In August 1935, Will Rogers, a one-man wrecking crew against pretense and pomposity, died in a plane crash in a remote outpost of Alaska. The newspapers of that day treated the sudden death of this American folk figure as a national calamity—rarely have so many spoken and written words of praise gushed forth about a departed private citizen. The Irish-born American tenor John McCormack accurately reflected the temper of his adopted land when he said that "a smile had disappeared from the lips of America and her eyes are suffused with tears."
Rogers wasn't a president, a crooner, a handsome screen lover, a victorious general, or a prodigious home-run hitter. Yet he had earned such eulogies through the seeming sweetness of his personality, his downright horse sense, his compassion, and a mischievous sense of humor; he rarely showed even a smidgen of ill will. He was an optimist in a world that had already seen millions of unemployed Americans shivering through the long winters of the country's most serious crisis since the Civil War.
From 1915 to 1935, Will had been America's foremost cracker-barrel philosopher, a congenial mixture of Mark Twain, H. L. Mencken, and the garru