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Will Rogers: A Biography

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Will Rogers was a true American icon. His newspaper column was read daily by 40 million people, and as radio entertainer, lecturer, movies star, and homespun sage, he was one of our most popular entertainers.


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Will Rogers was a true American icon. His newspaper column was read daily by 40 million people, and as radio entertainer, lecturer, movies star, and homespun sage, he was one of our most popular entertainers.

30 review for Will Rogers: A Biography

  1. 4 out of 5

    Hank Stuever

    Fascinating life story of an enigmatic Oklahoman. I picked it up because I wanted to know more about the man and the myth that I had grown up with, beyond what we learned in Oklahoma History, which every 9th grader had to take (state law).

  2. 5 out of 5

    Jenny Brown

    I liked the first half of this biography every much, because it gave great insight into Rogers' background and how he became the person the world knew. Unfortunately, half way through, possibly because of a dearth of sources, it starts to read like an itinerary listing engagement after engagement and his arrangements with publishers but the person who Rogers was seems to completely disappear. The strangest part of this book was that while Yagoda, tells us from start to finish that Rogers was con I liked the first half of this biography every much, because it gave great insight into Rogers' background and how he became the person the world knew. Unfortunately, half way through, possibly because of a dearth of sources, it starts to read like an itinerary listing engagement after engagement and his arrangements with publishers but the person who Rogers was seems to completely disappear. The strangest part of this book was that while Yagoda, tells us from start to finish that Rogers was considered a great comic writer and performer and his life history confirms he was a huge superstar, all the examples of his humor--written and performed--provided in the text fall completely flat. Given that there are dozens of people who did comedy in the same time period whose work can still raise a chuckle, this is baffling. Rogers' written style is primitive--oddly poor grammar, no punctuation, and spelling worse than mine (which is saying a lot.) None of his observations sound profound. I even went onto YouTube to look at the few performances available there and came away wondering what the fuss had been about. If nothing else, it explains why no one born in the last thirty years is likely to have heard of him.

  3. 4 out of 5

    Roxann

    As for insight in the "real" Will Rogers, this is not a great Biography, perhaps no Biography is about any subject. But, it was a pretty interesting read about the guy who has been basically forgotten in the 21st Century. Two people who saw the title of my book, thought I was reading about Mr. Rogers (Fred Rogers). Anyway, besides reading about the crazy entertaining life of Mr. WILL Rogers, the author did a good job of explaining what was going on in vaudeville, films, politics, etc at the time As for insight in the "real" Will Rogers, this is not a great Biography, perhaps no Biography is about any subject. But, it was a pretty interesting read about the guy who has been basically forgotten in the 21st Century. Two people who saw the title of my book, thought I was reading about Mr. Rogers (Fred Rogers). Anyway, besides reading about the crazy entertaining life of Mr. WILL Rogers, the author did a good job of explaining what was going on in vaudeville, films, politics, etc at the time. Which of course is very important when you are reading about Will Rogers as all this was so much part of what he talked/wrote about. I had seen clips of Will Rogers as I was growing up, thought he was kind of funny (He had been dead almost 30 years before I was born), but I had no idea that he was an actor and stage entertainer, writer and everything. One of the interesting points in the book is in regards to racism, by today's standards he would be considered a racist, and some of the stories in the book were offensive to me. But, I am glad the author did not just edit it out. There is even a letter in the book, when Will Rogers defends himself on that count. The author does a good job of capturing the times, and that might be the best reason to try the book.

  4. 5 out of 5

    Dennis McClure

    Ok. It's not the best book ever. But it's written well enough. And we are in dire danger of forgetting that Will Rogers ever existed. And that would be a tragedy. He was, and is, at the center of what America is all about. Ok. It's not the best book ever. But it's written well enough. And we are in dire danger of forgetting that Will Rogers ever existed. And that would be a tragedy. He was, and is, at the center of what America is all about.

  5. 4 out of 5

    Betty

    I've heard Will Rogers quotes all my life but I didn't really know much about him. This is not only his story but a commentary on the times in which he lived. I've heard Will Rogers quotes all my life but I didn't really know much about him. This is not only his story but a commentary on the times in which he lived.

