America didn't get a chance to give Will Rogers a proper goodbye, which may be why it's never stopped thinking about him.
Tommy Tune's hit Broadway production, "The Will Rogers Follies," which is more follies than Will Rogers, has put the cowboy humorist's homespun truth-telling before a generation that probably never even heard of him before the Keith Carradine show opened. A few months ago, CBS-Fox Home Video released the first four Rogers' films to hit video. And a new, reputedly major biography will be published next spring by Alfred A. Knopf.
What Will Rogers did was inhabit the myth of the common man so comfortably it might have been formulated just for him.
The Will Rogers character hailed from a rural environment and had little education, but was wise in the ways of the world and always could outwit any game city slickers tried to run on him. At the same time, he was non-judgmental, with a gentle, bucolic, self-deprecating humor. Think of him as Mark Twain minus the asperity and bitterness, but with the same egalitarian eye for man's stupidity.
Keith Carradine has received a good many rave reviews for his portrayal in "The Will Rogers Follies," but none is as meaningful as the one from James Rogers, Will Rogers' youngest son.
"Of all of the people I have seen do Will Rogers," says James, now a retired rancher in Bakersfield, Calif., "Keith Carradine caught the spirit of Dad better than most anyone else. It was way beyond my expectations."