The Cowboy Philosopher Will Rogers

On November 4, 1879, William Penn Adair Rogers was born on a ranch in Cherokee Indian territory.  His birthplace was near what is now Oologah, Oklahoma.  The family called the young boy by the name “Will,” and he would grow up to be beloved by the country as Will Rogers.

In 1898, the young man left home to work as a cowboy, and in 1902 began his show business career when he joined Texas Jack‘s Wild West show as a trick roper and rider. Before long, Rogers realized that audiences loved his humor and cowboy philosophy, eventually becoming a national celebrity through movie roles, magazine and newspaper articles, and in-person and radio appearances.

Bacon, Beans, and Limousines

Rogers’s honest humor struck a chord with America as it went into the Great Depression. In 1931, President Herbert Hoover’s Organization on Unemployment Relief asked him to address the nation. Rogers delivered what became known as his “Bacon, Beans, and Limousines” speech, where he addressed unemployment and the causes of the Depression.

Check out this video of the October 18, 1931 speech from the Will Rogers Memorial Museums.

Death

Will Rogers, however, did not get to see the end of the Depression, as he passed away on August 15, 1935. Rogers was an advocate for the early aviation industry, and he died in a plane crash while traveling in Alaska with renowned aviator Wiley Post. Many mourned the passing of one of the most beloved Americans whose life overlapped with another rising Oklahoma philosopher, Woody Guthrie (1912-1967).

TV and Film

The weekly television show Man of the Year paid tribute to Will Rogers when it looked back on the year 1935. The interesting episode features a lot of video footage of Rogers.

The video covers the life of Will Rogers, and around the 12:20 mark, the host introduces humorists Steve Allen and Fred Allen to discuss the importance of the cowboy philosopher.

Several actors have portrayed Rogers in movies, including Keith Carradine (who also played Woody Guthrie in a film). I recall first learning about Will Rogers from the 1952 film called The Story of Will Rogers, where Will Rogers, Jr. portrayed his father.

Many today may not know much about Will Rogers, but he was significantly influential in his time and worth remembering on this anniversary of his birth.

Public domain photo via Library of Congress. What is your favorite Will Rogers story? Leave your two cents in the comments.

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    Helen Kane and the Inspiration for Betty Boop


    On August 4, 1904, Helen Clare Schroeder — who became famous as Helen Kane — was born in the Bronx. Kane, who started out as a performer in vaudeville and Broadway, became famous as a singer and in films.

    Despite Kane’s successful career, she’s mostly remembered today for two things. Kane introduced the world to the hit song “I Wanna Be Loved by You” in 1928 in Oscar Hammerstein’s show Good Boy. And she inspired the cartoon Betty Boop.

    The Betty Boop connection resulted in a lawsuit. Kane sued Paramount Pictures and Boop-animator Max Fleischer for unfair competition and wrongful appropriation.

    Fleischer had initially created the character as a dog, but by 1932 when Kane filed the lawsuit, Betty Boop was an animated human. Kane lost the lawsuit because the judge decided she could not show that she had originated the singing style herself.  She may have copied the style from African-American performer Baby Esther.

    Below, in movie footage from 1929, Helen Kane sings “He’s So Unusual” and “The Prep Step.” The performances of “He’s So Unusual,” written by Sherman Lewis Silver, and “The Prep Step” with Jack Oakie are from the 1929 movie Sweetie, which is currently available in its entirety on YouTube.

    In 1983, Cyndi Lauper reflected Kane’s style in her own cover of “He’s So Unusual” on her album She’s So Unsual. Kane’s hit “I Wanna Be Loved by You” has also been covered, but Kane’s performance remains the definitive version that can only be imitated.

    This video’s creator took Kane’s version of “I Wanna Be Loved by You” and added images of both Kane and Betty Boop.

    For some pure Betty Boop, here is the 1932 cartoon, “Boop-Oop-A-Doop.”

    As for Helen Kane, after the Boop lawsuit, her career went through several ups and downs. Her flapper style lost favor during the Great Depression, but she made several TV appearances in the 1950s and 1960s until she passed away on September 26, 1966 at age 62 in Queens, New York.  She’s buried at the Long Island National Cemetery.

    Dan Healy, Kane’s third husband who had been married to her for 27 years, was with her when she died. To hear more Helen Kane, head over to the Internet Archive. For more photos of Kane, check out 21st Century Flapper.

    As for Betty Boop, her popularity has fluctuated through the years too. But she still appears in various media today and will help keep Helen Kane’s memory alive for a long time to come.

    Leave your two cents in the comments.

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