The Tragic Death Of Will Rogers

Nobody seems to pay much attention to cowboys anymore, except in a subset of the romance novel industry (and oh, yes, friends, it is most assuredly an industry). Some cowboy actors actually grew up with actual, well, horses, and probably cows, too. Long before he helped supply Patrick Swayze and his merry band of freedom fighters with vittles, shootin' irons and brown liquor in Red Dawn, Ben Johnson roped and rode and made John Wayne look like he knew what he was doing.

Another actual cowboy who went on to become (for his times) a media megastar was Will Rogers, the man who famously observed that he never met a man he didn't like, giving rise in turn to innumerable jokes about how "Will Rogers never met my brother-in-law/fill in the blank."

Encyclopedia Britannica – because that's where you look first when you want to know about American cowboys — relates that Rogers grew up in "what would eventually become Oklahoma," which, as we all know, became a state in 1907. He was an actual working cowboy who became so adept with his lariat/lasso/rope-a-ma-bob that he turned it into a vaudeville act, adding patter delivered with a reportedly charming drawl. By 1912 he was on Broadway, and three years later was working for producer Flo Ziegfield. Which was a thing, then.

Will Rogers and the tool of his trade

Rogers's humor was topical, but gentle and non-partisan — he kidded whoever was in office. From stage he moved to silent movies, radio, and talkies. He wrote books and an incredibly popular newspaper column that, says Biography, addressed "contemporary issues from a perspective of small-town morality." He also wrote books, one of which was titled, There's Not a Bathing Suit in Russia. A sort of "king of all media" for the first third of the 20th Century. Think Howard Stern, without the potty mouth.

But like a lot of professionally charming, witty, and dare we say it — funny individuals, Rogers died relatively young, in a plane crash in Point Barrow, Alaska, where he had gone to see the sights. Keith Carradine, perhaps better known as Tea Leoni's presidential foil on Madame Secretary, unless you watched Deadwood, where he played Wild Bill Hickok — no spoilers, folks — later played Rogers in an award-winning Broadway production.

And someone with a dark sense of humor named an airport after him. Of course they did.