Happy Birthday to a Man Whose Humor And Compassion Moved a Nation — Still Funny After All These Years

November 4 is the 132nd anniversary of the birth of Will Rogers, the lariat-twirling cowboy poet and humorist.

Vaudeville star, actor, syndicated columnist, radio personality, stand-up comic and humanitarian, Rogers was an American original.

His folksy political humor is as funny – and true – today as it was 80 years ago. A search of the archives of California’s Capitol offers several examples.

One of his most famous lines about never meeting a man he didn’t like is actually part of a larger answer to a question about Leon Trotsky, the Bolshevik leader.

“I bet you if I had met him and had a chat with him, I would have found him a very interesting and human fellow, for I never yet met a man that I didn’t like. When you meet people, no matter what opinion you might have formed about them beforehand, why, after you meet them and see their angle and their personality, why, you can see a lot of good in all of them.”

Although Rogers was a staunch Democrat, his first political hero was Teddy Roosevelt. He tried to become a Rough Rider but was rejected as too young. He became a close friend of the other Roosevelt who later sat in the Oval Office.

Rogers ran for president in 1928 as the “bunkless candidate” of the Anti-Bunk Party. (The origin of the word “bunk.”) His campaign pledge: If elected, he would not serve. After declaring victory on election day, he kept his campaign promise. 

In 1931, he organized tours of Hollywood and vaudeville stars to raise money for the poor and unemployed devastated by the Great Depression.

In the 1920s  Rogers began buying land in Santa Monica. Eventually, he owned a 186-acre ranch overlooking the Pacific Ocean in what is now Pacific Palisades.  

Rogers died in a plane crash in 1935 at age 55. The ranch with its 31-room house, polo field and roping arena became a state park in 1944 after the death of his wife Betty. 

Among some of his memorable political bon mots:

“Politics has got so expensive that it takes lots of money to even get beat with.”

“You’ve got to be optimist to be a Democrat, and you’ve got to be a humorist to stay one.”

“The average citizen knows only too well that it makes no difference to him which side wins. He realizes that the Republican elephant and the Democratic donkey have come to resemble each other so closely that it is practically impossible to tell them apart; both of them make the same braying noise, and neither of them ever says anything. The only perceptible difference is that the elephant is somewhat the larger of the two.”

“Our foreign policy is an open book – a checkbook.”

“Elections are a good deal like marriages. There’s no accounting for anyone’s taste. Every time we see a bridegroom we wonder why she ever picked him, and it’s the same with public officials.”

“A fool and his money are soon elected.”

“I don’t make jokes. I just watch the government and report the facts.”

Of possible interest to President Obama:

“Every guy just looks in his own pocket and then votes. And the funny part of it is that it’s the last year of an administration that counts. (A president) can have three bad ones and then wind up with everybody having money in the fourth, and the incumbent will win so far he needn’t even stay up to hear the returns. Conditions win elections, not speeches.”

Some insightful observations:

“The road to success is dotted with many tempting parking spaces.”

“Rumor travels faster, but it don’t stay put as long as truth. ”

“The quickest way to double your money is to fold it in half and put it in your back pocket.”

“The problem ain’t what people know. It’s what people know that ain’t so that’s the problem.”

 “You know horses are smarter than people. You never heard of a horse going broke betting on people.”

“Ten men in our country could buy the whole world and ten million can’t buy enough to eat.”

In the area of sage advice:

“People who fly into a rage always make a bad landing.”

“Always drink upstream from the herd.”

“Even if you are on the right track, you’ll get run over if you just sit there.”

“If you find yourself in a hole, stop digging.”

“Try to live your life so that you wouldn’t be afraid to sell the family parrot to the town gossip.”

“Never miss a good chance to shut up.”

And he loved dogs:

“If there are no dogs in Heaven, then when I die I want to go where they went.”


Filed under: California History

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