Edna Ferber

Edna Ferber


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Edna Ferber, the daughter of Jacob Ferber, a Jewish storekeeper, and Julia Neumann Ferber, was born in Kalamazoo, Michigan, on 15th August, 1885. When she was a child the family moved to Appleton, Wisconsin, where she attended the local high school. Ferber briefly attended Lawrence University before becoming a journalist on the Appleton Daily Crescent and the Milwaukee Journal.

Ferber's first novel, Dawn O'Hara: The Girl Who Laughed, was published in 1911. This was followed by Buttered Side Down (1912), Roast Beef Medium The Business Adventures Of Emma McChesney (1913), Personality Plus (1914), Our Mrs. McChesney (1915), Fanny Herself (1917), Cheerful – By Request (1918), Half Portions (1919), The Girls (1921) and Gigolo (1922).

Robert E. Sherwood, Dorothy Parker and Robert Benchley all worked at Vanity Fair during the First World War. They began taking lunch together in the dining room at the Algonquin Hotel. Sherwood was six feet eight inches tall and Benchley was around six feet tall, Parker, who was five feet four inches, once commented that when she, Sherwood and Benchley walked down the street together, they looked like "a walking pipe organ." Ferber became friends with this small group and would sometimes have lunch with them in the hotel.

According to Harriet Hyman Alonso , the author of Robert E. Sherwood The Playwright in Peace and War (2007): "John Peter Toohey, a theater publicist, and Murdock Pemberton, a press agent, decided to throw a mock "welcome home from the war" celebration for the egotistical, sharp-tongued columnist Alexander Woollcott. The idea was really for theater journalists to roast Woollcott in revenge for his continual self-promotion and his refusal to boost the careers of potential rising stars on Broadway. On the designated day, the Algonquin dining room was festooned with banners. On each table was a program which misspelled Woollcott's name and poked fun at the fact that he and fellow writers Franklin Pierce Adams (F.P.A.) and Harold Ross had sat out the war in Paris as staff members of the army's weekly newspaper, the Stars and Stripes, which Bob had read in the trenches. But it is difficult to embarrass someone who thinks well of himself, and Woollcott beamed at all the attention he received. The guests enjoyed themselves so much that John Toohey suggested they meet again, and so the custom was born that a group of regulars would lunch together every day at the Algonquin Hotel."

Murdock Pemberton later recalled that he owner of the hotel, Frank Case, did what he could to encourage this gathering: "From then on we met there nearly every day, sitting in the south-west corner of the room. If more than four or six came, tables could be slid along to take care of the newcomers. we sat in that corner for a good many months... Frank Case, always astute, moved us over to a round table in the middle of the room and supplied free hors d'oeuvre.... The table grew mainly because we then had common interests. We were all of the theatre or allied trades." Case admitted that he moved them to a central spot at a round table in the Rose Room, so others could watch them enjoy each other's company.

The people who attended these lunches included Ferber, Robert E. Sherwood, Dorothy Parker, Robert Benchley, Alexander Woollcott, Heywood Broun, Harold Ross, Donald Ogden Stewart, Ruth Hale, Franklin Pierce Adams, Jane Grant, Neysa McMein, Alice Duer Miller, Charles MacArthur, Marc Connelly, George S. Kaufman, Beatrice Kaufman , Frank Crowninshield, Ben Hecht, John Peter Toohey, Lynn Fontanne, Alfred Lunt and Ina Claire. This group eventually became known as the Algonquin Round Table.

Feber wrote about her membership of the group in her book, A Peculiar Treasure (1939): "The contention was that this gifted group engaged in a log-rolling; that they gave one another good notices, praise-filled reviews and the like. I can't imagine how any belief so erroneous ever was born. Far from boosting one another they actually were merciless if they disapproved. I never have encountered a more hard-bitten crew. But if they liked what you had done they did say so, publicly and wholeheartedly. Their standards were high, their vocabulary fluent, fresh, astringent and very, very tough. Theirs was a tonic influence, one on the other, and all on the world of American letters. The people they could not and would not stand were the bores, hypocrites, sentimentalists, and the socially pretentious. They were ruthless towards charlatans, towards the pompous and the mentally and artistically dishonest. Casual, incisive, they had a terrible integrity about their work and a boundless ambition."

