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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    Hey Jack Kerouac, Happy Birthday

    On March 12, 1922, novelist and poet Jack Kerouac was born in Lowell, Massachusetts. After showing early promise as a scholar and football player, Kerouac attended Columbia University but then dropped out.  He was later kicked out of the Navy on psychiatric grounds.

    On the Road

    By the late 1940s, Kerouac was finding some promise with his writing.  But it would be the 1957 publication of his book based on his travels, On the Road, that would make him famous as an important figure of the Beat Generation.

    Surprisingly, a year earlier in 1956, Kerouac threatened to never publish the book. But even after gaining fame from On the Road, Kerouac had trouble finding peace and happiness. He died from an abdominal hemorrhage in 1969 at the age of 47.

    In this clip from The Steve Allen Plymouth Show, Allen interviews Kerouac in 1959.  And Kerouac reads from his book while Allen and the band plays jazzy music in the background. Check it out.

    On the Road was made into a 2012 film directed by Walter Salles and starring Sam Riley, Garrett Hedlund, Kristen Stewart in 2012. But one seems more likely to run into Kerouac in songs rather than in films.

    “Hey Jack Kerouac”

    There are several Kerouac-inspired songs, as listed by Raditaz. Probably the most famous creative work that is about Kerouac is the 10,000 Maniacs song, “Hey Jack Kerouac.” The song first appeared on the band’s 1987 album In My Tribe.

    When he group appeared on MTV Unplugged on April 21, 1993, one of the songs they performed was “Hey Jack Kerouac.” Merchant introduced the song for the 10,000 Maniacs by reading about Kerouac.  Her reading apparently was from the introduction in her copy of On the Road.

    The song portrays Kerouac as a misunderstood artistic soul (“little boy lost in our little world that hated/ and that dared to drag him down”). And the song also mentions other of the Beat writers like Allen Ginsberg (“Allen baby, why so jaded?”) and William S. Burroughs (“Billy, what a saint they’ve made you”). Still, others have pointed out that the song complains about the effects of the over popularization of the Beats.

    Lead singer Natalie Merchant wrote the song with the band’s guitarist Rob Buck who passed away in December 2000. You may easily tell they try to capture Kerouac’s writing style in the chorus:

    You chose your words from mouths of babes got lost in the wood.
    Cool junk booting madmen, street minded girls
    In Harlem howling at night.
    What a tear-stained shock of the world,
    You’ve gone away without saying goodbye.

    I do not know what Jack Kerouac would have thought of the song or if he would have agreed with the sentiments. But it would have been cool if he would have stuck around to tell us with his clever use of language. Happy birthday Jack.

    What is your favorite work inspired by Jack Kerouac? Leave your two cents in the comments.

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