William Penn Adair Rogers was born in November of 1879, in the Indian Territory, the youngest of three surviving children and only surviving son of part Cherokee Clem and Mary Rogers. Pampered by his older sisters—his mother died when he was only ten—Will also benefited from the wealth of prominence of his father. Will spent most of his youth in and out of schools, devoting most of his time to developing his skills as a roper and cowboy. After running away from boarding school, he worked as a cowboy in Texas and then became active in roping contests. Will continued his knockabout existence by heading to Argentina in search of employment as a cowboy and then to stints in Wild West shows in South Africa and Australia. Returning to the United States in 1905, he became a vaudeville performer, first as a lariat artist and later as a roper and humorist. His vaudeville work marked the beginning of an immensely successful career that took him first to the Ziegfeld Follies and then into motion pictures. By the 1920’s Will had become a “national presence.” Because his ascendancy coincided with the advent of the film industry, the development of radio, phonograph records, newsreels, and syndicated newspaper features—in all of which he excelled—he became the most beloved American figure of the 1920’s and early 1930’s. He continued to perform nationally and internationally, until his premature death with aviator Wiley Post in an Alaska plane crash in 1935.
Ben Yagoda has written the definitive account of this now underappreciated American icon. A product of meticulous scholarship, WILL ROGERS is consistently entertaining and instructive about a man and his age. Carefully documented and richly illustrated, it is essential reading for scholars of American culture and strongly recommended to the general reader as well.