Ferber had her first major success with her novel, So Big, which was awarded the Pulitzer Prize in 1924. Later that year Ferber began writing plays another member of the Algonquin Round Table, the former journalist, George S. Kaufman. The author of George S. Kaufman: An Intimate Portrait (1972) has argued: "In many ways she was very much like Kaufman: middle-western birthplace, same German-Jewish background, same training as a newspaper reporter, same discipline toward work. In other ways she was the direct opposite of Kaufman. She was small in physical stature, and a great believer in exercise. She had great personal courage, an overwhelming desire to travel, to seek new people, new places, new ideas. She did not have Kaufman's wit, but she did have the ability to write rich, deep love scenes."

Their first play together was Minnick . It opened at the Booth Theatre on 24th September, 1924 and ran for 141 performances. Alexander Woollcott said that the play "loosed vials of vitriol out of all proportion to the gentle little play's importance." Feber replied that she found the review "just that degree of malignant poisoning that I always find so stimulating in the works of Mr. Woollcott". This led to a long-running dispute between the two former friends. Woollcott's biographer, Samuel Hopkins Adams, claims that it started as "the inevitable bickerings which are bound to occur between two highly sensitized temperaments."

This was followed by Show Boat (1926). This was turned into a popular musical by Jerome Kern and Oscar Hammerstein II, that featured Paul Robeson. She also continued to write with Kaufman. Their next play, The Royal Family, was based on the lives of Ethel Barrymore, John Barrymore and Lionel Barrymore. It took eight months to write and after being cleared by the Barrymore family lawyers it opened at the Selwyn Theatre on 28th December, 1927. Produced by Jed Harris and directed by David Burton, it was a great success and ran for 345 performances.

They were unable to recapture this success and eventually broke up the writing partnership. Ferber later admitted that she was always afraid of George S. Kaufman and they had a difficult relationship. "When he needled you, it was like a cold knife that he stuck into your ribs. And he did it so fast, so quickly, you didn't even see it go in. You only felt the pain." Kaufman told his friends that he lived in mortal fear of Ferber. He disliked her temper and her love of quarrels.

Feber's next novel, Cimarron (1929), about the Oklahoma Land Rush, was later turned into the Academy Award winning film of the same name. Ferber held left-wing political views and campaigned for Heywood Broun when he stood as a candidate for the Socialist Party of America in 1930. She was also a member of the Progressive Citizens of America (PCA). Its members included Henry A. Wallace, Rexford Tugwell, Paul Robeson, W.E.B. Du Bois, Arthur Miller, Dashiell Hammett, Hellen Keller, Thomas Mann, Aaron Copland, Claude Pepper, Eugene O'Neill, Glen H. Taylor, John Abt, Thornton Wilder, Carl Van Doren, Fredric March and Gene Kelly.

The playwright, Howard Teichmann, claims that Ferber's difficult relationship with Alexander Woollcott became worse after the events that took place on the opening night of The Dark Tower in 1933. "Woollcott, who knew how capricious opening-night audiences could be, decided not to have the usual crowd. Instead, he selected 250 of his personal friends to fill the better part of the orchestra floor at the Morosco Theatre. Two pairs of seats went to his old pal Edna Ferber. Escorted that night by the millionaire diplomat Stanton Griffis, Miss Ferber had as guests the Hollywood motion-picture star Gary Cooper and his wife. At curtain time Miss Ferber and party had not arrived at the theater, and the house lights went down on four choice but empty seats... Aleck waddled into the lobby only to find Ferber and her party standing there while Gary Cooper gave autographs to movie fans."

