Will Rogers in 1922 by Melbourne Spurr
|Born||William Penn Adair Rogers
November 4, 1879
Oologah, Cherokee Nation, Indian Territory (now Oklahoma)
|Died||August 15, 1935
Point Barrow, Alaska
|Cause of death||Airplane crash|
|Betty Blake (1908-1935; his death)|
|Children||William Vann "Bill" Rogers
(Will Rogers, Jr.)
Mary Amelia Rogers
James Blake Rogers
Fred Stone Rogers
William Penn Adair "Will" Rogers (November 4, 1879 - August 15, 1935) was a stage and motion picture actor, vaudeville performer, American cowboy, humorist, newspaper columnist, and social commentator.
Known as "Oklahoma's Favorite Son", Rogers was born to a prominent Cherokee Nation family in Indian Territory (now part of Oklahoma). He traveled around the world three times, made 71 movies (50 silent films and 21 "talkies"), and wrote more than 4,000 nationally syndicated newspaper columns. By the mid-1930s, the American people adored Rogers. He was the leading political wit of his time, and was the highest paid Hollywood film star. Rogers died in 1935 with aviator Wiley Post, when their small airplane crashed in northern Alaska.
Rogers's vaudeville rope act led to success in the Ziegfeld Follies, which in turn led to the first of his many movie contracts. His 1920s syndicated newspaper column and his radio appearances increased his visibility and popularity. Rogers crusaded for aviation expansion, and provided Americans with first-hand accounts of his world travels. His earthy anecdotes and folksy style allowed him to poke fun at gangsters, prohibition, politicians, government programs, and a host of other controversial topics in a way that was appreciated by a national audience, with no one offended. His aphorisms, couched in humorous terms, were widely quoted: "I am not a member of an organized political party. I am a Democrat." Another widely quoted Will Rogers comment was "I don't make jokes. I just watch the government and report the facts." Rogers even provided an epigram on his most famous epigram:
When I die, my epitaph, or whatever you call those signs on gravestones, is going to read: "I joked about every prominent man of my time, but I never met a man I dident [sic] like." I am so proud of that, I can hardly wait to die so it can be carved.
Rogers was born on the Dog Iron Ranch in Indian Territory, near present-day Oologah, Oklahoma. The house he was born in had been built in 1875 and was known as the "White House on the Verdigris River". His parents, Clement Vann Rogers (1839-1911) and Mary America Schrimsher (1838-1890), were both of part Cherokee ancestry, making Rogers himself 9/32 (just over 1/4) Cherokee. Rogers quipped that his ancestors did not come over on the Mayflower, but they "met the boat". His mother was quarter-Cherokee and a hereditary member of the Paint Clan. She died when Will was 11, and his father remarried less than two years after her death.
Rogers was the youngest of eight children. He was named for the Cherokee leader Col. William Penn Adair. Only three of his siblings, sisters Sallie Clementine, Maude Ethel, and May (Mary), survived into adulthood.
His father, Clement, was a leader within Cherokee society. A Cherokee judge, he was a Confederate veteran and served as a delegate to the Oklahoma Constitutional Convention. Rogers County, Oklahoma, is named in honor of Clement Rogers. He served several terms on the Cherokee Senate. Clement Rogers achieved financial success as a rancher and used his influence to help soften the negative effects of white acculturation on the tribe. Roach (1980) presents a sociological-psychological assessment of the relationship between Will and his father during the formative boyhood and teenage years. Clement had high expectations for his son and desired him to be more responsible and business-minded. Will was more easygoing and oriented toward the loving affection offered by his mother, Mary, rather than the harshness of his father. The personality clash increased after his mother's death, and young Will went from one venture to another with little success. Only after Will won acclaim in vaudeville did the rift begin to heal, but Clement's death in 1911 precluded a full reconciliation.
