The Story of Will Rogers (1952)

109-110 mins | Biography | 26 July 1952

Full page view
HISTORY

The working title of the film was The Will Rogers Story . The opening title card reads: " The Story of Will Rogers as told by His Wife." The film opens with shots of the many memorials built to honor Will Rogers, and a voice-over narration comments on Rogers' status as a "folk hero." Voice-over narration by Jane Wyman as "Mrs. Will Rogers" is heard intermittently throughout the film.
       As depicted in the film, the cowboy-philosopher Will Rogers was born in Oolagah, OK, near present-day Claremore, on 4 Nov 1879. His mother and father, a wealthy rancher and banker, were both part Cherokee. Rogers was a cowboy in the Texas Panhandle, then journeyed to Argentina and on to South Africa. Calling himself "The Cherokee Kid," he toured the world with "Texas Jack's Wild West Circus" as a rope-twirling cowboy, and later performed at the 1904 St. Louis Exposition, and in 1905, at Madison Square Garden in New York. After adding jokes and political humor to his act, Rogers performed in several Broadway musicals, and from 1916 to 1918, starred in the Ziegfeld Follies.
       Rogers made his first screen appearance in the 1918 Rex Beach Pictures production Laughing Bill Hyde , playing the title role (see entry in AFI Catalog of Feature Films, 1911-20 ). Rogers moved to Southern California with his wife Betty and their children, continued to star in films and became the top box office star in the world. During this time he was also elected the first honorary mayor of Beverly Hills. In 1922, he returned to New York to perform again in the Ziegfeld Follies and in 1926 began writing ... More Less