The actress Margalo Gillmore later recalled that after the play had finished they all met in her dressing room. "Woollcott, Ferber, Stanton Griffis, poor Beatrice Kaufman. Woollcott glared and glared and his eyes through those thick glasses he wore seemed as big as the ends of the old telephone receivers. Ice dripped everywhere." Teichmann added that Woollcott "who felt the greatest gift he could bestow was his own presence, gave his ultimatum" that he would "never go on the Griffis yacht again".

A few weeks later, Ferber, still upset by Woollcott's behaviour that night, referred to Woollcott as "That New Jersey Nero who thinks his pinafore is a toga." When he heard about the comment, Woollcott responded with the comment: "I don't see why anyone should call a dog a bitch when there's Edna Ferber around." Howard Teichmann claims that "they never spoke after that".

Other books by Ferber included American Beauty (1931), They Brought Their Women (1933) and Come and Get It (1935). Nobody's in Town (1938), A Peculiar Treasure (1939), The Land Is Bright (1941), Saratoga Trunk (1941), No Room at the Inn (1941), Great Son (1945), Giant (1952), Ice Palace (1958) and A Kind of Magic (1963).

Ferber never married. She once wrote: "Life can't defeat a writer who is in love with writing, for life itself is a writer's lover until death." On another occasion she remarked: "Being an old maid is like death by drowning, a really delightful sensation after you cease to struggle." It is claimed that she had always been in love with George S. However, they often had disagreements when they were together. In 1960 he wrote to her. "I am an old man and not well. I have had two or three strokes already and I cannot afford another argument with you to finish my life. So I simply wish to end our friendship." After waiting a sensible amount of time, she telephoned him and they agreed to see each other again. He died in 1961.

Edna Ferber died on 16th April, 1968.

Outsiders took a kind of resentful dislike to the group. They called them the Algonquin crowd. I was astonished to find myself included in this designation. The contention was that this gifted group engaged in a log-rolling; that they gave one another good notices, praise-filled reviews and the like. Casual, incisive, they had a terrible integrity about their work and a boundless ambition.

For mingled poison and tragedy the breach between Aleck and Edna Ferber must be reckoned the most serious of his catastrophes in this field. There had been the inevitable bickerings which are bound to occur between two highly sensitized temperaments, but their mutual liking survived at least one severe test when the critic, writing of the production of Minnick, the dramatization of the Ferber novelette, "loosed vials of vitriol out of all proportion to the gentle little play's importance."

The opening nights on Broadway, some plays rise to the occasion, others fall. The Dark Tower, the Woollcott-Kaufman collaboration, belongs to the latter category. Woollcott, who knew how capricious opening-night audiences could be, decided not to have the usual crowd. At curtain time Miss Ferber and party had not arrived at the theater, and the house lights went down on four choice but empty seats.

Woollcott barely had time to become enraged. Shortly after the curtain went up, the leading man, Basil Sydney, was about to make his entrance. The cue had been thrown by the proper actor and Mr. Sydney did indeed attempt to get onto the stage. His means of entrance was a door and that door suddenly stuck.

Mr. Sydney tried valiantly to open it, but the door would not budge. Without Mr. Sydney on the set, the rest of the cast simply stood around, stammered, coughed, and attempted to ad-lib. The audience, sensing something was amiss, grew restless. George Kaufman was seen running into the night.

Not as nimble of foot as Kaufman, Aleck waddled into the lobby only to find Ferber and her party standing there while Gary Cooper gave autographs to movie fans.

"Into your seats! Into your seats!" he hissed. Then, when they looked at him, he roared, "One of my autographs is worth ten of his!"

There are many explanations of the feud between Aleck and Edna Ferber. None has the ring of truth. The truth is, no playwright can ever forgive anyone for arriving late for his opening night. Nothing else mattered, not even the fact that Stanton Griffis gave a dinner party that ran a bit long, that Edna Ferber, given her choice, would never in her life have been late for a play, that Gary Cooper felt professionally bound to sign his name on the small books or pieces of paper thrust before him. Aleck herded and shooed the Ferber party into the theater and sent them toward their seats just as a stagehand managed to free the door for Basil Sydney's entrance. This brought unexpected and unwanted laughter and applause from the audience. Mr. Cooper, thinking the applause was for him, modestly nodded his head from side to side as he sat down.

