By Jerry Zezima
National Society of Newspaper Columnists
There is a lot to like about Will Rogers, who was a lot more than the man who never met a man he didn’t like.
Born in Indian Territory (now Oologah, Oklahoma) in 1879, Rogers — part Cherokee, part cowboy, all American — was the first multimedia star. He hit it big on stage (as a trick roper and a social commentator in vaudeville and later on Broadway); in print (he was the nation’s most widely read newspaper columnist); on film (he was one of Hollywood’s top box-office draws in both silent and sound movies); in books (his collections were bestsellers); on radio (millions listened to his wise and witty observations); and on the lecture circuit (he was a popular public speaker whose quips and quotes became legendary).
If television and the Internet had been around, Rogers would have conquered them, too.
This year, we mark and mourn the 80th anniversary of his death, in a plane crash in Point Barrow, Alaska, on Aug. 15, 1935, with famed aviator Wiley Post.
But every year, the National Society of Newspaper Columnists celebrates the celebrated humorist by presenting the Will Rogers Humanitarian Award to a columnist whose sustained work in civic journalism produces tangible benefits for the community.
Thanks to our own Will Rogers, Bob Haught, the NSNC has a close relationship with the Will Rogers Foundations. And Jennifer Rogers, Will’s great-granddaughter, has kindly arranged the use of the Will Rogers Ranch for the Friday night dinner at our 2016 conference in Los Angeles.
Now, let’s hear from the man himself.
- “My ancestors didn’t come over on the Mayflower, but they met the boat.”
- “The American people are very generous and will forgive almost any weakness, with the possible exception of stupidity.”
- “This country has gotten where it is in spite of politics, not by the aid of it.”
- “One of the evils of democracy is you have to put up with the man you elect whether you want him or not.”
- “Lord, the money we do spend on government. And it’s not a bit better government that we got for one-third the money twenty years ago.”
- “Slogan: Be a politician; no training necessary.”
- “Never blame a legislative body for not doing something. When they do nothing, that don’t hurt anybody. It’s when they do something that they become dangerous.”
- “Once a man wants to hold a public office, he is absolutely no good for honest work.”
- “I honestly believe there is people so excited over this election that they think the president has something to do with running the country.”
- “The high office of president of the United States has degenerated into two ordinarily fine men being goaded on by their political leeches into saying things that if they were in their right minds they wouldn’t think of saying.”
- “The papers say, ‘Congress is deadlocked and can’t act.’ I think that is the greatest blessing that could befall this country.”
- “The thing about my jokes is they don’t hurt anybody. You can take ’em or leave ’em. … But with Congress, every time they make a joke, it’s a law. And every time they make a law, it’s a joke.”
- “I don’t make jokes. I just watch the government and report the facts.”
- “A fool and his money are soon elected.”
- “A convention is the only thing in the world, outside of the appendix, that no one has ever found a reason for.”
- “The income tax has made more liars out of the American people than golf has.”
- “We’ll hold the distinction of being the only nation in the history of the world that ever went to the poorhouse in an automobile.”
- “Our foreign dealings are an open book — generally a checkbook.”
- “Every war has been preceded by a peace conference. That’s what always starts the next war.”
- “Diplomacy is the art of saying ‘nice doggie’ until you can find a rock.”
- “Mothers are the only race of people that speak the same tongue. A mother in Manchuria could converse with a mother in Nebraska and never miss a word.”
- “I have always felt that the best doctor in the world is the veterinarian. He can’t ask his patients what is the matter — he’s got to just know.”
- “We got more bandits out on bond than we got people for ’em to rob.”
- “Scientists can tell you just to the minute when something is going to happen 10 million miles away and none of them has ever been smart enough to tell you what day to put on your heavy underwear.”
- “Our Savior performed some pretty handy feats in the early days and his exploits have been handed down through the ages and made him our greatest hero, all accomplished without the aid of a newspaper.”
- “Whoever wrote the Ten Commandments made ’em short. They may not always be kept, but they can be understood.”
- “That’s one trouble with our charities: We are always saving somebody away off, when the fellow next to us ain’t eating.”
- “The only way to solve the traffic problem in this country is the pass a law that only paid-for cars are allowed to use the highways.”
- “What constitutes a life well spent? Love and admiration from your fellow men is all that anyone can ask.”
- “No man is great if he thinks he is.”
- “Everybody is ignorant, only on different subjects.”
- “A fanatic is always the fellow that is on the opposite side.”
- “Never miss a good chance to shut up.”
- “Always drink upstream from the herd.”
- “All I know is what I read in the papers.”
- “Live your life so that whenever you lose, you are ahead.”
- “I have joked about every prominent man of my time, but I never met a man I didn’t like.”
• • •
Jerry Zezima writes a syndicated humor column for his hometown paper, The Stamford (Conn.) Advocate.
• • •
This piece first was published in the September 2015 issue of The Columnist, the monthly membership newsletter of the National Society of Newspaper Columnists.