to become Kemper’s most famous alum. Will always downplayed his education and often claimed “all I know is what I read in the newspaper.”
A talented trick roper who appeared in wild west shows under the name “The Cherokee Kid”, Will soon learned that audiences enjoyed his off-the-cuff comments on current events as much as his roping. One of Will’s favorite subjects was politics. “I don’t make jokes” said Will. “I just watch the government and report the facts.” When Will had the opportunity to meet President Calvin Coolidge, nicknamed “Stoneface”, an associate bet Will he couldn’t make him laugh out loud. The outcome wasn’t in doubt for long. When Will was introduced to President Coolidge, he responded with “Pardon me? I didn’t catch the name” causing even old stoneface to laugh out loud.
No matter how famous he became, Will clung to his Oklahoma heritage. “I have been eating pretty regular and the reason I have is, I have stayed an old country boy.”
Will was a prolific writer. In addition to his other accomplishments, Will wrote over 3000 newspaper columns. Some of his favorite words when discussing current events were “cuckoo’, “baloney”, “hooey” and “applesauce”. His philosophy on writing newspaper columns coincides with my philosophy on writing this blog: “When I write ‘em, I’m through with ‘em. I’m not being paid reading wages. You can always see too many things you wish you hadent said, and not enought that you ought.” The spelling is Will’s. Will once observed “When I first started out to write and misspelled a few words, people said I was plain ignorant. But when I got all the words wrong, they declared I was a humorist.”
When I travel or I’m just out and about, I carry a small notebook to record details I might otherwise forget. When Will traveled, he always carried a small portable typewriter. Will died in a plane crash with one-eyed pilot Wiley Post on August 15, 1935 near Point Barrow, Alaska. Though Will died in the crash, his typewriter survived. The last word he ever typed was “death”. It is rumored that the last words he ever spoke were “Wiley, I think you’ve got that patch over the wrong eye!”
Will once said, “When I die, my epitaph 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.”
You can visit Will’s grave, “I NEVER MET A MAN I DIDN’T LIKE” engraved on his tombstone, at the Will Rogers Museum in Claremore, Okla. You can also visit the ranch where he was born not far from there at Oologah. The typewriter that was recovered from the site where he and Wiley Post crashed is on display in the museum.
Happy 139th Birthday to Will Rogers, who once summed up his philosophy on humor as “Everything is funny as long as it’s happening to someone else.”