Woollcott was apoplectic.


FERBER, Edna

Edna Ferber began her writing career as a newspaper reporter in Appleton, Wisconsin, as well as in Milwaukee, and Chicago, but wrote her first novel, Dawn O'Hara (1911), during a prolonged illness. She earned sudden success and great popularity with her stories of Emma McChesney, a traveling saleswoman.

In 1925 Ferber won the Pulitzer Prize for So Big (1924), her best novel, and a few years later saw her novel Show Boat (1926) transformed into a classic American musical. Her love of the theater was further indulged through her successful collaboration with George S. Kaufman, with whom she wrote such popular plays as Royal Family (1928), Dinner at Eight (1932), and Stage Door (with G. S. Kaufman, 1936, film version 1937). Royal Family was successfully revived in 1975. Ferber was seriously disillusioned by World War II her postwar novels were more idea-laden and contrived, although she remained a popular novelist to her death.

In So Big, Selina Peake, the properly raised daughter of a gambler, is forced to make her own way in the world after her father is accidentally killed. She takes a teaching position in High Prairie, a Dutch farming community outside Chicago, and spends the rest of her life there. After the death of her husband, Selina struggles by herself to run their truck farm and to raise her son, Dirk, nicknamed "So Big." Dirk's youth is the counterpoint in every respect of Selina's. Where she cherishes life, he cherishes success where she reveres beauty, he reveres money. By the novel's end, Dirk is an immensely wealthy, successful, miserable young man.

Show Boat deals with three generations of women—Parthenia Ann Hawks, Magnolia Hawks Ravenal, and Kim Ravenal—but the novel centers on Magnolia, her bizarre childhood on her father's showboat, her idyllic love affair with Gaylord Ravenal, her marital difficulties as she learns that her husband is a confirmed gambler, and her determination to provide for her daughter after Gaylord's desertion. As in many Ferber novels, the heroine's daughter is not nearly her mother's equal. Also as in most Ferber novels, there is a subplot concerned with racist attitudes, here about the mulatto showboat actress Julie, whose role was expanded in the musical.

Cimarron (1929) is Ferber's most overtly feminist novel. Sabra Venable Cravat moves with her husband Yancey to the recently opened territory of Oklahoma. Despite his many talents, Yancey is impractical and irresponsible and seems unable to stay in one place longer than five years at a time. In addition to the housework and the raising of her children, Sabra finds herself helping with Yancey's newspaper—the first in Oklahoma—and, on those occasions when Yancey abandons her, running it herself. Yancey is the dreamer Sabra the doer. She becomes Oklahoma's first U.S. congresswoman.

Clio Dulaine Maroon, the protagonist of Saratoga Trunk (1941, film version 1945), is as close as Ferber ever came to creating an antiheroine. Clio, the illegitimate daughter of an established Creole family (the Dulaines) on her father's side and a series of "loose" women (including a free woman of color) on her mother's, returns from France to New Orleans to avenge herself on the Dulaines and to make her fortune by marrying a millionaire. Clio realizes at the last minute that love is more important than money, but luckily Clint Maroon, a Texan adventurer who has been making his fortune among the detested railroad men while Clio tries to marry one of them, can now provide both love and money.

Giant (1952) is much like Cimarron in its treatment of place: Texas. Leslie Lynnton Benedict, genteel Virginian, who must adapt to her amazing husband Bick (a male of mythic proportions), is believable and engaging, particularly as a young bride in rebellion against the Texan gentry's lifestyle. But she matures too quickly, and Ferber switches the conflict from Virginian vs. Texan lifestyles to a conflict between cattle and oil. Giant contains devastating portraits of wealthy Texans and acid social criticism of their treatment of Mexican Americans.

