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The Story of Will Rogers
1952 Jump to Synopsis and Details
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Will Rogers Jr. stars as his own father in this slow, sentimental biopic. The film begins with Rogers' days on his father's ranch in Indian Territory (later Oklahoma). We see Will court his future wife, Betty (Jane Wyman), just before he strikes out on his own as a rodeo performer. Attempting to break into vaudeville with a roping act, Will gets nowhere until he starts cracking extemporaneous jokes about current events. Using the newspapers as his "material," Will rises to the pinnacle of show business in the 1910s and '20s as a star comedian in Flo Ziegfeld's Follies. He matures into a devoted family man, a rancher, a film star, an aviation enthusiast, and America's unofficial goodwill ambassador. During the darkest days of the Depression, Rogers works long and hard on behalf of poverty-stricken farmers in his own home state and elsewhere. In 1935, Rogers joins his old pal Wiley Post (Noah Beery Jr.) for an airplane trip to Alaska -- from which he never returns. The Story of Will Rogers sticks to the facts, but the film is surprisingly dull and pedantic considering the director (the usually vigorous Michael Curtiz) and the fascinating subject matter. ~ Hal Erickson

Review from NY Times

By Bosley Crowther
Published: July 18, 1952

Considering the warmth and affection with which Will Rogers was held in American hearts, not to mention the simple sweetness and sentiment of the man, it is not surprising that Warner Brothers has choked up and blubbered just a bit in filming "The Story of Will Rogers," which came to the Astor yesterday. But considering that Will Rogers Jr. is vastly natural in the role of his dad, it is not surprising that this gush of admiration should have a certain genuineness on the screen.

It cannot be said, we'll concede you, that this run-down on Mr. Rogers' life is dramatically absorbing or exciting, in the ordinary sense of those words. It sticks to a narrative pattern, it rambles around quite a lot and, like its beloved hero, it is full of leisurely talk.

What Frank Davis and Stanley Roberts have done is concoct a script that follows the reminiscences of Mr. Rogers' wife and uses the recorded sayings of the humorist for much of its dialogue. The story begins with the meeting of the couple in Oologah, Okla., when they were young, goes with them through the early hardships of Mr. Rogers in vaudeville—until, that is, he discovered that he could do more than twirl a rope; sets him in Mr. Ziegfeld's Follies and then suddenly branches him out into a sort of combination entertainer, elder statesman and world philosopher. At the end, it leaves him embarking for Alaska with Wiley Post on the airplane flight that everybody knows proved fatal to both.

For conflict, if that's what you'd call it, the story simply has Mr. Rogers' cantankerous father who keeps at him almost to the end—or, at least, to the Democratic Convention in Chicago in 1932—trying desperately to urge him to make something of himself. The naming of Mr. Rogers at that convention as Oklahoma's "favorite son" seems at last to satisfy the intensely persistent old man.

As we say, there is not much action, and the things that the hero has to say—and, heaven knows, he has plenty—are some good and some only fair. But, somehow, the slow, easy drawling and simpering that Mr. Rogers Jr. does, the pleasant and gentle attitude toward him manifested by Jane Wyman, as the wife; the comfortable crotchets and blusterings of Carl Benton Reid, as the old man, and the general array of ranches, theatres and banquet halls make a nice show. As to Michael Curtiz' direction, it is a bit on the overzealous side, and the Technicolor, as usual, is a little loud.

In short, "The Story of Will Rogers" is not an important film. But it gives a tender reflection of a character that many people loved.


Will Rogers Jr. as Will Rogers

Jane Wyman as Betty Rogers nee Marshall

Carl Benton Reid as Senator Clem Rogers

Eve Miller as Cora Marshall, Betty's Sister

James Gleason as Bert Lynn

Slim Pickens as Dusty Donovan

Noah Beery Jr. as Wiley Post

Mary Wickes as Mrs. Foster, Landlady

Steve Brodie as Dave Marshall, Oologah General Store

Pinky Tomlin as Orville James, Oologah Barber

Margaret Field as Sally Rogers, Will's Sister

Eddie Cantor as Himself, Eddie Cantor

Frank Bank as Will Rogers as a kid

Victor Adamson as Bit Role

Fern Barry as Okie

Larry J. Blake as House Detective

Monte Blue as Oklahoma Delegate

Marshall Bradford as Political Chairman

Fanny Brice as Herself, Fanny Brice (archive footage)

Don Brodie as Reporter

Morgan Brown as Congressman Johnson

Jack Burnette as Young Jimmy

David Butler as Himself, David Butler

Charles Cane as Tom Bradley, Movie Director

Richard Dale Clark as 2nd Mechanic

John Close as Secret Service Man

Robert Cornell as Younger Will Rogers, Jr.