The working title of the film was The Will Rogers Story . The opening title card reads: " The Story of Will Rogers as told by His Wife." The film opens with shots of the many memorials built to honor Will Rogers, and a voice-over narration comments on Rogers' status as a "folk hero." Voice-over narration by Jane Wyman as "Mrs. Will Rogers" is heard intermittently throughout the film.
       As depicted in the film, the cowboy-philosopher Will Rogers was born in Oolagah, OK, near present-day Claremore, on 4 Nov 1879. His mother and father, a wealthy rancher and banker, were both part Cherokee. Rogers was a cowboy in the Texas Panhandle, then journeyed to Argentina and on to South Africa. Calling himself "The Cherokee Kid," he toured the world with "Texas Jack's Wild West Circus" as a rope-twirling cowboy, and later performed at the 1904 St. Louis Exposition, and in 1905, at Madison Square Garden in New York. After adding jokes and political humor to his act, Rogers performed in several Broadway musicals, and from 1916 to 1918, starred in the Ziegfeld Follies.
       Rogers made his first screen appearance in the 1918 Rex Beach Pictures production Laughing Bill Hyde , playing the title role (see entry in AFI Catalog of Feature Films, 1911-20 ). Rogers moved to Southern California with his wife Betty and their children, continued to star in films and became the top box office star in the world. During this time he was also elected the first honorary mayor of Beverly Hills. In 1922, he returned to New York to perform again in the Ziegfeld Follies and in 1926 began writing a weekly syndicated column for the NYT . Also in 1926, he toured Europe and the Soviet Union, and after his introduction to air travel, flew around South America and the Far East in the early 1930s.
       Fox Film Corp.'s 1935 Steamboat Round the Bend , directed by John Ford and co-starring Anne Shirley and Irvin S. Cobb, was the last film Rogers made, although two other films were released later. As implied in The Story of Will Rogers , Rogers and his pilot, Wiley Post, died in an airplane accident near Point Barrow, AK on 15 Aug 1935. For more information about Steamboat Round the Bend and the impact of Rogers' death on the entertainment community, see the entry for the film in AFI Catalog of Feature Films, 1931-40 .
       Betty Blake Rogers wrote the 1940 SEP serial on which the film is based, and according to a May 1952 LAT interview with Will Rogers, Jr., she and Will, Jr. interested Warner Bros. in taking an option on the idea in 1941, three years before she died. Will, Jr. stated that he was tested for the role of his father, as were several Hollywood actors, including Spencer Tracy and Bing Crosby, but, according to an Apr 1950 DV news item, the studio let the option lapse. Later, when Warner Bros. revived the idea, they paid $100,000 to the family, and although his only previous theatrical performance was in a high school play, in the LAT interview Will, Jr. claimed that his appearance in the title role was part of the deal.
       Although generally pleased with the film's accuracy in portraying Rogers' life, Will, Jr. pointed out that Clem Rogers died while Rogers was still in New York. Other sentimental connections to Rogers' life occur in the film: The director Michael Curtiz played polo with Rogers; the hurdy-gurdy and the stuffed cow appearing in the film belonged to Rogers and were borrowed from his home, which became a museum after his Santa Monica ranch was donated to the State of California and became the Will Rogers State Park. Film clips of several of Rogers' contemporaries, Fanny Brice, Marilyn Miller and Al Jolson, were used in the film.
       Although she did not appear in the final film, Ruth Roman was originally assigned the role of "Betty Rogers," according to an Oct 1951 Var news item. According to Warner Bros. production notes, portions of the film were shot on Rogers' ranch in Santa Monica, and the town of Oolagah was recreated at the Warner Ranch in Calabasas, CA.
       The nine-day cross-country ceremonies dedicating the Will Rogers Memorial Highway, culminating in Santa Monica were planned to tie in with the Hollywood premiere of The Story of Will Rogers , according to a Jul 1952 HR news item. Another Jul 1952 HR news item reported that BHC , which was owned by Will, Jr., published a twelve-page souvenir insert in its weekly edition that contained a biography of Rogers and proclaimed "Will Rogers Week," and was endorsed by the Beverly Hills Chamber of Commerce and Civic Association. The Southern California Motion Picture Council awarded the film a citation of merit, according to an Aug 1952 HR news item. In conjunction with the film, Warner Bros. published a brochure about Rogers' life and career for schools and libraries. Warner Bros. also offered a series of "good neighbor" premieres of the film in foreign capitals around the globe, to capitalize on Rogers' memory as a traveling goodwill U.S. ambassador, according to a Jul 1952 DV news item.
       On 12 Jan 1952, Will, Jr., and Jane Wyman reprised their roles in a Lux Radio Theatre broadcast. Will, Jr. also portrayed his father in two other Warner Bros. films, The Eddie Cantor Story in 1953 (See Entry) and Look for the Silver Lining in 1949 (see AFI Catalog of Feature Films, 1941-50 ). Andrew A. Trimble portrayed Rogers in the 1936 M-G-M production of The Great Ziegfeld and the 1937 Universal production of You're a Sweetheart . Two memorable films from Rogers' later years, both Fox Films productions, were the 1931 A Connecticut Yankee , directed by David Butler and co-starring William Farnum, Maureen O'Sullivan and Myrna Loy, and the 1933 State Fair , directed by Henry King, co-starring Janet Gaynor and Lew Ayres (see AFI Catalog of Feature Films, 1931-40 ). In the early 1940s, Rogers' second son Jimmy starred with Noah Beery, Jr. in three films directed by Hal Roach: Dudes Are Pretty People , Calaboose and Prairie Chickens (see entries in AFI Catalog of Feature Films, 1941-50 ). More Less