Ferber's writing remained untouched by the innovations of her contemporaries. She was neither responsible for any innovations of her own, nor did her own work appreciably evolve in terms of style, content, or structure. Still, her work deserves serious consideration for her treatment of the land, her feminism, and her egalitarianism.

Even when Ferber writes about the land, her novels are first and foremost about women—strong women, pioneer women, women determined to hold on to the land and to keep their families together. The women always triumph and often survive their men the visionaries see their dreams come true, and the practical ones see the present inexorably improving toward the future. Although Ferber is not in the tradition of the great American literary experimenters, she is a solid member of another tradition, that of the celebrators of America.


EDNA FERBER - TYPED LETTER SIGNED 11/25/1955 - HFSID 273064

EDNA FERBER. TLS: "Edna Ferber.", 1p, 7¼x10½. New York, N.Y., 1955 November 25. On imprinted "730 Park Avenue" letterhead to "Dear Phyllis Krasilovsky".In full: "How good of you to write me about the Machetanz speaking engagement at Columbia next Tuesday evening. Strangely enough, I had been told of it. A friend of mine teaches at Columbia and knows that I have been interested in Alaska doings. It may be that I can come to the lecture, but I am not at all sure. If I do, I hope to see you and your husband. I suppose the Machetanzes will be taken over by a Columbia group after the talk. Otherwise, I might be able to ask you four to come down to my apartment for a drink and a little talk. I am told that the program is a showing of Alaska scenes and people. I hope this isn't entirely true. Sincerely". At the time of this letter, Ferber was in the process of writing Ice Palace, a book centered around the debate on Alaska's statehood. American author EDNA FERBER (1885-1968), who received the 1925 Pulitzer Prize in Fiction for So Big, also wrote Show Boat (1926), Cimarron (1929) and Giant (1952), and she co-authored Dinner at Eight with George S. Kaufman (1932). Artist, author and filmmaker FRED MACHETANZ (1908-2002) first went to Alaska in 1935. He became enchanted with the land, capturing it and its people in oils and returning to the States with material for a children's book. In 1947, he married SARA DUNN, who traveled with her husband, recording the sights and sounds of America's "last Frontier" on film, as well through his paintings and their books. Their works included several children's books and documentary-style films. The Machetanzes usually spent six months annually traveling to gather new material and then lectured for six months in the U.S. In 1954, the year before this letter was written, the Machetanzes had published Where Else But Alaska, an account of their life and travels. The book was illustrated with Fred's lithographs. Sara died in 2001, the year before her husband. The works of noted children's book author PHYLLIS KRASILOVSKY include Benny's Flag, The Christmas Tree That Grew and L.C. is the Greatest. Lightly creased with folds, lower horizontal fold at signature. Two pinhead-sized stains at upper blank margin, light stains at lower right margin, near but not touching signature. Fine condition.

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Edna Ferber Net Worth

Estimated Net Worth: $1-2 Million

Edna Ferber net worth has been growing significantly. Edna Ferber’s most of wealth comes from being a successful Novelist. We have estimated Edna's net worth, money, salary, income, and assets.

Net Worth$1-2 Million
SalaryUnder Review
CarsNot Available
Source of IncomeNovelist
Residence Kielce
Business Not Available
Investments Under Review
Source of IncomeNovelist
Verification StatusNot Verified

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The following, adapted from the Chicago Manual of Style, 15th edition, is the preferred citation for this entry.

Teresa Palomo Acosta, &ldquoFerber, Edna,&rdquo Handbook of Texas Online, accessed June 29, 2021, https://www.tshaonline.org/handbook/entries/ferber-edna.