Leo Curley as Delegation Chairman

Brian Daly as Tom McSpadden

Jimmie Dodd as Second Assistant Director

Tom Dugan as Panhandling Friend

William Forrest as Florenz Ziegfeld

Carol Ann Gainey as Younger Mary Rogers

Michael Gainey as Young Will Rogers, Jr.

Art Gilmore as Announcer at Political Convention

Mollie Glessing as Clerk

Howard Hagan as Freddie Welch

Jack Harris as Reporter

June Haver as Marilyn Miller, clip from 'Look for the Silver Lining' (archive footage)

Joe Haworth as Indian Timer

Sheila Hayward as Emma, Orville's Wire

John Hedloe as Assistant Director

Al Hill as Bill, Reporter at Wharf

Danny Jackson as Messenger Boy

Al Jolson as Himself, Al Jolson, clip from 'Rhapsody in Blue' (archive footage)

Madge Journeay as Honey Girl Kate

Charles Kane as Bradley

Todd Karns as 1st Mechanic

Richard Kean as Reginald Cavendish

Jack Kenny as Reporter

Earl Lee as President Woodrow Wilson

Eddie Marr as Barker

Sammy McKim as Scotty, Flier

Paul McWilliams as Dead Eye Dick

Harold Miller as Dance Extra

Montie Montana as Trick Roping Double for Will Rogers Jr.

Ralph Moody as Dr. Busheyhead

Alberto Morin as Foreigner

Will Morrissey as Announcer

Jack Mower as Conductor

Carol Nugent as Young Mary Rogers

Norman Phillips Jr. as Harry, Assistant Director

Michael Pierce as Young Flier

Angi O. Poulos as Greek Cafe Owner

Rod Rogers as Reporter

Bob Rose as Man

Jack Shea as Reporter at Wharf

Jay Silverheels as Joe Arrow

Olan Soule as Howard, Ziegfeld's Assistant

Dub Taylor as Actor

Forrest Taylor as Harry Hughes, Panhandling Friend

Virgil S. Taylor as Art Frazer, Oologah Postmaster

Charles Wagenheim as Sam

Bill Walker as Train Porter

Billy Wayne as Photographer

Gayne Whitman as Theatre Manager

Guy Wilkerson as Townsman

Tom Wilson as Extra in Wings

Hank Worden as Okie


Directed by
Michael Curtiz

Writing credits
Betty Blake Rogers - story
Frank Davis, Jack Moffitt, Stanley Roberts - screenwriters

Produced by
Robert Arthur - producer

Original Music by
Victor Young

Cinematography by
Wilfred M. Cline

Film Editing by
Folmar Blangsted

Art Direction by
Edward Carrere

Set Decoration by
George James Hopkins

Makeup Department
Gordon Bau - makeup artist

Second Unit Director or Assistant Director
David C. Gardner - second unit director

Sound Department
Charles Lang - sound

May Boss - stunts
Polly Burson - stunts
Gary Epper - stunts
Tony Epper - stunts
Richard Farnsworth - stunts
Donna Hall - stunts
Bob Herron - stunts
Shirley Lucas - stunts
Louise Montana - stunts
Montie Montana - stunt coordinator
Montie Montana - stunt double: Will Rogers Jr.
Bob Rose - stunts

Costume and Wardrobe Department
Milo Anderson - wardrobe

Editorial Department
Mitchell Kovaleski - color consultant

Music Department
Sidney Cutner - orchestrator (as Sid Cutner)
Leo Shuken - orchestrator
Victor Young - musical director

Other crew
Norman Stuart - dialogue director

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