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Will Rogers: A Trusted Political Influence

Value Added: Often referred to as the most trusted man in America's history, Will Rogers became the voice of the people and increasingly politically influential.
Will Rogers: A Trusted Political Influence

Will Rogers: A Trusted Political Influence

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Show Details

Show 1635: Will Rogers: A Trusted Political Influence
Air Date: August 28, 2016

 

Transcript

Rob McClendon: Hello, everyone. I’m Rob McClendon, thanks for joining us. Well, we are coming to you today from the grand foyer of the Will Rogers Museum in beautiful Claremore, Okla. Now, if the statue behind me looks familiar, that’s because this iconic figure also stands in front of the U.S. House of Representatives in our nation’s capital, and legend has it before every State of the Union address, the president will come by and rub the statue for good luck. Now, Mr. Rogers’ political influence certainly was even greater during his lifetime and it is the subject of a new documentary on PBS.

In the 1920s and ‘30s there was no one more popular than Will Rogers. A star of both stage and screen, the Oklahoma native was also a prolific writer and a coveted speaker.

Will Rogers: I have to welcome the governors. I want to welcome them, too, because that’s one thing we do in California is welcome. We will welcome anything that will come here.

[laughter].

Rob: Often referred to as the most trusted man in America.

Rogers: I’m an amateur. And the thing about my jokes is they don’t hurt anybody; you can take ‘em or leave ‘em; you know what I mean.

Rob: Will Rogers became the voice of the people and increasingly politically influential.

Tim Yoder: I knew he was big, but I did not realize that Will Rogers, literally, was the first superstar of America.

Rob: Tim Yoder is the producer of the public TV documentary, “Will Rogers and Politics,” an in-depth look at the influence the plain-talking, rope-twirling Cherokee cowboy had on America during one of our most difficult times.

Yoder: When he spoke, millions upon millions of Americans listened to what he had to say. He generally had a way of cuttin’ through all the bull, all the gobbledygook, all the political speak, to make it a very simple message. And by doing that, he was like the inventor of the sound bite basically, and great masses understood what he was saying, and they listened to him.

Rogers: Didn’t do nothing, but that was what we wanted done.

[laughter].

Rob: Widely read, widely traveled and highly opinionated, politicians of all stripes courted Rogers’ favor, but in the midst of his booming career our country sank into the Great Depression and Rogers’ commentary began to reflect the hard times all around him.

Will Rogers: The only problem that confronts this country today is that at least 7 million people are out of work. That’s our only problem. There is no, there is no other one before it at all.

Rob: In a speech known as “Beans, Bacon and Limousines,” Rogers shared the national radio stage with the president of the United States, yet it’s Rogers’ words we still remember today.

Rogers: Here we are in a country with more wheat and more corn, with more money in the bank and more cotton, more everything in the world, there is not a product that you can name that we haven’t gotten more of it than any country ever had on the face of the earth, and yet we’ve got people starving.

Rob: And Rogers’ words were more than rhetoric. He put his money where his mouth was, paying his own way on Red Cross relief tours across Arkansas, Oklahoma and Texas, raising over $220,000 in the depth of the Depression. So what do you think Mr. Rogers would think about today’s political climate?

Laughs. I think he would love it and probably hate it. The rhetoric has gotten so steeped and angry and almost vicious. But where he would love it is, I think he would find so much in there that he could come in with his manner of doing things and change the way people think and feel about politics. As a matter of fact, if he was around right now, I think we’d have a much more genteel political system. I think people would think twice before they spoke.

Rob: Because he would skewer ’em?

[laughter].

Rob: When they said something tough.

Well, he’d do it with a smile on his face, and you’d smile too.

Rob: Three different times over a decade, Democrats tried to get Rogers on their national ticket, but Rogers always resisted with the same wit and charm Americans had grown to love since his days twirling a rope.

Rogers: This is my first crack at a political speech, and I hope it flops. I don’t want it to get over. If it did, it might lead me into politics; and up to now I have tried to live honest.

Rob: Now, since its release, “Will Rogers and American Politics” has won all sorts of awards for RSU public television, and I was able to visit with Dan Schiedel, the station’s general manager. Why did you decide to focus on Will Rogers?

Dan Schiedel: Well, the Will Rogers Museum was just right across the street from RSU public television, so it was, you know, an easy choice. The other thing is that a number of people in our community, the advisory board and our viewers were looking for content such as the documentary that we produced. And so we were talking to our community advisory board, and we said, “You know, if we’re going to do something on Will, it needs to be something different than what’s already been done. You know, we have to do something different, otherwise why should we do it?” And so they said, “Well, what about his political influences on America and American politics?” And I said, “OK, we’ll do some research.” So we did, and we developed the show from there, and it took on a life of its own.

Rob: And you’ve gotten a great response.

Schiedel: Great reviews, great response, it has just exceeded our expectations. “Will Rogers and American Politics” was a documentary that went far beyond what we all expected, and we’ve won a number of international, national, regional awards, everything from Emmys to Cines to you know Tellys to fill-in-the-blank, and our production team just did an awesome job on it. We had a good writer on it, and that really makes a big difference, and of course Steve Gragert and the museum have been great to work with.

Rob: Now, Will Rogers is famous for saying that he actually never told a joke, all he did was watch government and report the facts. When we come back, we will take a closer look at the Will Rogers Museum.