An American voice
We quoted Will Rogers not long ago and later it dawned on us that many people today may not even know who he was.
Just about everyone has heard monologues with topical jokes by Jay Leno and David Letterman, and many follow the political satire of Steven Colbert and Jon Stewart, but what about Will Rogers?
Rogers was the most famous political humorist of the early 20th century, if not the whole century. Born in 1879 in Oklahoma Indian Territory, he was part Cherokee and started out as a cowboy entertainer telling jokes as he twirled his lariat. Eventually the zingers took over.
We got a fuller picture of the man a few years ago when we visited the Will Rogers Museum near Tulsa, Oklahoma. He's second only to George Washington in his home state, with airports, schools, roads and all manner of things named after him.
In addition to being on early radio, Rogers appeared in comedy films and on Broadway in "The Ziegfeld Follies." He wrote a newspaper column and several books, and was generally considered the voice of the common man. Before his death in a 1935 plane crash, he was a strong supporter of President Franklin D. Roosevelt's "New Deal."
Rogers was an upbeat personable sort, who once said, "I never yet met a man that I didn't like. When you meet people, no matter what opinion you might have formed about them beforehand, why, after you meet them and see their angle and their personality, you can see a lot of good in all of them."
He wasn't as charitable to the big bankers and Wall Street tycoons of his day. He said the financial bigshots might be alright, but folks who'd met Jesse James and the Dalton Gang thought they were friendly fellows, too.
But he saved his most savage remarks for politicians. He once quipped: "A politician is nothing but a local bandit sent to Washington to raid headquarters."
And, he said: "The U. S. Senate begins with a prayer and ends with an investigation."
Still, he was wise enough and kind enough to know that politics is also a thankless job. As he put it: "Washington or Lincoln didn't get a statue until everyone was sure they was dead."
Why, he even had a plan for ending war. He maintained that no country should be allowed to start a war until they've finished paying for the last one. And, he philosophized, "You can't say civilization isn't advancing. In every war, they kill you in a new way."
Will Rogers was an American voice through and through, and the father of today's political humor.