Will Rogers, the Cowboy Philosopher

Will Rogers' roping skills, wry commentaries on politics and life, and his engaging homespun humor made him the American icon of his day. Photo by Underwood & Underwood/Library of Congress Prints and Photographs Division Washington, D.C.

A rededication will take place Saturday celebrating the restoration of the Will Rogers State Historic Park ranch and home of the Cowboy Philosopher.

By Ray Singer / Special to The Malibu Times

From the early 1900s until his untimely death in 1935, America and the world embraced a true original, Will Rogers, the Cowboy Philosopher, whose roping skills, wry commentaries on politics and life, and his engaging homespun humor made him the American icon of his day.

Rogers began as a professional rodeo performer and trick roping artist best known for throwing three lassoes at the same time, one roping the rider, the second roping the horse about the neck and the third roping the horse’s four legs. He toured the world as a wild west show star until Florenz Ziegfeld “roped” him into performing for the Ziegfeld Follies in 1914 where he added wry political commentary to his intricate roping routines, delighting sophisticated New York audiences. He quickly became one of the highest paid performers on Broadway.

Rogers began to write a very popular nationally syndicated newspaper column, started a long-running radio commentary program, appeared in 17 motion pictures (including “A Connecticut Yankee in King Arthur’s Court,” “State Fair” and the posthumously released “Steamboat ‘Round the Bend”), wrote several well-received books including “Innocents Abroad” about his travels to Europe and the Holy Land, was a sought-after lecturer and fundraiser for both the Red Cross and the Salvation Army, and was an early and loyal advocate for the new field of aviation.

William Penn Adair Rogers was born in 1879 in the Cherokee Nation near Oolagah (now Oklahoma) and left school after the 10th grade to work on a cattle drive. He never returned to his studies, something that he rued for the rest of his life.

Rogers met Betty Blake of Rogers, Arkansas in 1900 and married her eight years later. She was a talented musician, amateur actress, newspaper typesetter and railroad telegrapher who became a stabilizing influence in Roger’s life and a key to his future successes. She was able to adjust from the simple life in Arkansas to the dynamic worlds of international show business, stardom, politics and finance while offering her husband wise counsel.

Their son Fred died at age two of diphtheria, but their other three children led long and distinguished lives: Will Rogers Jr. was well known for politics and acting; Mary was both a stage and movie star, and Jim was a newsman, motion picture actor and successful rancher.

Will Rogers died Aug. 15, 1935 in an airplane accident near Point Barrow, Alaska in a plane piloted by good friend and nationally noted aviator Wiley Post while they were flying toward Europe “via the back door.”

The Rogers’ 186-acre ranch in Pacific Palisades was left to the state after Betty’s death and is now a State Historic Park containing a 31-room ranch house (with seven fireplaces and 11 baths), surrounded by a stable, corrals, a riding ring, a roping area, a golf course, a polo field, and extensive riding and hiking trails.

The Will Rogers State Historic Park rangers (who compete with each other in story-telling skills) love to tell a true story about Will Rogers who always had a rope in his hands, which he used to lasso his guests, not once but many times during their visit.

Will Rogers’ quotations, which have a remarkably enduring quality, approach the legendary:

“I never met a man I didn’t like.”

“I don’t make jokes. I just watch the government and report the facts.”

“I’m not a real movie star. I’ve still got the same wife I started out with 28 years ago.”

“The income tax has made liars out of more Americans than golf.”

“Half our life is spent trying to find something to do with the time we have rushed through life trying to save.”

“Take the diplomacy out of war and the thing will fall flat in a week.”

A rededication ceremony celebrating the restoration of the home and grounds of the ranch will take place Saturday from 10 a.m. – 3 p.m. (See accompanying story), 1501 Will Rogers State Historic Park Road, off Sunset in Pacific Palisades. There will be no onsite parking.

Information on the event and the park can be obtained by visiting the web site, www.parks.ca.gov/willrogers or by calling 916.651.9523.