The legend of Will Rogers lives on long after his death. He was born on 4th November 1879 on the Cherokee Nation in Oklahoma, learning roping skills and developing a deep love for horses as he grew up.
Rogers began his show business career by displaying his roping skills in Vaudeville and the popular Wild West shows of the era. An early foray into radio was on The Eveready Hour, which premiered in 1923 and featured him in a single performance where he was paid an unheard of amount of $1,000.
The Eveready Hour was a radio variety show that featured headliners of the times – such as Eddie Cantor, Pablo Casales and Wendell Hall. This show was the forerunner of many variety radio shows to come and included news topics, comedy, fashion and some drama to boot.
Later, in 1930, Will Rogers would have his own radio show – a combination of his own brand of philosophic humor, music and a variety of other popular radio subjects. Ironically, Rogers thought that radio was “bunk.” He didn’t believe that anyone could hear him and asked people to let him know if they could.
Rogers received many postcards and it so happened that Henry Ford also heard him from a radio he’d built himself. William Paley, creator of the new Columbia Network convinced Rogers to head his own show by promising him a studio audience as Rogers didn’t like the idea of talking to and cracking jokes to a microphone, where there was no audience reaction.
The Revelers Quartet and an orchestra conducted by Al Goodman shared the stage with Rogers. There were no rehearsals for the Will Rogers Show and no one at the network was aware of what his topics would be. He didn’t even carry notes to the microphone – it was all in his head.
By 1933, Rogers was alternating performances with Stoopnagle and Budd. Charles Winninger and James Melton were also guests of the broadcast. By 1935 the Pickens Sisters, James Melton, Lew Lehr a comic, Hallie Stiles, a soprano, joined the Revelers and were all appearing on the radio show in the absence of Rogers.
Then, on August 15, 1935, Rogers joined his good friend and pilot, Wiley Post, on an airplane trip to Alaska. The plane crashed and Rogers and Post were killed, leaving an entire country – and the world -- to mourn their deaths.
To learn more about the life of Will Rogers I have added a wonderful Lux presentation today, called The Will Rogers Story, in which you will hear the biography of the great American humorist. It's a terrific episode, and shows what a brilliant raconteur of wisdom and humour he really was.
Happy listening my friends,