The Story of Will Rogers (1952)
As in the folk song that plays over this biopic’s opening credits, "seldom is heard a discouraging word" in this film about its subject. For that is to be expected, given the same credits tells us that this is The Story of Will Rogers as told by His Wife, starring Will Rogers Jr. as His Father. Nevertheless, within these self-imposed confines, this biopic delivers an entertaining tribute to a much-loved American star of stage, screen and radio.
After the elegiac title sequence has ended, the film quickly sets its time and place with young Will returning home where his father is taking a prominent role in organising Oklahoma’s statehood. Keen to get out from under his father’s shadow, Will sets off to make his fortune, sending postcards home to his sweetheart as he travels the world. After establishing himself as a rope trick performer, Will joins the Ziegfeld Follies where his commentary on current events leads to him meeting people from all walks of life.
In his first starring role, Will Rogers Jr. appears at times physically awkward in front of the camera. Yet his laid-back delivery effectively evokes memories of his father. Ably supporting him through the rough spots are Jane Wyman as his wife, as well as Slim Pickens, Noah Beery Jr. and James Gleason. Eddie Cantor even drops by to lend a flapping hand or two.
Will Rogers Jr. would again appear as his father in the following year’s biopic The Eddie Cantor Story. One of the few films he starred in after that, The Boy from Oklahoma, would serve as a punchline in the James Dean biopic Life.
Will Rogers’ father, Clem, died in 1911 and therefore could not have witnessed his son be nominated as a favourite son during the 1932 Democratic National Convention.
Biopic features no scene recreations. There is one scene of Rogers in his Connecticut Yankee costume, and a silent film directed by Tom Bradley and co-starring Reginald Cavendish, a former Shakespearean actor (both fictional characters).