By Keldine Hull
Monday, November 4 marks what would have been Will Rogers’ 140th birthday- the Hollywood legend who lassoed his way into the heart of America and whose Pacific Palisades ranch has become a favorite gathering and recreation spot for generations of Angelenos.
Rogers was born in 1879 at Rogers Ranch in Oolagah, Cherokee Territory, in what is now Oklahoma. His father, Clement “Clem” Vann Rogers, was a Cherokee senator and judge; his mother, Mary America Schrimsher Rogers, was the descendent of a Cherokee chief. From steering cattle and transporting pack animals across the South Atlantic to appearing in Wild West shows in Johannesburg, the vaudeville performer became known around the world for his roping and riding skills as “The Cherokee Kid.”
In 1918, Rogers landed his first movie role as Bill Hyde in Laughing Bill Hyde. From the silent era of film to the Golden Age of Hollywood, Rogers starred in dozens of films, including Judge Priest, Steamboat Round the World and Doctor Bull. By the 1930s, Rogers was one of Hollywood’s most well-known and highest-paid actors.
While Rogers’ had roots in Oklahoma, California was his home. During the 1920s, Rogers acquired nearly 360 acres of land in Pacific Palisades overlooking the ocean. He built a place where he could enjoy his hobbies and spend time with loved ones. His ranch included 31 rooms, guest housing, a stable, corrals, polo field, riding ring, roping arena, golf course and riding trails. Rogers tragically passed away in a plane crash in 1935. He was 56. In 1944, his widow, Betty Rogers, donated the ranch to California State Parks to ensure that it would remain open to the public as a memorial to her late husband.
Decades later, visitors still walk the grounds of Will Rogers State Historic Park, gaining a rare glimpse into one of the world’s most memorable country western stars and the life he built for himself in the Palisades.
More than a Hollywood star, Rogers was a family man, columnist, radio announcer and philosopher who believed in honesty, integrity and hard work. Will Rogers once said, “If you want to be successful, it’s just this simple. Know what you are doing. Love what you are doing. And believe in what you are doing.”
To learn more about Will Rogers State History Park, visit: https://www.parks.ca.gov/?page_id=626