CLAREMORE -- In a spacious hillside museum, reminders of Will
Rogers' death 66 years ago are kept in a small, out-of-the-way room,
leaving more space for memorabilia on his life.
Nearly 10 years since a Broadway play about Rogers and a spate of
books, the memory of the floppy-eared trick roper, pioneer
broadcaster and cinema star seems to be fading fast -- especially
with the younger generations.
Michelle Lefebvre-Carter, director of the Will Rogers Memorial in
Claremore, and other Rogers enthusiasts hope a new round of
publicity will revive the image of America's premier humorist of the
early 20th century.
"We feel like we really need him in the 21st century," Lefebvre-
The A&E television network plans to air a biography in early
2002. C-Span and E! recently featured Rogers and pondered the Alaska
plane crash that killed him and acclaimed pilot Wiley Post on Aug.
A renewal could entice 20th Century Fox to release more of
Rogers' talking films on video. Four were released earlier.
Rogers' diverse accomplishments and philanthropy could influence
youths to pattern their lives after him, Lefebvre-Carter said.
But even young people in northeast Oklahoma, where Rogers learned
trick roping from a freed slave on his father's ranch, admit they
know little about the man officially deemed the state's favorite
Will Rogers High School down the road in Tulsa owns the only
original portrait Rogers sat for and the last original photo of him
But students, routinely ferried to the museum as freshmen, say
Rogers was just an obscure famous man to them when they started
"I really didn't know who he was, some cowboy guy," said Michael
Lins, now a senior who studied Rogers and school history.
About 250,000 people a year visit Will Rogers State Historic Park
outside Los Angeles, where Rogers lived until his death. Older
visitors know who he is.
"A lot of the younger children and younger generation, you have
to teach them more about him," park guide Mike Allan said.
Lefebvre-Carter's husband, Joseph Carter began promoting Rogers
when he became head of the memorial in 1989.
Before retiring as director, Carter wrote The Life and Writings
of Will Rogers and encouraged authors to dust off an unproduced
play. The Will Rogers Follies won six Tony Awards during a Broadway
run in the early `90s.
Heavily influenced by his mother, Rogers -- born in 1879 -- grew
up near present-day Oologah, north of Claremore, in what was then
Indian Territory. His father's ranch house there is also a museum.
As a teen-ager, he starred as a trick roper in wild west shows.
Then came Vaudeville and the Ziegfeld Follies.
His homespun humor, mixed with his rope tricks, attracted fans.
His radio and film careers budded.
Rogers hosted the nation's first coast-to-coast radio hookup in
1922 and starred in 71 movies, 50 of them silent films. …