By Steven L. Harrison, 33°, FMLR
A poll in the mid 1960s recognized the two most beloved Americans as Abraham Lincoln and humorist Will Rogers. That's pretty high praise for Rogers, whom a Hollywood executive once described as "The hickiest fellow you ever saw." Brother Rogers was a member of Claremore Lodge 53, McAlester Consistory and the Tulsa Shrine, all located in Oklahoma. Here are a few things you might not know about the iconic American humorist. Brother Rogers:
...did not do well in school and once joked, "I spent ten years in the fourth grade and knew more about McGuffy's Fourth Reader than McGuffy did."
...dated all seven of the Blake sisters before asking the youngest, Betty, to marry him in 1906. Betty, apprehensive about a life in show business, turned him down. A year and a half later the persistent Rogers changed her mind and they married. Betty met Will when he was, what else, on a date with one of her older sisters.
...later in life, remarked about his marriage, "I'm different from other movie stars. I still have the wife I started out with."
...worked as a cowboy in Texas, Argentina and South Africa.
...rode broncos in a wild west show under the name "The Cherokee Kid."
...was regarded as the world's best lasso thrower, "Spinning a rope is fun, as long as your neck ain't in it." Working in rodeos, he started slipping jokes into his act. Soon the jokes became more popular than his lassoing skills.
...was a failure as a silent movie actor.
...ran a mock campaign for president in 1928 as the "bunkless candidate." His only campaign promise was to resign if elected. On election day he declared himself the winner and, true to his promise, resigned.
...gave what was described as a hilarious speech at the opening of the Coolidge Dam in 1930. Former president Calvin Coolidge attended. Those in attendance reported the taciturn ex-president did not so much as crack a smile.
...introduced Brother Franklin Roosevelt at the 1932 Democratic convention. He explained why his remarks were short on that occasion, "You're just a candidate. I'm certainly wasting no oratory on a prospect."
...performed with the Ziegfeld Follies and said of the girls he worked with, "Isn't it sad to think that in 20 years all of these lovely creatures will be 5 years older?"
...interviewed Al Capone. He said of that experience, "There was absolutely no way I could write it and not make a hero out of him. What's the matter with our age when a gangster is our biggest national interest?"
...just to keep in touch with his roots, had a log cabin built on his Santa Monica estate. He had a theater built in that same house explaining, "Acting is like getting drunk. If ya gotta do it, it's better to do it at home."
...wrote a daily newspaper column which became a national institution.
...traveled the world looking for new subjects to write about. In the process he became known as America's self-made ambassador.
...was a passionate flier at a time when it was considered risky. He wanted to be known as a "flying reporter."
...was one of the few private citizens permitted to fly in government mail planes.
...used airplanes to assist in disasters. It was said of him, "He usually got there before the Red Cross."
...after visiting the Soviet Union wrote a book entitled, "There's Not A Bathing Suit In Russia, And Other Bare Facts." The publisher declined to put the suggestive second part of the title on the book's cover.
...was proposed for President at two national conventions.
...was the first mayor of Beverly Hills, a position which some say was honorary. His inauguration, nonetheless filled the streets and the top movie stars of the day and other dignitaries attended. Rogers claimed, "My primary duty as mayor was to point out the location of Pickfair to tourists."
...is the only humorist whose statue is in Statuary Hall in the Capitol.
By 1935, Brother Will Rogers was a national treasure. In August, he flew to Alaska with his friend Wiley Post to gather material for his newspaper column. Nearing Point Barrow, the pair stopped confirm their position. Post, 36, and Brother Rogers, 55, perished when their plane crashed on takeoff. Congress suspended activity during his funeral and the outpouring of grief was called the greatest since Lincoln.