Will Rogers attended school at the Willow Hassel School at Neosho, Missouri, and Kemper Military School at Boonville, Missouri. He was a good student and an avid reader of The New York Times, but he dropped out of school after the 10th grade. He later claimed he was a poor student, saying that he "studied the Fourth Reader for ten years". He was much more interested in cowboys and horses, and learned to rope and use a lariat.
Rogers worked the Dog Iron Ranch for a few years. Near the end of 1901, he and a friend left home with aspirations to work as gauchos in Argentina. They arrived in Argentina in May 1902, and spent five months trying to make it as ranch owners in the Pampas. Rogers and his partner lost all their money, and in his words, "I was ashamed to send home for more," so the two friends separated and Rogers sailed for South Africa. It is often claimed he took a job breaking in horses for the British Army, but the Boer War had ended three months earlier. Rogers actually got work at James Piccione's ranch near Mooi River Station in the Pietermaritzburg district of Natal.
He began his show business career as a trick roper in "Texas Jack's Wild West Circus":
He [Texas Jack] had a little Wild West aggregation that visited the camps and did a tremendous business. I did some roping and riding, and Jack, who was one of the smartest showmen I ever knew, took a great interest in me. It was he who gave me the idea for my original stage act with my pony. I learned a lot about the show business from him. He could do a bum act with a rope that an ordinary man couldn't get away with, and make the audience think it was great, so I used to study him by the hour, and from him I learned the great secret of the show business--knowing when to get off. It's the fellow who knows when to quit that the audience wants more of.
Grateful for the guidance but anxious to move on, Rogers quit the circus and went to Australia. Texas Jack gave him a reference letter for the Wirth Brothers Circus there, and Rogers continued to perform as a rider and trick roper, and worked on his pony act. He returned to the United States in 1904, appeared at the St. Louis World's Fair, and then began to try his roping skills on the vaudeville circuits.
On a trip to New York City, Rogers was at Madison Square Garden when a wild steer broke out of the arena and began to climb into the viewing stands. Rogers roped the steer to the delight of the crowd. The feat got front page attention from the newspapers, giving him valuable publicity and an audience eager to see more. Willie Hammerstein saw his vaudeville act, and signed Rogers to appear on the Victoria Roof--which was literally on a rooftop--with his pony. For the next decade, Rogers estimated he worked for fifty weeks a year at the Roof and at the city's myriad vaudeville theaters.
Rogers later recalled these early years:
In 1908, Rogers married Betty Blake (1879-1944), and the couple had four children: Will Rogers, Jr., Mary Amelia, James Blake, and Fred Stone. Will Jr. became a World War II hero, played his father in two films, and became a member of Congress. Mary became a Broadway actress, and Jim was a newspaperman and rancher; Fred died of diphtheria at age two. The family lived in New York, but they spent summers in Oklahoma. In 1911, Rogers bought a 20-acre (8.1 ha) ranch near Claremore, Oklahoma, which he intended to use as his retirement home, for US$500 acre.
In the fall of 1915, Rogers began to appear in Florenz Ziegfeld's Midnight Frolic. The variety revue began at midnight in the top-floor night club of Ziegfeld's New Amsterdam Theatre, and drew many influential--and regular--customers. By this time, Rogers had refined his act. His monologues on the news of the day followed a similar routine every night. He appeared on stage in his cowboy outfit, nonchalantly twirling his lasso, and said, "Well, what shall I talk about? I ain't got anything funny to say. All I know is what I read in the papers." He then made jokes about what he had read in that day's newspapers. The line "All I know is what I read in the papers" is often incorrectly described as Rogers's most famous punch line, when it was, in fact, his opening line.