SOURCE CITATIONS
SOURCE
DATE
PAGE
Box Office
19 Jul 1952.
---
Box Office
26 Jul 1952.
---
Daily Variety
4 Apr 50
p. 1, 6.
Daily Variety
11 Jul 52
p. 3.
Film Daily
11 Jul 52
p. 4.
Hollywood Citizen-News
11 Jul 1952.
---
Hollywood Reporter
15 Jan 52
p. 2.
Hollywood Reporter
18 Jan 52
p. 13.
Hollywood Reporter
31 Jan 52
p. 6.
Hollywood Reporter
7 Mar 52
p. 10.
Hollywood Reporter
18 Apr 52
p. 15.
Hollywood Reporter
24 Jun 52
p. 3.
Hollywood Reporter
2 Jul 1952.
---
Hollywood Reporter
7 Jul 52
p. 2.
Hollywood Reporter
11 Jul 52
p. 3, 7.
Hollywood Reporter
16 Jul 52
p. 6.
Hollywood Reporter
1 Aug 52
p. 4.
Motion Picture Herald Product Digest
19 Jul 52
p. 1453.
New York Times
17 Jul 52
p. 19.
New York Times
18 Jul 52
p. 10.
Newsweek
28 Jul 1952.
---
Time
28 Jul 1952.
---
Variety
4 Apr 1950.
---
Variety
2 Jul 1952.
---
Variety
16 Jul 52
p. 6.
CAST
NAME
CREDITED AS
CREDIT
+
PRODUCTION CREDITS
NAME
PARENT COMPANY
PRODUCTION COMPANY
PRODUCTION TEXT
A Warner Bros.--First National Picture
DISTRIBUTION COMPANY
NAME
CREDITED AS
CREDIT
DIRECTORS
Asst dir
2d unit dir
Dial dir
PRODUCER
PHOTOGRAPHY
Dir of photog
ART DIRECTOR
Art dir
FILM EDITOR
SET DECORATORS
Prop master
COSTUMES
MUSIC
Orig mus
Orch
SOUND
MAKEUP
Makeup artist
PRODUCTION MISC
Asst prod mgr
Tech adv for roping and rodeo seq
Coach for roping and riding
COLOR PERSONNEL
Technicolor col consultant
SOURCES
LITERARY
Based on the true short story "Uncle Clem's Boy" by Mrs. Will (Betty Blake) Rogers in The Saturday Evening Post (Oct--Nov 1940).
DETAILS
Alternate Title:
The Will Rogers Story
Release Date:
26 July 1952
Premiere Information:
World premiere in Claremore, OK: 9 July 1952
Los Angeles opening: 10 July 1952
New York opening: 17 July 1952
Production Date:
14 January--8 April 1952
Copyright Claimant:
Warner Bros. Pictures, Inc.
Copyright Date:
25 July 1952
Copyright Number:
LP2036
Physical Properties:
Sound
RCA Sound System
Color
Technicolor
Duration(in mins):
109-110
Country:
United States
Language:
English
PCA No:
15792
Passed by NBR:
No
SYNOPSIS

In 1900, in Oolagah, Oklahoma Indian Territory, congressmen are meeting at the house of Clem Rogers, a prominent citizen of Oklahoma and the Cherokee nation, to decide on Oklahoma statehood. Meanwhile, Betty Blake meets Will Rogers, a cowpoke returning home after two years of drifting, while she is helping her brother-in-law, station master Dave Marshall, at the train station. Betty ignores Will's friendly advances, but later learns that he is the son of Clem, who is anxious that Will take his place in the community. Clem wants Will to run their ranch, but Will is happiest meeting people and doing rope tricks, and his management style is too easygoing for Clem. Two weeks later, Betty sells Will and his friend, Dusty Donavon, two one-way tickets out of town. Through postcards that Will sends her, Betty learns that Will and Dusty sign up with a Wild West Show in South America and make a worldwide tour. When the troupe performs at the 1904 St. Louis World's Fair, Betty attends, and after the show, Will proposes to her. Although Will has talked of settling down, Betty learns on a train to Niagara Falls that both Dusty and Will's horses are accompanying them, as Will has signed on with a traveling show to finance their honeymoon. Almost one thousand performances later, Will and the pregnant Betty are planning to return to Oolagah, when Will is written up in a newspaper for lassoing a dangerous bull that got loose during a performance at New York City's Madison Square Garden. Seeing the article, Bert Lynn, a theatrical agent, offers Will a job at Oscar Hammerstein's Victoria Theater on Times Square, but Will's rope tricks, ... +