  6. 4 out of 5

    Cindy

    It took quite a while to get through this but I REALLY enjoyed it. Well written bio of a man whom all of America loved for decades. No extraordinary drama or scandal in these pages but somehow I was fascinated. i don't know why. Maybe the photos - that face is magnetic. his wit and wisdom were sparsely sprinkled throughout the book. The author did not go out of his way to glorify Rogers - the book feels real - honest, straightforward, and the author had no agenda. he's not dishing out any dirt. Y It took quite a while to get through this but I REALLY enjoyed it. Well written bio of a man whom all of America loved for decades. No extraordinary drama or scandal in these pages but somehow I was fascinated. i don't know why. Maybe the photos - that face is magnetic. his wit and wisdom were sparsely sprinkled throughout the book. The author did not go out of his way to glorify Rogers - the book feels real - honest, straightforward, and the author had no agenda. he's not dishing out any dirt. Yagoda says Rogers humor was much oriented to time and place so it doesn't carry forward through today. He wrote newspaper columns on current events and his works were about people and issues of his day. I think it's like "You had to be there." Wonderful sample of will's life: Referring to the press reports of the hard feelings between him and Harding, Wills wrote "Now, I want to say nothing's further from the truth. That was simply newspaper stuff."

  7. 4 out of 5

    Sirbriang2

    I didn't grow up with knowledge of Rogers, aside from a few clever quotations, so much of the insights here were lost on me. Still, it was interesting and engaging, especially in the early years. I found it odd that I was more interested in his pre-Hollywood years, considering that I haven't seen any of his movies. Some of the more interesting moments i found toward the end of the book came , for me, as an observant reader, came when the author attempted to address Rogers' view on racism. I didn't grow up with knowledge of Rogers, aside from a few clever quotations, so much of the insights here were lost on me. Still, it was interesting and engaging, especially in the early years. I found it odd that I was more interested in his pre-Hollywood years, considering that I haven't seen any of his movies. Some of the more interesting moments i found toward the end of the book came , for me, as an observant reader, came when the author attempted to address Rogers' view on racism.

  8. 4 out of 5

    Jim Gallen

    Though once one of the most prominent public figures in America, the memory of Will Rogers has faded since his death. This biography by Ben Yagoda enables contemporary readers to become reacquainted with its subject. Rogers was born in Oklahoma when it was still Indian territory. Part Cherokee but mostly white, he was the son of a Confederate veteran and a fairly prosperous and well-regarded family. Rogers is remembered mostly as a humorist and can be said to be on the continuum running from Mar Though once one of the most prominent public figures in America, the memory of Will Rogers has faded since his death. This biography by Ben Yagoda enables contemporary readers to become reacquainted with its subject. Rogers was born in Oklahoma when it was still Indian territory. Part Cherokee but mostly white, he was the son of a Confederate veteran and a fairly prosperous and well-regarded family. Rogers is remembered mostly as a humorist and can be said to be on the continuum running from Mark Twain through Bob Hope. This book tells the story of how he got to his position. While working with cattle in Oklahoma Will learned roping and that he wanted to find another way to earn a living. A quest to work cattle in Argentina led to a side trip to England. After reaching Argentina a shipment of sheep took him to South Africa where he joined Texas Jack’s Wild West Show. From there he performed in Australia before returning to America. A career that included performances at the 1904 St. Louis World’s Fair, Vaudeville and Ziegfeld’s Follies was his path to Hollywood, radio, newspaper columns and personal appearances. Rogers became friends of presidents and heroes, joke maker, light hearted, but serious, political commentator and businessman. His friends and acquaintances included Presidents Wilson, Harding, Coolidge and Roosevelt, the Prince of Wales (King Edward VIII and Duke of Windsor) and Charles Lindbergh, while the American masses hung on his every word. He was truly one who could walk with Kings, nor lose the common touch. His public standing was so high that his name was advanced in a half-way serious way as Presidential Timber. Ultimately his fascination with flight led to his untimely death in Alaska. I was impressed by how show business was business to him, how hard he worked and how successful he was. The inspiration and encouragement he gave to younger performers such as Gene Autry and Roy Rogers, who adopted his stage name as a tribute to Will, show his lasting contributions. Author Ben Yagoda has crafted a tale that combines the tabloid-like account of a celebrity with that of a cultural icon. While not a real page-turner, the unfolding saga itself holds the reader’s interest. Pay attention to the quotes! Although dated, they still drew laughs out of me. I recommend “Will Rogers: A Biography” for anyone with an interest in the popular culture of the first third of the Twentieth Century.