His run at the New Amsterdam ran on into 1916, and Rogers's growing popularity led to an engagement on the more famous Ziegfeld Follies. At this stage, Rogers's act was strictly physical, a display of daring riding and clever tricks with his lariat. He discovered that audiences identified the cowboy as the archetypical American--doubtless aided by Theodore Roosevelt's image as a cowboy. Rogers's cowboy showed an unfettered man free of institutional restraints, with no bureaucrats to order his life. When he came back to the United States and worked in Wild West shows, he noticed that audiences were just as fascinated by his frontier, Oklahoma twang. By 1916, a featured star in Ziegfeld's Follies on Broadway, he moved into satire by transforming the "Ropin' Fool" to the "Talkin' Fool". At one performance, with President Woodrow Wilson in the audience, he improvised a "roast" of presidential policies that had Wilson, and the entire audience, in stitches and proved his remarkable skill at off-the-cuff, witty commentary on current events. The rest of his career he built around that skill.
An editorial in The New York Times said that "Will Rogers in the Follies is carrying on the tradition of Aristophanes, and not unworthily." Rogers branched into silent films too, for Samuel Goldwyn's company Goldwyn Pictures. He made his first silent movie, Laughing Bill Hyde, filmed in Fort Lee, New Jersey, in 1918. Many early films were made near the major New York performing market, so Rogers could make the film, yet still rehearse and perform in the Follies. He eventually appeared in most of the Follies, from 1916 to 1925.
Hollywood discovered Rogers in 1918, as Samuel Goldwyn gave him the title role in Laughing Bill Hyde. A three-year contract with Goldwyn, at triple the Broadway salary, moved Rogers west. He bought a ranch in Pacific Palisades and set up his own production company. While Rogers enjoyed film acting, his appearances in silent movies suffered from the obvious restrictions of silence--not the strongest medium for him, having gained his fame as a commentator on stage. It helped somewhat that he wrote a good many of the title cards appearing in his films. In 1923, he began a one-year stint for Hal Roach and made 12 pictures. Among the films he made for Roach in 1924 were three directed by Rob Wagner: Two Wagons Both Covered, Going to Congress and Our Congressman. He made two other feature silents and a travelogue series in 1927, and did not return to the screen until his time in the 'talkies' began in 1929.
He made 48 silent movies, but with the arrival of sound in 1929, he became a top star in that medium. His first sound film, They Had to See Paris (1929), finally gave him the chance to exercise his verbal magic. He played a homespun farmer (State Fair) in 1933, an old-fashioned doctor (Dr. Bull) in 1933, a small town banker (David Harum ) in 1934, and a rustic politician (Judge Priest) in 1934. He was also in County Chairman (1935), Steamboat 'Round the Bend (1935), and In Old Kentucky (1935). His favorite director was John Ford.
Rogers appeared in 21 feature films alongside such noted performers as Lew Ayres, Billie Burke, Richard Cromwell, Jane Darwell, Andy Devine, Janet Gaynor, Rochelle Hudson, Boris Karloff, Myrna Loy, Joel McCrea, Hattie McDaniel, Ray Milland, Maureen O'Sullivan, ZaSu Pitts, Dick Powell, Bill "Bojangles" Robinson, Mickey Rooney, and Peggy Wood. He was directed three times by John Ford. He appeared in three films with his friend Stepin Fetchit (aka Lincoln T. Perry): David Harum (1934), Judge Priest (1934) and The County Chairman (1935).
With his voice becoming increasingly familiar to audiences, he was able to basically play himself, without normal makeup, in each film, managing to ad-lib and even work in his familiar commentaries on politics at times. The clean moral tone of his films led to various public schools taking their classes, during the school day, to attend special showings of some of them. His most unusual role may have been in the first talking version of Mark Twain's novel A Connecticut Yankee in King Arthur's Court. His popularity soared to new heights with films including Young As You Feel, Judge Priest, and Life Begins at 40 with Richard Cromwell and Rochelle Hudson.
