February 1, 2018
Will Rogers Memorial Museums to Celebrate 100th Anniversary of Will Rogers’s Movie Career in 2018
CLAREMORE, Okla. — Will Rogers gave up a lucrative New York stage career and uprooted his family to move to California. And for what?
One hundred years ago Will signed a contract with Samuel Goldwyn to become one of the most successful and highest paid movie stars in early film history. After moving from Long Island to what he called the “Celluloid Coast,” he starred in 71 movies—50 silents and 21 “talkies”—before his untimely death in 1935.
The Will Rogers Memorial Museums will highlight Will’s movie career during the 100th anniversary of the beginning of his celebrated motion picture career. “The theme of the 2018 Will Rogers Birthday Bash in November, the 139th anniversary of his birth on an Indian Territory Ranch, will be ‘Will Rogers the Movie Star,’” said Tad Jones, executive director of the Will Rogers Memorial Museums.
In the small theater at the Memorial Museum, 16 of Will’s movies play continuously, a different one each day. Occasionally one of Will’s movies plays on PBS, AMC or TNT television channels. Some of his movies are available in the Museum Store.
Will Rogers began his stage career in 1902 when performed with Texas Jack’s Wild West Show in South Africa and continued when he returned to the United States. He had a home in Long Island and a long career with the Ziegfeld Follies in New York. It was after the making of his first movie, “Laughing Bill Hyde,” filmed in New Jersey in 1918, that he took the plunge into a new career and headed west with the promise of a big salary.
“Laughing Bill Hyde” opened to rave reviews at the Rivoli Theatre in New York City. He signed with Goldwyn to star in six-reel comedies during 1920–21, with the first made while he was still working on the summer follies.
The rest is history. He made his first sound film, “They Had to See Paris,” in 1929 and filmed “Steamboat Round the Bend” in 1935, released after his death on August 15, 1935, in an Alaska plane crash. He was the top male motion picture box office star in 1933, 1934 and 1935 as selected by Motion Picture Herald.
The Will Rogers Memorial Museums are a division of the Oklahoma Historical Society. The mission of the Oklahoma Historical Society is to collect, preserve and share the history and culture of the state of Oklahoma and its people. Founded in 1893 by members of the Territorial Press Association, the OHS maintains museums, historic sites and affiliates across the state. Through its research archives, exhibits, educational programs and publications the OHS chronicles the rich history of Oklahoma. For more information about the OHS, please visit www.okhistory.org.