  9. 4 out of 5

    Craig

    A classical American icon, well suited to his era. Part Cherokee Indian, he rose from humble beginnings in the Indian country of Oklahoma (born 1879) to master (and even dominate) the myriad avenues of American "entertainment" during the 1920s and 1930s: Vaudeville, radio broadcast, movies (silent and talkies), newspaper columnist, engaging dinner speaker, etc. He was above all a humorist. His shy, folksy manner, which bespoke common sense and "things the way they are", endeared him to all Ameri A classical American icon, well suited to his era. Part Cherokee Indian, he rose from humble beginnings in the Indian country of Oklahoma (born 1879) to master (and even dominate) the myriad avenues of American "entertainment" during the 1920s and 1930s: Vaudeville, radio broadcast, movies (silent and talkies), newspaper columnist, engaging dinner speaker, etc. He was above all a humorist. His shy, folksy manner, which bespoke common sense and "things the way they are", endeared him to all Americans. He filled a niche in American society. Perhaps he is not better known today because his wit and style were unique to a narrow slice of American history (the 1920s and 1930s) which was itself unique. During his life, he rubbed shoulders with the famous, the wealthy, and the powerful, as well as with the poor and the downtrodden (this was during the Great Depression). Above all, he was for the common man. "I never met a man I didn't like" was perhaps his most quotable quote. Spoken from his heart, that was Will Rogers. I became interested in his life during a recent stop at the Will Rogers Memorial and Library in Claremore, Oklahoma. There, I asked the curator to name the best three biographies of Will Rogers. One of them was written by Ben Yagoda, which I bought and read. It was a treat.

  10. 4 out of 5

    Glen Copple

    I had read most of a biography on Will Rogers when I was in high school and was called on to give a book report before I had finished reading the book. I scanned the back of the book to see how it ended and then got up and with a Will Rogers style Oklahoma draw, I proceeded with my review. I got an A for the review, but never finished reading the book. Recently, I decided I would like to ammend that so I purchased this copy of Will's bio and read from cover to cover. This book goes a lot more int I had read most of a biography on Will Rogers when I was in high school and was called on to give a book report before I had finished reading the book. I scanned the back of the book to see how it ended and then got up and with a Will Rogers style Oklahoma draw, I proceeded with my review. I got an A for the review, but never finished reading the book. Recently, I decided I would like to ammend that so I purchased this copy of Will's bio and read from cover to cover. This book goes a lot more into detail into how he evolved from a mixed breed indian farmboy to a world known and respected entertainer than I remember in the book that I read in high school. Ben had done considerable research into family archives, interviewing descendants and people who knew Will. I developed an appreciation for how he evolved and the wit that he used in making comments about government, politics, celebreties, etc. Will Rogers was a man known, admired and listened to around the world in his day. I would recommend looking into this character and letting him have some influence on our own character.

  11. 5 out of 5

    Dennis

    This book chronicles the life of Will Rogers in an interesting and at times entertaining way. Will Rogers was just what America needed when he reached the apex of his acting career. He was immensely popular and respected. He is largely forgotten by the generations following World War II, but it would be well to recapture the simplicity with which he dealt with current events. It would be refreshing to view the world through his eyes. It was sad for all that he met such an untimely death.

  12. 5 out of 5

    Rob

    I found the book to be very good biography of Will Rogers. Rogers led very interesting life that helped to make the book a excellent read. Sadly, it is difficult to write an interesting book about a writer. As was stated by one of the commentators, the first half of the book was much more interesting than the second half. It was fascinating to see how Will Rogers developed to be the great writer, commentator and personality.

  13. 5 out of 5

    Whitney Thompson

    In brief, I loved this book. Yagoda does a wonderful job of forging a connection between Will Rogers and the reader. The book was a bit long, but the sense of familiarity with Will easily made up for that. (Also, I about cried when little Fred Rogers died. Am I the only one?)

  14. 4 out of 5

    Sharon T.

    I liked learning all about Will Rogers' life -- he was an interesting person. The text was a little thick -- with very long paragraphs including MANY details, so it could have been a bit more readable. I liked learning all about Will Rogers' life -- he was an interesting person. The text was a little thick -- with very long paragraphs including MANY details, so it could have been a bit more readable.