Rogers demonstrated multiple skills, and was an indefatigable worker. He toured the lecture circuit. The New York Times syndicated his weekly newspaper column from 1922 to 1935. Going daily in 1926, his short "Will Rogers Says" reached forty million newspaper readers. He wrote frequently for the mass-circulation upscale magazine The Saturday Evening Post, where Rogers advised Americans to embrace the frontier values of neighborliness and democracy on the domestic front while remaining clear of foreign entanglements. He took a strong, highly popular stand in favor of aviation, including a military air force of the sort his flying buddy General Billy Mitchell advocated.
Rogers began a weekly column, titled "Slipping the Lariat Over", at the end of 1922. He had already published a book of wisecracks and had begun a steady stream of humor books. Through the continuing series of columns for the McNaught Syndicate between 1922 and 1935, as well as in his personal appearances and radio broadcasts, he won the loving admiration of the American people, poking jibes in witty ways at the issues of the day and prominent people--often politicians. He wrote from a non-partisan point of view and became a friend of presidents and a confidant of the great. Loved for his cool mind and warm heart, he was often considered the successor to such greats as Artemus Ward and Mark Twain. Rogers was not the first entertainer to use political humor before his audience. Others, such as Broadway comedian Raymond Hitchcock and Britain's Sir Harry Lauder, preceded him by several years. Bob Hope is the best known political humorist to follow Rogers's example.
From about 1925 to 1928, Rogers traveled the length and breadth of the United States in a "lecture tour". (He began his lectures by pointing out that "A humorist entertains, and a lecturer annoys.") During this time he became the first civilian to fly from coast to coast with pilots flying the mail in early air mail flights. The National Press Club dubbed him "Ambassador at Large of the United States". He visited Mexico City, along with Charles Lindbergh, as a guest of U.S. Ambassador Dwight Morrow. Rogers gave numerous after-dinner speeches, became a popular convention speaker, and gave dozens of benefits for victims of floods, droughts, or earthquakes.
He made a trip to Asia in 1931 and to Central and South America the following year. In 1934, he made a globe-girdling tour and returned to play the lead in Eugene O'Neill's stage play Ah, Wilderness! He had tentatively agreed to go on loan from Fox to MGM to star in the 1935 movie version of the play; however, his concern over a fan's reaction to the "facts-of-life" talk between his character and the latter's son caused him to decline the role--and that freed up his schedule allowing him to fly with Wiley Post that summer.
Radio was the exciting new medium, and Rogers became a star there as well, recycling his newspaper pieces. From 1929 to 1935, he made radio broadcasts for the Gulf Oil Company. This weekly Sunday evening show, The Gulf Headliners, ranked among the top radio programs in the country. Since he easily rambled from one subject to another, reacting to his studio audience, he often lost track of the half-hour time limit in his earliest broadcasts, and was cut off in mid-sentence. To correct this, he brought in a wind-up alarm clock, and its on-air buzzing alerted him to begin wrapping up his comments. By 1935, his show was being announced as "Will Rogers and his famous Alarm Clock".
Rogers was a staunch Democrat, but he also supported Republican Calvin Coolidge. Democrat Franklin D. Roosevelt was his favorite. Although he supported Roosevelt's New Deal, he could just as easily joke about it:
Rogers served as a goodwill ambassador to Mexico, and a brief stint as mayor of Beverly Hills. The California city was incorporated, and thus run by an appointed city manager. The "mayor's office" was merely a ceremonial one that enabled Will to make more jokes about do-nothing politicians such as himself. During the depths of the Great Depression, angered by Washington's inability to feed the people, he embarked on a cross country fundraising tour for the Red Cross.
Rogers thought all campaigning was bunk. To prove the point he mounted a mock campaign in 1928 for the presidency. His only vehicle was the pages of Life, a weekly humor magazine. Rogers ran as the "bunkless candidate" of the Anti-Bunk Party. His only campaign promise was that, if elected, he would resign. Every week, from Memorial Day through Election Day, Rogers caricatured the farcical humors of grave campaign politics. On election day he declared victory and resigned.
Asked what issues would motivate voters? Prohibition: "What's on your hip is bound to be on your mind" (July 26).
