Though exquisitely of their time, his words resonate today: "I don't care how little your country is, you got a right to run it like you want to. When the big nations quit meddling, then the world will have peace."
[It's] not really a ranch, but we call it that. It sounds big and don't really do no harm.
After hearing in the mid-1920s that the city of Los Angeles planned to build Beverly (later Sunset) Boulevard from Beverly Hills to the coast, Will and Betty bought 160 raw acres in Pacific Palisades for $319,442 ($3.5 million in today's dollars).
The land, between Rivas and Rustic canyons in the Santa Monica Mountains, was beautiful and wild, with views of the Palos Verdes Peninsula, downtown Los Angeles and the ocean.
Rogers hired men with mule teams to clear sagebrush and greasewood. He sketched a master plan, including a polo field and a road with four switchbacks.
In January 1926, the family purchased 84 adjoining acres for about $120,000 ($1.3 million in today's dollars). Following Rogers' instructions, his brother-in-law, Lee Adamson, started work on a corral and stable.
By spring, Rogers was eager to get started on a weekend cabin. The couple toyed with a design in the Spanish Colonial Revival style then in vogue, but Will told Betty he didn't think he could spit in the fireplace in a house that nice.
"Just want a plain and what we used to call a box house," Rogers said in a letter to Adamson. He wanted to be able to "ride our horses and hitch 'em right in front of the house."
To Rogers, the property's chief attraction was the "barn that jokes built," a short walk north of the cabin. Near this stable was a corral where he, his friends and his three children — Will Jr., Mary and Jim — spent hours roping calves.
Down below was the polo field where Spencer Tracy, Clark Gable and other celebrities came to play. Afterward, they would repair to the Beverly Hills Hotel for cocktails, giving rise, as legend has it, to the Polo Lounge.
In 1928, termites were discovered in Rogers' Beverly Hills mansion, and he decided to move the family to the ranch. Thus began the conversion of the simple six-room cabin into a year-round residence.
Rogers hired scores of craftsmen to add flourishes. He called the ranch "my own WPA," referring to the Works Progress Administration, a federal job program. In the end, the house had 31 rooms, including five bathrooms.
Live your life so that whenever you lose, you are ahead.
The ranch, Betty would write later, "was the joy of his life." Rogers would spend hours loping on Soapsuds or Bootlegger, digesting what he had read in the morning's papers, and then return to bang out his newspaper column. The columns were all datelined Santa Monica, because that was the location of the nearest Western Union office.
Like the entertainer himself, the ranch was always evolving, with Rogers supervising when he was home or telegraphing instructions from the road. He monitored the planting of every eucalyptus and oak tree and the building of every fence, bridle path and road.
When Betty was touring the Holy Land, Rogers mentioned in his column that he was "raising the roof." He meant that literally. He had workmen lift the original cabin's ceiling at one end of the living room by 14 feet so he could practice roping indoors.