  15. 4 out of 5

    Geoffrey

    Solid biography with some thoughtful inquiry into the phenomena of Will Rogers - forgotten now, but once the most popular political commentator/entertainer in America.

  16. 4 out of 5

    Sandra

    Fascinating man. You do not really get to "see" behind the persona, but definitely interesting. Fascinating man. You do not really get to "see" behind the persona, but definitely interesting.

  17. 5 out of 5

    Allen Madding

    a well written and entertaining look at the life of an American statesman - the pride of the Cherokee Nation, and the state of Oklahoma.

  18. 4 out of 5

    Lance

    Fascinating biography, very thorough. Replete with interesting stories. I'd recommend it, to any Oklahoman wanting to know more. Fascinating biography, very thorough. Replete with interesting stories. I'd recommend it, to any Oklahoman wanting to know more.

  19. 5 out of 5

    Kelsey Yates

    Interesting biography of an interesting life. I hadn't know how he had died. That was a surprise ending. Interesting biography of an interesting life. I hadn't know how he had died. That was a surprise ending.

  20. 4 out of 5

    Monica

    This attractive book jacket sets the tone for this exciting bio about well-loved, part-Cherokee, American icon: Will Rogers. His family lived in Indian Territory in what would become the state of Oklahoma. As a young boy he learned roping at his fathers ranch and launched a career around this talent for the remainder of his life. At age eleven Will lost his mom, and, to avoid friction with his dad he spent more time perfecting his roping skills. He went to school in Missouri and after a stint in This attractive book jacket sets the tone for this exciting bio about well-loved, part-Cherokee, American icon: Will Rogers. His family lived in Indian Territory in what would become the state of Oklahoma. As a young boy he learned roping at his fathers ranch and launched a career around this talent for the remainder of his life. At age eleven Will lost his mom, and, to avoid friction with his dad he spent more time perfecting his roping skills. He went to school in Missouri and after a stint in a military school decided with a friend to take a train to Argentina to work as cowboys in the wide open land of South America. They struggled and lost their money. His friend returned home but Will kept on and sailed to South Africa and landed a job in a Wild West show. This was the start of a peripatetic life in vaudeville, telling jokes, dancing and doing rope tricks. He played repeated seasons in the Ziegfeld Follies in New York at The Amsterdam Theater, and when each season ended, the shows toured the US. He started a successful newspaper column, and, with the advent of radio, broadened his audience further. He was friends with fellow actors Fred Stone and Leo Carrillo and artists Ed Borein and Charles Russell. Rogers had an uncanny passion for flying. He flew from speaking engagements, to award dinners, to shows... He always flew. He and Mrs. Rogers travelled extensively, to every place imaginable on the globe. He had a solid marriage and several children. He invested in real estate in Beverly Hills and Pacific Pallisades. After his death Mrs Rogers donated thousands of acres to the state of California. My favorite Will Rogers' films are STATE FAIR and STEAMBOAT ROUND THE BEND.

  21. 5 out of 5

    Jeff

    I had always heard about Will Rogers, mostly from a few famous quotes he made ("I never met a man I didn't like") but didn't really know a lot about him. Last year a read an old biography written by one of his close friends shortly after Rogers' death in a plane crash in 1935. I thought perhaps that book had been overly positive, written as a memorial. But this later biography continues to shine an overall positive light on one of America's most famous personalities of the 1920s and 30s. Part na I had always heard about Will Rogers, mostly from a few famous quotes he made ("I never met a man I didn't like") but didn't really know a lot about him. Last year a read an old biography written by one of his close friends shortly after Rogers' death in a plane crash in 1935. I thought perhaps that book had been overly positive, written as a memorial. But this later biography continues to shine an overall positive light on one of America's most famous personalities of the 1920s and 30s. Part native, Rogers began his career in Wild West Shows where he got to travel around the world. Eventually he found his way to vaudeville, initially doing lariat tricks, including roping a live horse on stage. Soon he started talking to audiences while doing his tricks, and his southern drawl and homespun wisdom and common sense commentary on current events gained a huge following among New York audiences and others around the US. Once Rogers moved into print as a newspaper opinion columnist, he became a national hero. Everyone wanted to know what Will Rogers thought. He moved into movies, becoming one of the highest paid actors of the early 30s. His style of acting was completely untrained and featured a lot of adlibbing (which sometimes threw off his co-stars), but it was a style that resonated with audiences as a breath of fresh air. Though thoroughly political, he remained fairly non-partisan, turning down requests to run for office. Yagoda offers a fascinating look into a varied and interesting life, as well as a look into US celebrity culture of the early 20th century. Well worth the read.