Asked if there should be presidential debates? Yes: "Joint debate--in any joint you name" (August 9).
How about appeals to the common man? Easy: "You can't make any commoner appeal than I can" (August 16).
What does the farmer need? Obvious: "He needs a punch in the jaw if he believes that either of the parties cares a damn about him after the election" (August 23).
Can voters be fooled? Darn tootin': "Of all the bunk handed out during a campaign the biggest one of all is to try and compliment the knowledge of the voter" (September 21).
What about a candidate's image? Ballyhoo: "I hope there is some sane people who will appreciate dignity and not showmanship in their choice for the presidency" (October 5).
What of ugly campaign rumors? Don't worry: "The things they whisper aren't as bad as what they say out loud" (October 12).
After Rogers gained recognition as a humorist-philosopher in vaudeville, he gained a national audience in acting and literary careers from 1915 to 1935. In these years, Rogers increasingly expressed the views of the "common man" in America. He downplayed academic credentials, noting, "Everybody is ignorant, only on different subjects." Americans of all walks admired his individualism, his appreciation for democratic ideas, and his liberal philosophies on most issues. Moreover, Rogers extolled hard work and long hours of toil in order to succeed, and such expressions upheld theories of many Americans on how best to realize their own dreams of success. He symbolized the self-made man, the common man, who believed in America, in progress, in the American Dream of upward mobility. His humor never offended even those who were the targets of it.
America in the 1920s was happy and prosperous in various ways (leading to the nickname Roaring Twenties), but it was also in some ways disenchanted by, and alienated from, the outside world. It was obvious to many common people that World War I was an outrageous and largely senseless carnage, and isolationism was popular. Rogers appeared as an anchor of stability; his conventional home life and traditional moral code reminded people of an innocent past. His newspaper column, which ran from 1922 to 1935, expressed his traditional morality and his belief that political problems were not as serious as they sounded. In his films, Rogers began by playing a simple cowboy; his characters evolved to explore the meaning of innocence in ordinary life. In his last movies, Rogers explores a society fracturing into competing classes from economic pressures. Throughout his career, Will Rogers was a link to a better, more comprehensible past.
In 1926, the high-circulation weekly magazine The Saturday Evening Post financed a European tour for Rogers in return for the publication of his articles. Rogers made whirlwind visits to numerous European capitals and met with both international figures and common people. His articles reflected a fear that Europeans would again go to war, and thus he recommended that the United States should assume an isolationist posture. He reasoned that for the moment American needs could best be served by concentrating on domestic questions and avoiding foreign entanglements. He commented:
Rogers was famous for his use of language. He effectively utilized up-to-date slang and invented new words to fit his needs. He also made frequent use of puns and terms which closely linked him to the cowboy tradition, as well as speech patterns using a southern dialect.
Brown (1979) argues that Rogers held up a "magic mirror" that reflected iconic American values. Rogers was the archetypical "American Democrat" thanks to his knack of moving freely among all social classes, his stance above political parties, and his passion for fair play. He represented the "American Adam" with his independence and self-made record. Rogers furthermore represented the "American Prometheus" through his commitment to utilitarian methods and his ever-optimistic faith in future progress.
Rogers became an advocate for the aviation industry after noticing advancements in Europe and befriending Charles Lindbergh, the most famous aviator of the era. During his 1926 European trip, he witnessed the European advances in commercial air service and compared them to the almost nonexistent facilities in the United States. Rogers' newspaper columns frequently emphasized the safety record, speed, and convenience of this means of transportation, and he helped shape public opinion on the subject.
In 1935 the famed aviator Wiley Post, an Oklahoman, became interested in surveying a mail-and-passenger air route from the West Coast to Russia. He attached a Lockheed Explorer wing to a Lockheed Orion fuselage, fitting floats for landing in the lakes of Alaska and Siberia. Rogers visited Post often at the airport in Burbank, California, while he was modifying the aircraft, and asked Post to fly him through Alaska in search of new material for his newspaper column. In a 1971 piece for Smithsonian, it was argued that when the floats Post had ordered did not arrive at Seattle in time, he used a set that was designed for a larger type, making the already nose-heavy hybrid aircraft still more nose-heavy. However, according to the research of Bryan Sterling, the floats were the correct type for the aircraft.
