Rogers’ enduring wisdom Mike Masterson
Six years have passed since the National Society of Newspaper Columnists went begging and chose to hand me their annual Will Rogers Humanitarian Award for a body of work spanning 40 years. I’ve long suspected the awards committee and Rogers’ great-greatgrandson intended to award its prized little statue to someone probably named Michelle Mastersoni and simply became confused. Even today no one will actually confirm that. Part of that memorable chapter in my life involved a visit to the rambling and impressive Will Rogers Museum and tomb in Claremore, Okla., where I learned volumes about the late acclaimed cowboy humorist, performer and philosopher. And what a remarkable man he was, cut from the same brilliant populist fabric, in my view anyway, as retired columnist Thomas Sowell. As I did several months ago in sharing thoughts from Sowell, I wanted to remind valued readers today what a wit, insightful social commentator, columnist and entertainer William Penn Adair Rogers was when he reached his heyday between 1920 and dying in Alaska in a 1935 airplane crash. His common-sense thoughts from some nine decades past remain as relevant today, a true test of his uncanny ability as a sage to separate chaff from wheat in our society. Born on Oklahoma’s Cherokee reservation in 1879, the folksy Rogers ranks among the finest performers, comedians, and social commentators in American history. So today, here’s an excuse to review some of his most salient remarks. While I haven’t researched every individual quote attributed to Rogers, there unfortunately appear to be many quips he never uttered, although I can’t for the life of me understand why anyone would want to give Rogers credit for words that weren’t his. Can you? On movies: “The movies are the only business where you can go out front and applaud yourself.” “There is only one thing that can kill the movies, and that is education.” Our republic: “There ought to be one day (just one) when there is open season on senators.” “There’s no trick to being a humorist when you have the whole government working for you.” “You can’t say that civilization don’t advance, however, for in every war they kill you in a new way.” “I don’t make jokes. I just watch the government and report the facts.” And these quotes from the Will Rogers Museum and its website: Birthdays: “I was born on Nov. 4, which is election day. … My birthday has made more men and sent more back to honest work than any other days in the year.” Revolutions: “There is one thing in common with all revolutions (in fact they are pretty near like wars in that respect)—nobody ever knows what they are fighting about.” War: “You can be killed just as dead in an unjustified war as you can in one protecting your own home.” Opportunity: “America is a land of opportunity and don’t ever forget it.” Learning: “A man only learns by two things: one is reading, and the other is association with smarter people.” Reality: “Ten men in the country could buy the world and ten million can’t buy enough to eat.” “We don’t have to worry about anything. No nation in the history of the world was ever sitting as pretty. If we want anything, all we have to do is go and buy it on credit.” Knowledge: “This would be a great time in the world for some man to come along that knew something.” “Civilization: “We will never have true civilization until we have learned to recognize the rights of others.” Motherhood: “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.” His roots: “My ancestors didn’t come over on the Mayflower, but they met the boat.” Villains: “Villains are getting as thick as college degrees and sometimes on the same fellow.” Justifications: “When the judgment day comes, civilization will have an alibi: ‘I never took a human life; I only sold the fellow the gun to take it with.’” Horses: “A man that don’t love a horse, there is something the matter with him.” Satisfaction: “There ain’t nothing to life but satisfaction.” Ego: “No man is great if he thinks he is.” Silence: “Never miss a good chance to shut up.” Common Sense: “Always drink upstream from the herd.” Sure wish I’d been blessed with that man’s amazing insights, don’t you?