  22. 5 out of 5

    Barry A.

    I came across Will Rogers' name while reading Kliph Nesteroff's recent We Had A Little Real Estate Problem, a very interesting look at the history of Native American humor - beginning with Will Rogers, who was 1/4 Cherokee. Yagoda, an English Associate Professor who I remember from his days as Editor (he wrote a Message From The Editor column for many years) at Philadelphia Magazine, did a nice job researching and writing this 2000 biography of the now nearly forgotten entertainer who was perhap I came across Will Rogers' name while reading Kliph Nesteroff's recent We Had A Little Real Estate Problem, a very interesting look at the history of Native American humor - beginning with Will Rogers, who was 1/4 Cherokee. Yagoda, an English Associate Professor who I remember from his days as Editor (he wrote a Message From The Editor column for many years) at Philadelphia Magazine, did a nice job researching and writing this 2000 biography of the now nearly forgotten entertainer who was perhaps the biggest name in show business in the first third of the 20th century until his death in a plane crash in 1935. Yagoda tells of Rogers' youth in Oklahoma, especially his close relationship with his father, who young Will Rogers greatly admired, Will's rise from a novelty act featuring lariat tricks to becoming a huge star in vaudeville, and then his two stints as a movie star, first in the silent era, and later in several talkies, when until his death he was the biggest box office draw in the business, as well as the most widely read political commentator of his time. Rogers, probably best known today for a couple of famous quotations ("I never met a fella I didn't like" and "All I know is what I read in the papers"), is shown not only as someone who dominated the worlds of show business and political commentary as no one has before or since, but as a fully developed, complicated human being. Although somewhat dry at times, this biography of a show business legend is well worth your time.

  23. 5 out of 5

    Adam Cohen

    I enjoyed reading this biography for a few reasons. First, it’s well written. It covers the fullness of Will Roger’s life, and it does provide sufficient context in the text and in footnotes to understand the role he played in the early days of the entertainment world. Second, I did not know much about his life, and I certainly was not aware that he was such a key figure in so many aspects of popular life in the early 20th Century. As a result, the book gave an objective description of the roles I enjoyed reading this biography for a few reasons. First, it’s well written. It covers the fullness of Will Roger’s life, and it does provide sufficient context in the text and in footnotes to understand the role he played in the early days of the entertainment world. Second, I did not know much about his life, and I certainly was not aware that he was such a key figure in so many aspects of popular life in the early 20th Century. As a result, the book gave an objective description of the roles, and in particular, why he is not a name as recognized today as others of the time (his Schtick was much more focused on day to day items, and thus did not age as well as contemporaries). Third, I’m a history fan, and I enjoy taking a fresh look at episodes from a unique lens. In this case, I learned more about the Native American view of the late 19th century. If you’re like me - a fan of biographies of interesting figures from history that perhaps have been left in the past, this a good, relatively quick read.

  24. 5 out of 5

    Clayton Brannon

    As a young man I had always heard of Will Rogers and had listened to his sayings with admiration. Until this biography I had not a clue as to how great, and influential a man he was. Larger than life. A master of every form of entertainment he undertook from vaudeville to television and radio he was the biggest star of them all. Makes one wish for a man like him for today's times. A quiet reassuring voice of hope that no matter what happens everything will turn out okay. A must-read for an in-de As a young man I had always heard of Will Rogers and had listened to his sayings with admiration. Until this biography I had not a clue as to how great, and influential a man he was. Larger than life. A master of every form of entertainment he undertook from vaudeville to television and radio he was the biggest star of them all. Makes one wish for a man like him for today's times. A quiet reassuring voice of hope that no matter what happens everything will turn out okay. A must-read for an in-depth look at a truly fascinating man.

  25. 5 out of 5

    Julie Skyles packard

  26. 5 out of 5

    Deanne

  27. 5 out of 5

    Donna

  28. 5 out of 5

    Caroline

  29. 4 out of 5

    Sergio

  30. 5 out of 5

    David Eilers

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