After making a test flight in July, Post and Rogers left Lake Washington in Renton in the Lockheed Orion-Explorer in early August and then made several stops in Alaska. While Post piloted the aircraft, Rogers wrote his columns on his typewriter. Before they left Fairbanks they signed and mailed a burgee, a distinguishing flag belonging to the South Coast Corinthian Yacht Club. The signed burgee is on display at South Coast Corinthian Yacht Club in Marina del Rey, California. On August 15, they left Fairbanks for Point Barrow. They were about 20 miles southwest of Point Barrow when they became uncertain of their position in bad weather and landed in a lagoon to ask directions. On takeoff, the engine failed at low altitude, and the aircraft plunged into the lagoon, shearing off the right wing, and ended up inverted in the shallow water of the lagoon. Both men died instantly. Rogers was buried August 21, 1935, in Forest Lawn Park in Glendale, California; this would prove to be a temporary interment.
Rogers's is one of two Oklahoma statues in the National Statuary Hall Collection housed in the United States Capitol. A state appropriation paid for the work. It was sculpted in clay by Jo Davidson, a close friend whom Rogers nicknamed the "headhunter" because Davidson was always looking for heads to sculpt, then cast in bronze in Brussels, Belgium. Dedicated on June 6, 1939, before a crowd of more than 2,000 people, the statue faces the floor entrance of the House of Representatives Chamber next to National Statuary Hall. The Architect of the Capitol, David Lynn, said there had never been such a large ceremony or crowd in the Capitol.
Oklahoma leaders asked Rogers to represent the state as one of their two statues in the Capitol, and Rogers agreed on the condition that his image would be placed facing the House Chamber, supposedly so he could "keep an eye on Congress". Of the statues in this part of the Capitol, the Rogers sculpture is the only one facing the Chamber entrance. According to guides at the Capitol, each President rubs the left shoe of the Rogers statue for good luck before entering the House Chamber to give the State of the Union address.
Oklahoma has named many places and buildings for Rogers. His birthplace is located two miles east of Oologah, Oklahoma. The house was moved about ¾ mile (1.2 km) to its present location overlooking its original site when the Verdigris River valley was flooded to create Oologah Lake. The family tomb is at the Will Rogers Memorial Museum in nearby Claremore, which stands on the site purchased by Rogers in 1911 for his retirement home. On May 19, 1944, Rogers's body was moved from a holding vault in Glendale, California, to the tomb; his wife Betty was interred beside him later that year upon her death. A casting of the Davidson sculpture that stands in National Statuary Hall, paid for by Davidson, resides at the museum. Both the birthplace and the museum are open to the public.
Will Rogers World Airport in Oklahoma City was named for him, as was the Will Rogers Turnpike, the section of Interstate 44 between Tulsa and Joplin, Missouri. Near Vinita, Oklahoma, a statue of Rogers stands outside the west anchor of the McDonald's that spans both lanes of the interstate. A recent expansion and renovation of the Will Rogers World Airport includes a statue of Will Rogers on horseback in front of the terminal.
There are 13 public schools in Oklahoma named for Will Rogers, including Will Rogers High School in Tulsa. The University of Oklahoma named the large Will Rogers Room in the student union for him, as did the Boy Scouts of America with the Will Rogers Council and the Will Rogers Scout Reservation near Cleveland.
In 1947, a college football bowl game was named in his honor, but the event folded after the first year.
The Academy of Western Artists, based in Gene Autry, Oklahoma, presents the Will Rogers Medallion award for excellence in western literature at an annual gathering in the Dallas-Fort Worth metroplex.
