When thinking about Rotary’s Four-Way Test it occurred to me that Oklahoma’s favorite son would have made a great Rotarian. Will Rogers, comedian, roper, actor and writer, embodies the Rotary test through his lifestyle and writing. As a proud Cherokee from Oologah, Will was all about truth, fairness and goodwill and beneficial improvement for all Americans.
Sharing his father’s profession, Will started out with roping acts and working in Vaudeville. He quickly moved to a bigger stage as a comedian with The Ziefield Follies. His comic acts were so popular that his cables homes from a trip to Europe were picked up and published by The New York Times. At its highest circulation, Will’s column was published in 600 papers across the country reaching an estimated 40 million readers.
As for the Four-Way Test, Will Rogers’ first role was to tell the truth. In his own words, “I use only one set method in my little gags and that is to try to keep to the truth.” He adds that “personally, I don’t like the jokes that get the biggest laughs, as they are generally as broad as a house and require no thought at all. I like the one where, if you are with a friend, and hear it, it makes you think and say, “He’s right about that.”
As America’s ambassador, Will was always spreading goodwill to the benefit of all Americans. His comedy lifted the hearts of millions and all across the world, as well. He was humble. One of his quotes, “no man is great if he thinks he is,” speaks to that. Yet, he was a friend of presidents, heads of state and knew practically every congressman in the country.
His most famous lines, “all I know is what I read in the papers” and “I never met a man I didn’t like,” speak to his common man’s goal of fairness and friendship to all. His jokes picked on everyone. Lawyers and bankers were his favorite targets with the congress next. He loved picking on the big boys of finance, law and business and the big spending ways of congress. His insight on issues was uncanny and still resonates with us today. That many of these issues are still with us in the 21st century speaks to the importance of historical perspective and knowledge to help us understand the difficult issues that are still with us from 100 years ago.
His quotes are prodigious and well worth reading. His material is in the third most quoted position behind the bible and William Shakespeare. There are many books on Will and his quotes. Here are two good books that give a broad overview. One is Will Rogers Speaks by Bryan and Francis Sterling. The other is The Quotable Will Rogers by Joseph H Carter. Give these a try and I am pretty sure you will find yourself agreeing with this would be Rotarian, thinking, yes, “he’s right about that.”