Monday, September 1, 2008

Where Is Will Rogers When Oklahoma Needs Him?

Where is Will Rogers when we need him?
It’s hard to understand the impact Rogers had in his day. Never shy about his Cherokee heritage, he personified Oklahoma to kings and presidents and everyday Americans. It’s striking that Oklahoma hasn’t generated a comparable national figure in half a century. Rogers, Jim Thorpe, Woody Guthrie, Alfalfa Bill Murray and even Robert S. Kerr, characters who peppered Oklahoma’s first generation, have no modern peers.
But Rogers stood above the rest on the world stage. His daily newspaper column – he wrote four thousand of them - was carried in more than 500 newspapers. He wrote six books, countless magazine articles, and is credited with putting some two million words in print on a manual typewriter. Between his columns and his Sunday night radio show, his thoughts reached one out of three Americans before the dawn of television and the Internet. He starred in innumerable stage performances and fifty silent pictures before adding another 21 “talkies” to his resume in his last five years. His political wit poked at both Democrats and Republicans, influencing public opinion and keeping people sane in an insane age.
He was Stephen Colbert and Will Smith and George Nigh and Lance Armstrong and Bono and Dr. Phil and Richard Branson and Mark Twain and Garrison Keillor all wrapped up in one grinning whirlwind.
He wasn’t just a glib talker, either. He was a skilled horseman, and his roping skills won him a place in the Guinness Book of World Records for successfully throwing three lassos at once. He loved polo, and sometimes would wear overalls and cowboy boots to high-society polo clubs, just to bring them down a notch.
His observations about the human condition are timeless. About political conventions, he wrote, “No wonder they only hold these things every four years. It takes that long to get a straight face for the next one.” When he learned the 1928 Republican Convention opened with a prayer, he said, “If the Lord can see His way clear to bless the Republican Party the way it's been carrying on, then the rest of us ought to get it without even asking.”
His quotes speak for themselves:
- Alexander Hamilton started the U.S. Treasury with nothing, and that was the closest our country has ever been to being even.
- Democrats never agree on anything, that's why they're Democrats. If they agreed with each other, they would be Republicans.
- Diplomacy is the art of saying "Nice doggie" until you can find a rock.
- Don't gamble; take all your savings and buy some good stock and hold it till it goes up, then sell it. If it don't go up, don't buy it.
- Live in such a way that you would not be ashamed to sell your parrot to the town gossip.
- The income tax has made liars out of more Americans than golf.
- The man with the best job in the country is the vice-president. All he has to do is get up every morning and say, "How is the president?"
- The schools ain't what they used to be and never was.
- I'm not a real movie star. I've still got the same wife I started out with twenty-eight years ago.
- If the other fellow sells cheaper than you, it is called dumping. 'Course, if you sell cheaper than him, that's mass production.
- Get someone else to blow your horn and the sound will carry twice as far.
- Half our life is spent trying to find something to do with the time we have rushed through life trying to save.
- The more you read and observe about this Politics thing, you got to admit that each party is worse than the other. The one that's out always looks the best.
- When the Oakies left Oklahoma and moved to California, it raised the I.Q. of both states.
- We will never have true civilization until we have learned to recognize the rights of others.
Rogers’ death on August 15, 1935 at age 55 jarred the world. He left a legacy, not only in print and film, but in how we interact with other people. His famous adage that he’d never met a man he didn’t like meant that he never began a relationship with someone with a preconceived notion that they were evil. A thousand self-help books couldn’t have said it better.
Oklahoma’s image could use another Will Rogers today – a face to represent Oklahoma in a positive way, a voice to personify an aw-shucks, home-spun common sense that cuts through the silliness of life and tells the unvarnished truth.
- The Edmond (OK) Sun, August 15, 2008

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