The Will Rogers Shrine of the Sun is an 80-foot observation tower on Cheyenne Mountain west of Colorado Springs, at the base of Pikes Peak near the Cheyenne Mountain Zoo.
Rogers's home, stables, and polo fields are preserved today for public enjoyment as Will Rogers State Historic Park in Pacific Palisades. His widow, Betty, willed the property to the state of California upon her death in 1944, under the condition that polo be played on the field every year; it is now home to the Will Rogers Polo Club. Will Rogers Elementary School in Santa Monica is named for Rogers, as is Will Rogers Elementary School in Ventura. There are two middle schools named for Will Rogers (one in Long Beach and the other in Fair Oaks). A United States Navy submarine USS Will Rogers (SSBN-659) is also named in his honor. A small park at Sunset Boulevard and Beverly Drive in Beverly Hills was named the Will Rogers Memorial Park after him. Also, a beach in Pacific Palisades was named Will Rogers State Beach.
U.S. Route 66 is known as the Will Rogers Highway; a plaque dedicating the highway to the humorist is located opposite the western terminus of Route 66 in Santa Monica.
The California Theatre in San Bernardino is the site of the humorist's final show. He always performed in front of special jewelled curtains of which he had two. While he was using one, he would send the other to the site of his next performance. Due to his untimely death, the curtain before which he performed last remained with the California Theatre where the artifact stays to this day, and two memorial murals by Kent Twitchell grace the exterior of the fly loft. The California Theatre also named one of its reception spaces the Will Rogers Room.
The Will Rogers Memorial Center was built in Fort Worth, Texas, in 1936 with a mural, a bust and a life-size statue of Will Rogers on Soapsuds, titled Into the Sunset and sculpted by Electra Waggoner Biggs.
A casting of Into the Sunset stands in the entrance to the main campus quad at Texas Tech University in Lubbock, Texas. This memorial was dedicated on February 16, 1950, by Rogers's longtime friend, Amon G. Carter. Another casting resides at the Will Rogers Memorial in Claremore, Oklahoma.
Rogers's eldest son, Bill (Will Rogers Jr.), starred as his father in the 1952 biopic The Story of Will Rogers. Rogers also came to life for modern audiences in the Tony Award-winning musical The Will Rogers Follies, with Keith Carradine in the lead role, and he was also portrayed by James Whitmore in the one-man show Will Rogers' USA.
On November 4, 1948, the United States Post Office commemorated Rogers with a three-cent postage stamp, and in 1979, with the issue of a United States Postal Service 15-cent stamp as part of the "Performing Arts" series.
The Barrow, Alaska airport (BRW), located about 16 miles (26 km) from the location of their fatal airplane crash, is known as the Wiley Post-Will Rogers Memorial Airport.
The final boat of the Benjamin Franklin class ballistic missile submarines USS Will Rogers (SSBN-659) was named in his honor.
The Will Rogers Theater in Charleston, Illinois, also an Art Deco movie house, was opened in 1938 and designed by Roy M. Kennedy. It had 1,000 seats in its single auditorium. The theatre was placed on the National Register of Historic Places in 1984. It was later twinned and then closed by AMC in 2010.
Rogers was portrayed by actor Keith Carradine in the 1994 film Mrs. Parker and the Vicious Circle. Carradine had played Rogers three years earlier on Broadway, in the stage musical The Will Rogers Follies, for which he was nominated for the Tony Award for Best Performance by a Leading Actor in a Musical; the show won six Tonys, including Best Musical.
James Whitmore portrayed Rogers in eight runs of the one-man play Will Rogers' USA between 1970 and 2000, including a limited run on Broadway in 1974, and as a television film in 1972. Whitmore changed the monologue each time he performed it, using actual quotations from Rogers as commentary on events current at the time of the performance.
|Booknotes interview with Ben Yagoda on Will Rogers: A Biography, September 25, 1994, C-SPAN|