Devoted to the Propagation and Defense of New Testament Christianity

Remember Will Rogers


It was thirty-one years ago (August 15,1935) that a misfiring engine in a small aircraft rang down the curtain for one of America's greatest and most beloved humorists, Will Rogers. His quips and wisecracks have become a part of our American heritage, and his homespun philosophy seemed to capture the essence of what we like to think of as our American "common sense." In reading a biography of Rogers the other day we ran across this:

"Actually, as Will often stated, he wanted to take 'a crack at that drama thing' and he had a chance in the spring of 1934 when he played in Eugene O'Neill's Ah, Wilderness, taking the part that George M. Cohan made famous on Broadway. He was a smash hit when it opened in San Francisco. With him was his old sidekick, Stepin Fetchit, who had also played with Cohan.

"'Mr. Gawge M. Cohan, he looks toward the audience when he says that line, Mister Rogers,' Step said, in mild criticism.

"'Well, I'll tell you Step,' Will grinned, 'in the legitimate racket every actor faces the audience once because he wants to count the house. I don't have to bother, I'm on straight salary here.'

"Will's elation over his success in Ah, Wilderness ended abruptly when it played in Pasadena, California. 'Relying on you to give the public nothing that could bring a blush of shame to the cheek of a Christian,' a clergyman wrote him, 'I attended your performance with my 14-year-old daughter. But when you gave the scene in which the father visits his son in his bedroom and lectures him on the subject of relations with an immoral woman, I took my daughter by the hand and we left the theater. I have not been able to look her in the face since.'

"The letter shocked Will so profoundly that he quit the play immediately. 'I am through.... I could never again say those lines---even to myself in the dark. If they hit one person--especially a minister---that way, I could never repeat them. I am out of the show and I will not do the moving picture version either."'

No doubt, this was one secret of the tremendous affection in which Will Rogers was held by his countrymen. There was decency about him, an innate sense of what is wholesome and what is not. His humor was earthy, but it was never crude. One looks in vain for the off-color quip, the suggestive innuendo, the salacious turn to a sex story. Rogers worked among the most blas and sophisticated people of the world, but he entertained them without dirt or smut. When he realized that something was morally offensive (even to one person!) he quit the show.

Instead of doing the motion-picture version of Ah, Wilderness, which was set for shooting in the late summer of 1935, Will headed out on a vacation flight to Alaska with Wiley Post. And to his death.

One quotation in the Rogers biography sounded like something Will might have said in our day of demonstrations, riots, long hair and unwashed protesters. "There was a bunch of Mavericks and strays gathered in Madison Square Garden the other day to denounce. They were mostly Bobbed Haired men, and they mostly denounced everything. A Kid 14 years old delivered such a tribute on Lenin that he made it look like George Washington or Abe Lincoln couldn't have caddied for him I guess my advice is to give all these unwashed Mavericks a hall or a box to stand on and say 'Sic 'em; knock everything in sight, and when they have denounced everything from Bunions to Capitalistic Bath Tubs (which they never use), then they will go home, write all week on another speech for the following Sunday. It's just like an exhaust on an Automobile. ... No matter how high priced the Car, you have to have an exit for its bad Air, and Gasses. It don't do any particular harm, unless you stand around behind smelling it all the time...."

Rogers' syntax and spelling may not have been quite up to snuff, but it wasn't easy to misunderstand him; and usually it was not easy for a decent man of common sense to disagree very much with what he said. America has had no one to take his place; if he were still around, maybe our society would not be quite as sick, sick, sick as it is.

F. Y. T.