The Story of Will Rogers
|The Story of Will Rogers|
|Directed by||Michael Curtiz|
|Produced by||Robert Arthur|
|Written by||Frank Davis|
|Starring||Will Rogers Jr.|
Noah Beery Jr.
|Narrated by||J. Carroll Naish (uncredited)|
|Music by||Victor Young|
|Cinematography||Wilfred M. Cline|
|Edited by||Folmar Blangstead|
|Distributed by||Warner Bros.|
|Box office||$2.65 million (US rentals)|
The Story of Will Rogers is a 1952 Technicolor film biography of humorist and movie star Will Rogers, directed by Michael Curtiz and starring Will Rogers Jr. as his father. The supporting cast features Jane Wyman, Slim Pickens, Noah Beery Jr., Steve Brodie, and Eddie Cantor. The film's screenplay was based on the true short story "Uncle Clem's Boy" by Rogers' widow Betty Blake, which was published in The Saturday Evening Post in 1940.
Bing Crosby secretly made a screen test for the lead role available for viewing at the Paley Center for Media in New York City and Los Angeles but was deemed too different in persona from Rogers to play the part.
In the early 1900s, Will Rogers returns to his hometown in Oklahoma after two years of drifting. He meets and falls in love with Betty Blake, but is unable to settle down on the ranch because he is happier meeting people and performing rope tricks, and his management style is too easygoing for his strict father, Senator Clement V. Rogers. Will joins a Wild West show and tours the world, then meets up with Betty at the 1904 St. Louis World's Fair and proposes to her. After they are married, they combine their honeymoon with one of Will's rodeo tours, which ends in New York's Madison Square Garden where he becomes a hero by lassoing a dangerous bull that gets loose during a performance. This wins him an offer to perform in vaudeville, but his rodeo act doesn't carry over very well and his show flops. After six months of unemployment and with a baby almost due, Will goes on stage as a last minute fill-in performer and is forced to do his act alone, where his down-home comedy chatter scores a big hit with the audience. This wins him a lead role in the Ziegfeld Follies where he adds political commentary to his act and becomes famous as a "cowboy philosopher" known for witty remarks about politicians and issues of the day. Later, Will goes to Hollywood to work in films, meets Wiley Post and learns to fly, and goes on a European tour meeting heads of state. After the Great Depression hits, Will works long hours flying around the country to perform benefit shows lifting the spirits of the American people and raising funds for the poor. At the 1932 Democratic National Convention, Will is nominated as a "favorite son." Later, Will takes off with Wiley to Alaska and apparently has an ominous premonition, as Will has the plane circle back over the airfield to wave goodbye to Betty one last time.
- Will Rogers Jr. as Will Rogers
- Jane Wyman as Betty Blake Rogers
- Carl Benton Reid as Senator Clem Rogers
- Eve Miller as Cora Marshall
- James Gleason as Bert Lynn
- Slim Pickens as Dusty Donovan
- Noah Beery Jr. as Wiley Post
- Mary Wickes as Mrs. Foster
- Steve Brodie as Dave Marshall
- Pinky Tomlin as Orville James
- Margaret Field as Sally Rogers, Will's sister
- Eddie Cantor as Himself
- Frank Bank as a Youthful Will Rogers
- David Butler as Himself (uncredited)
- William Forrest as Florenz Ziegfeld (uncredited)
- Earl Lee as Woodrow Wilson (uncredited)
The film depicts Rogers' father, Clem Rogers, as being part of the Oklahoma delegation at the 1932 Democratic National Convention, despite the fact that Clem Rogers had died in 1911.
Bosley Crowther of The New York Times wrote that there was "not much action," but that Will Rogers Jr. was "vastly natural" in the part, and while "not an important film" it "gives a tender reflection of a character many people loved." Variety called the script "a sketchy affair," but thought that Curtiz' direction "does a good job in presenting nostalgia, drama and humor, with only occasional slopping over into sentimentality." Harrison's Reports thought that the film "captures much of the charm, wit and human warmth" of Rogers but that it still was "by no means an outstanding entertainment, for its sketchy presentation of the events connected with Rogers' personal life and his rise to fame lacks forceful dramatic impact and does not delve deeply into his character." John McCarten of The New Yorker called it "a bland account" of Rogers' life, "quite without strain or stress or surprises." The Monthly Film Bulletin wrote: "Rogers was in turn performer in wild west shows, successful Ziegfeld star, dabbler in popular politics, aviation enthusiast, great movie box-office attraction and 'favourite son' nominee for the American presidency, but Will Rogers Jr. impersonates his father with an indolent lack of charm that fails entirely to create a character interesting enough to hold these straggling episodes together."
- "The Story of Will Rogers - Details". AFI Catalog of Feature Films. Retrieved June 21, 2018.
- Variety (31 May 2018). "Variety (February 1948)". New York, NY: Variety Publishing Company – via Internet Archive.
- 'Top Box-Office Hits of 1952', Variety, January 7, 1953
- Crowther, Bosley (July 18, 1952). "The Screen In Review". The New York Times: 10.
- "The Story of Will Rogers". Variety: 6. July 16, 1952.
- "'The Story of Will Rogers' with Will Rogers, Jr. and Jane Wyman". Harrison's Reports: 114. July 19, 1952.
- McCarten, John (July 26, 1952). "The Current Cinema". The New Yorker: 51.
- "The Story of Will Rogers". The Monthly Film Bulletin. 19 (225): 145. October 1952.