The Suitcase Lady


January 8, 2019, 8:58 pm

I was driving down the Will Rogers Turnpike in northeast Oklahoma last week when my thoughts turned to the road’s namesake. My favorite quote of his popped into my head: “I am not a member of any organized political party. I am a Democrat.” Having been a card-carrying Democrat all my life, I can attest to the truth of his words.

The drive motivated me to know more about this witty man who H.L. Mencken called, “the most dangerous writer alive.”

William Penn Adair Rogers was born on November 4, 1879, in the Cherokee Nation in Indian Territory. (Oklahoma would not become a state until 1907). His parents were Cherokee and white but identified most closely with their Indian ancestors. In addition to being a prosperous rancher, his father was an attorney and a Cherokee judge.

Will’s wit and intelligence often got him in trouble at home and in various schools when he was growing up. Reaching adulthood, he left the ranch to see the world where he found work in Wild West shows doing rope tricks while telling jokes. This led to the vaudeville circuit and then to the Ziegfeld Follies on Broadway. Will Rogers was a success on Broadway and an even bigger celebrity when he went to Hollywood and appeared in dozens of silent films.

America couldn’t get enough of Will Rogers, and soon he was writing regularly for The Saturday Evening Post and newspapers all over America. By the 1930’s he also had a number of best-selling books including one with the improbable title, “There’s Not A Bathing Suit in Russia”. All the while he continued making films, now talkies, three of which were directed by John Ford.

Will Rogers had a life long love of airplanes and traveled around the world three times making friends wherever he went. In 1935, he and aviator Wiley Post died when their small plane crashed in Barrow, Alaska. All of America mourned the man whose political humor never offended any of its targets. His words remain with us today and are more timely and needed than ever. Here is a sampling:

  • I hope there are some sane people who will appreciate dignity and not showmanship in their choice for the presidency.
  • I don’t make jokes, I just watch the government and report facts.
  • Everything is changing. People are taking their comedians seriously and the politicians as a joke.
  • Why don’t they pass a constitutional amendment prohibiting anybody from learning anything. If it works as well as prohibition did, in five years Americans would be the smartest race of people on Earth.
  • Democrats never agree on anything, that’s why they are Democrats. If they agreed with each other, they would be Republicans.
  • The country has come to feel when Congress is in session as when the baby gets hold of a hammer.


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