Some called him "America's Cowboy Philosopher," and others knew him as "The Cherokee Kid," but to generations of fans, Will Rogers was a trailblazing actor, radio personality, author and public speaker who is still regarded as "an unofficial ambassador for the United States." Here are seven facts you may not know about this iconic multitalent.
1. He Was Born in the White House, Sort Of
Rogers was born on election day (Nov. 4, 1879) in a seven-room log-walled house known as the "White House on the Verdigris River." The house served as a meeting place for community gatherings, parties, weddings, funerals, and more for the surrounding Cherokee governed land, which would later become Oologah, Oklahoma.
2. His Father Was a Senator and Judge
Rogers' father, Clement Vann Rogers, was a Cherokee senator and a judge who helped write the Oklahoma constitution while his mother, Mary America Schrimsher Rogers, was a descendant of a Cherokee chief and philanthropic mother of eight.
3. He Was a Cherokee Indian
Rogers was a proud and outspoken member of the Cherokee Nation, although many argue his identity and connection to his roots was erased as a result of the public prejudice and stereotyping of Native Americans at the time. He left home five years before his homeland was renamed Oklahoma and became an official part of the U.S., but later wrote, "We spoiled the best Territory in the World to make a State." He's also known for the line, "My ancestors didn't come over on the Mayflower, but they met the boat."
4. Rope Tricks Were His Specialty
Rogers grew up working with Texas longhorns and showed a particular penchant for rope tricks. His twirling talent eventually led to gigs at Wild West shows and on Broadway in the Ziegfeld Follies, over-the-top theatrical productions that are credited with transforming modern-day musicals.
5. He Starred in Both Silent and Talking Movies
Rogers' film career kicked off in in 1918 with "Laughing Bill Hyde" and four years later, he starred in and produced "The Ropin' Fool," a silent movie that highlighted his trick roping abilities. He signed a contract with Fox Film Corporation in 1929 and made his first talking picture, "They Had to See Paris" before going on to make some of his most famous films, "A Connecticut Yankee" (1931) and "State Fair" (1933).
6. He Was, for a Time, the Honorary Mayor of Beverly Hills
For a few brief weeks in 1926, Rogers served as honorary mayor of Beverly Hills. However, the California Legislature quickly ruled that the rightful town mayor was the president of the board of trustees and booted Rogers from office. In response he quipped, "I ain't the first mayor that's been kicked out."
7. He Never Met a Man He Didn't Like
In addition to a thriving film career, Rogers became known for his witty humor and pithy phrases, including "I never met a man I didn't like" and "A man that don't love a horse, there is something the matter with him." Over the course of 19 years, he published approximately 2 million words in the form of six books, over 3,600 newspaper columns and many magazine articles.