William Vann Rogers, generally known as Will Rogers, Jr. (October 20, 1911 – July 9, 1993) was a son of legendary humorist Will Rogers (1879–1935) and his wife, the former Betty Blake (1879–1944). He was a Democratic U. S. Representative from California from January 3, 1943 until May 23, 1944, when he resigned to return to the United States Army. Rogers had several other careers, notably as a newspaper owner/publisher, an actor,writer, and a political commentator.
Rogers was born in New York City, where his father was performing. He grew up in Beverly Hills, California and attended school there. He received aBachelor of Arts degree from Stanford University in 1935. On completing his studies, he served as publisher of the Beverly Hills Citizen newspaper, a role in which he continued until 1953. He had been commissioned a second lieutenant through the Reserve Officers' Training Corps, but did not go on active duty. With U.S. entry into World War II, however, he enlisted as a private in June 1942, and was commissioned in the field artillery the following month and assigned to the 893rd Tank Destroyer Battalion.
While on active duty, Rogers was elected to the House of Representatives from California, and was sworn into office on January 3, 1943. He served in the 78th Congress. He did not complete his term, however, returning to active duty in the Army after resigning from Congress on May 23, 1944. He was then assigned to the 814th Tank Destroyer Battalion and served in the European Campaign in George Patton's Third United States Army. Rogers was wounded in action and also received a Bronze Star. He was released from active duty on March 1, 1946.
Later in 1946, Rogers won the Democratic nomination for U.S. Senator from California, but lost in the November general election to the incumbent senator, William F. Knowland. (Coincidentally, both men would eventually commit suicide.) Rogers was a delegate to the Democratic National Convention in 1948, 1952, and 1956. Other government service included terms as a member of the California State Parks Commission (1958–1962; chairman 1960–1962), and special assistant to the Commission on Indian Affairs during the Johnson Administration (1967–1969).
Rogers had a minor career as an actor and was most noted for playing his father (whom he closely resembled), particularly in The Story of Will Rogers (1952), Wild Heritage (1958) in which he played a judge, and in 1982 (in voice only) in The American Adventure at Disney's Epcot in Florida. He also appeared frequently in the 1950s television anthology series, Schlitz Playhouse of Stars. Rogers starred as "Tom Brewster" in The Boy from Oklahoma, a 1954 Western movie directed by Michael Curtiz, the basis for the 1957 television series Sugarfoot, but the studio cast Will Hutchins in Rogers' part for the TV version. He also starred Rogers of the Gazette, a CBS Radio series in 1953–54 that lasted one season, playing the role of a small-town newspaper owner. Rogers was one of several actors to host reruns of Death Valley Days (a job later performed by Ronald Reagan), with the episodes he hosted airing under the title The Pioneers. For one season in 1958 he was host of the CBS morning show and was replaced by Jimmy Dean.
In his later years Rogers retired to his ranch at Tubac, Arizona. In poor health after suffering several strokes, having heart problems, and having had hip replacements, Rogers committed suicide in 1993 at the age of 81. He was buried next to his wife in the Tubac Cemetery. Rogers was survived by his two adopted sons and his brother, James Rogers.