Monday, May 28, 2018

Will Rogers and “Bacon and Beans and Limousines”

Donald Bishop, Public Diplomacy Council


Public Diplomacy [JB emphasis] officers are often called on to speak at openings and conferences, and every American diplomat drafts remarks for Ambassadors and other administration principals.  These skills are always improved by reading and listening to speeches from the past.
Nearly eight decades after his death, memories of the American cowboy, movie star, and humorist Will Rogers (1875-1939) have faded.  The genial Oklahoman was, however, a major figure in American culture in the early 1930s, and we must count him among our nation’s great communicators — in his unique way.
Ranching, roping, Texas Jack’s Wild West Circus, vaudeville, the Ziegfeld Follies, and Hollywood – during the Depression, the career of Will Rogers personified the American dream for many.  He gained fame as a film star (50 silent movies and 21 with sound), newspaper columnist, and aviation advocate.  As a goodwill ambassador, he traveled to Europe, Latin America, and Asia.  His death in an air crash with Wiley Post in Alaska in 1935 occasioned a great outpouring of national grief.
Rogers’ folksy humor was remarkably clean and gentle, and he was a widely sought speaker.  Many of his talks were pressed on discs.
Rogers was well known as a liberal (“I don’t belong to any organized political party – I’m a Democrat.”), but in 1931, the chairman of General Electric, Owen D. Young, asked Rogers to help promote a Hoover administration relief initiative.  According to the American Presidency Project, “The address inaugurated a 6-week campaign to raise local relief funds. Cooperating in the drive were some 1,000 local committees or community chests plus the advertising media, the film industry, and an array of public speakers.”
Rogers was paired in a national broadcast with the President.  His remarks on October 18, 1931, became known as his “Bacon and Beans and Limousines” speech, even though the three words appear nowhere in the text.  The Oklahoman was filmed at the microphone, and his delivery can be viewed at:

The Nicaraguan government also memorialized Rogers with a stamp.
The Rogers speech for the relief initiative has a different tone than the graver style of Foreign Service speeches, and PAOs do not chew gum while they speak, but still there are useful things to notice.
The speech flows so well that one doesn’t notice at first that it has a neat sequential structure.  Some turns of phrase still echo in our current political rhetoric.  And comparing the words of Rogers and Hoover in the same national broadcast –for the President’s remarks, see — it’s clear that the Oklahoman was setting up some of the President’s themes.
The text of the speech follows.  ...

This essay, which first appeared as a Public Diplomacy Council Commentary on October 18, 2014, is now republished.

Donald M. Bishop
Donald M. Bishop is the Bren Chair of Strategic Communications at Marine Corps University in Quantico, Virginia.
Mr. Bishop served as a Foreign Service Officer – first in the U.S. Information Agency and then in the Department of State – for 31 years. ...

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