CLAREMORE, Okla. — Comedy Central's Jon Stewart and Stephen Colbert may be today's big names in political comedy, but it isn't likely there will be airports, schools, highways, state parks and a U.S. submarine named for them. Will Rogers has all of these, plus a museum well worth a visit in his hometown.
Located on Interstate Highway 44 about 15 minutes east of Tulsa, Okla., the Will Rogers Memorial Museum profiles arguably the 20th century's greatest humorist. The Oklahoma native's skill at vaudevillian comedy, movies, radio and newspaper writing was followed by millions of Americans before he died at age 55 in a 1935 airplane crash.
Rogers' homespun sociopolitical commentary creates a museum both as a nod to his multimedia talents and an insightful glimpse of tumultuous, worldwide events in which he could make audiences laugh. "He poked fun at all sorts of people on both sides of the political aisle," said Jacob Krumwiede, museum manager. "He always seemed to have the interests of the 'common man' at heart, in a time when the 'common man' was awful downtrodden."
Rogers' heritage was Cherokee Indian. He was raised in Oklahoma and spent his early years as a cowboy on the nearby family ranch and in travels to Argentina, Australia and South Africa. Along the way he mastered rope tricks incorporated into a comedy routine leading to vaudeville and the Ziegfield Follies in New York.
The 25,000-square-foot museum, where Rogers and wife Betty are buried, overlooks the Oklahoma prairie from a hill. A mini-theater shows Rogers' films in their entirety.
This is the museum's 75th year of operation, an anniversary to be celebrated on his birthday Nov. 4.