In 1900, in Oolagah, Oklahoma Indian Territory, congressmen are meeting at the house of Clem Rogers, a prominent citizen of Oklahoma and the Cherokee nation, to decide on Oklahoma statehood. Meanwhile, Betty Blake meets Will Rogers, a cowpoke returning home after two years of drifting, while she is helping her brother-in-law, station master Dave Marshall, at the train station. Betty ignores Will's friendly advances, but later learns that he is the son of Clem, who is anxious that Will take his place in the community. Clem wants Will to run their ranch, but Will is happiest meeting people and doing rope tricks, and his management style is too easygoing for Clem. Two weeks later, Betty sells Will and his friend, Dusty Donavon, two one-way tickets out of town. Through postcards that Will sends her, Betty learns that Will and Dusty sign up with a Wild West Show in South America and make a worldwide tour. When the troupe performs at the 1904 St. Louis World's Fair, Betty attends, and after the show, Will proposes to her. Although Will has talked of settling down, Betty learns on a train to Niagara Falls that both Dusty and Will's horses are accompanying them, as Will has signed on with a traveling show to finance their honeymoon. Almost one thousand performances later, Will and the pregnant Betty are planning to return to Oolagah, when Will is written up in a newspaper for lassoing a dangerous bull that got loose during a performance at New York City's Madison Square Garden. Seeing the article, Bert Lynn, a theatrical agent, offers Will a job at Oscar Hammerstein's Victoria Theater on Times Square, but Will's rope tricks, performed astride his horse, do not transfer well to vaudeville, and his act is soon canceled. After six months of unemployment and with the baby almost due, Will is offered a job at a Brooklyn theater as a last-minute fill-in performer, but Dusty and the horse are delayed, so Will begins his act alone. As he fumbles with his rope and chatters nervously, the audience finds Will's self-effacing, down-home presence appealing, and a new comedy act is born that night, as well as his first child. Soon he is headlining with Eddie Cantor at the Ziegfeld Follies, where he adds humorous political commentary to his act, poking fun at all sides of an issue. Believing that Will's morale-building humor expresses the heart of the American people, President Woodrow Wilson urges Will to write, but Will is uncomfortable being taken seriously. A few years later, Will buys a ranch for Betty and their three children in Santa Monica, California, and works in films. Clem shows up at the ranch, urging Will to create more than pie-in-the-face comedies, and even Betty urges Will to use his influence and humor responsibly. After meeting Wiley Post, an airplane pilot and fellow Cherokee, Will learns to fly and becomes a supporter of General Billy Mitchell's campaign to develop aviation for national defense. When Mitchell is charged with insubordination, Will begins a public speaking tour in support of the general that makes people laugh, as well as think. Will also begins writing a syndicated newspaper column and later, makes a European tour, finding himself welcomed by heads of state and the common people. When he returns, the United States is hard hit by the Depression, and Will is troubled to see his childhood neighbors and friends leave Oolagah to find work in the cities. After getting financial support from John D. Rockefeller and Henry Ford, Will gathers celebrities such as Fanny Brice, Marilyn Miller, Al Jolson and Eddie Cantor to throw "monster benefit" relief performances all over the country. For months, working long hours, Will flies across the country to build morale and make money for those in distress, with Wiley as his pilot. When election time rolls around, both Democratic and Republican parties adopt a relief platform, and at the Democratic National Convention, Will is nominated as a "favorite son." During his speech in support of Franklin D. Roosevelt, Will, who is honored to be "accepted by the people he comes from," tells the crowd, "I never met a man I didn't like." Witnessing the event, Clem, an Oklahoma senator, finally realizes that Will's gift to uplift and teach using humor is an important accomplishment. Later, Betty watches Will take off with Wiley for Alaska to back an appropriation bill for Alaskan defense, and has an ominous premonition, as Will has Wiley circle the plane to wave one last goodbye. +

Legend
Viewed by AFI
Partially Viewed
Offscreen Credit
Name Occurs Before Title
AFI Life Achievement Award

TOP SEARCHES

CASABLANCA

During World War II, Casablanca, Morocco is a waiting point for throngs of desperate refugees fleeing Nazi-occupied Europe. Exit visas, which are necessary to leave the country, are at ... >>

CITIZEN KANE

Seventy-year-old newspaper tycoon Charles Foster Kane dies in his palatial Florida home, Xanadu, after uttering the single word “Rosebud.” While watching a newsreel summarizing the years during which Kane ... >>

REAR WINDOW

Laid up with a broken leg during the height of summer, renowned New York magazine photographer L. B. “Jeff” Jeffries enters his last week of home confinement, bored and ... >>

RAGING BULL

In 1941, at a boxing match in Cleveland, Ohio, pandemonium breaks out when Jake La Motta, an up-and-coming young boxer, loses a decision to Jimmy Reeves, suffering his first ... >>

CITY LIGHTS

At an outdoor dedication ceremony, a tramp is discovered sleeping in the arms of a statue as it is being unveiled before a crowd. He is chased into ... >>

The American Film Institute is grateful to Sir Paul Getty KBE and the Sir Paul Getty KBE Estate for their dedication to the art of the moving image and their support for the AFI Catalog of Feature Films and without whose support AFI would not have been able to achieve this historical landmark in this epic scholarly endeavor.