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Analysis of Edna Ferber’s Novels

Ferber was a feminist, a conservationist, a crusader for minorities and immigrants, and a staunch believer in the work ethic and American culture. Strong women characters rising above the limitations of birth and gender dominate her novels most men in her works are weak, and many desert their women and children. She describes and condemns mistreatment of African Americans, Jews, Latinos, and Native Americans. Results of unrestrained capitalism and wasteful exploitation of natural resources are decried. Her novels celebrate regional culture and history in an effective and pleasing style that clearly reflects her journalistic background. Characterization, however, is less effective and plots tend toward melodrama and coincidence.

All of Ferber’s novels were commercial successes, and many remained in print for decades after publication. Her first novels, Dawn O’Hara: The Girl Who Laughed and Fanny Herself, are strongly autobiographical. They remain interesting because they show Ferber’s literary growth. Background material in Great Son is sketchy, characters are stereotypic, and the plot is contrived. At the time of its writing, Ferber was preoccupied writing World War II propaganda. Her final novel, Ice Palace, is a political tract of little literary merit Ferber was ill at the time of its writing.

The Girls
Ferber expected this book to be a best-seller and considered it her best novel. The story recounts six decades of Chicago middle-class history and intergenerational conflict. Charlotte Thrift, forbidden to marry an unsuitable boy, loses him to death in the Civil War. She never marries. Her unmarried niece, Lottie, under her mother’s domination, keeps house for her mother and aunt. Lottie finally rebels, joins the Red Cross during World War I, has a brief affair, and returns with her illegitimate daugher, whom she passes off as a French orphan. Charly (Charlotte), Lottie’s niece, falls in love with a poet, who is killed in World War I, and moves in with her aunt and great-aunt. All three are strong personalities, while their men are either incompetent boors or scoundrels.

So Big
Ferber’s first best-seller effectively contrasts humble life in the Halstead Street Market with that of pretentious Chicago society. A genteelly reared orphan, Selina Peake, goes to teach school in a community of Dutch market gardeners, where she must adjust to a brutal existence. Her only intellectual companion is thirteenyear- old Roelf, the artistically talented son of the family with whom she lives. After a year, she marries kindly Pervus DeJong, an unimaginative, unenterprising widower. They have a son, Dirk, nicknamed So Big. After Pervus’s death, Selina makes their farm a thriving success. She sacrifices all for So Big, who, after a few years as a struggling architect, shifts to a banking career and high society. In contrast, Selina’s first protégé, Roelf, becomes a famous sculptor. At the end So Big finally realizes that his life is empty. Although the novel was critically acclaimed, characterization barely develops beyond stereotypes, and many anecdotes are clichés.

Show Boat
Show Boat describes life aboard late nineteenth and early twentieth century Mississippi River showboats and their cultural significance. Magnolia Hawkes, daughter of Captain Andy and Parthenia Hawkes of the showboat Cotton Blossom, marries Gaylord Ravenal, a charming professional gambler. After Captain Andy’s death, Magnolia, Gaylord, and their daughter Kim move to Chicago, where they squander Magnolia’s inheritance. Magnolia, deserted by her wastrel husband, becomes a successful singer and raises Kim to become a successful serious actor. Parthenia inherits and successfully operates the showboat. Parthenia, Magnolia, and Kim are all protofeminist career women. Captain Andy, though competent and wise, defers to Parthenia in almost everything. African Americans are presented as patient, upright, and hardworking people. A tragic incident of miscegenation and the injustice of southern law balance the romanticized account of the showboat life, which is charming.

Cimarron
Cimarron is set in Oklahoma between the 1889 land rush and the 1920’s oil boom. Sabra Cravat begins life as a genteel, impoverished southern girl but ends up an assured newspaperwoman and congresswoman. Her husband, Yancey Cravat, a flamboyant lawyer-newspaperman of dubious background, starts grandiose projects, performs heroic acts, and upholds high ideals, but he accomplishes little. Desertion of his family clears the way for Sabra’s rise. These characters exemplify the tension between those who “won” Oklahoma and those who “civilized” it. Also, interaction between Native and Euro-Americans is perceptively treated.

American Beauty
Ferber rhapsodically describes the Connecticut landscape in this novel, in which abuse of land and resources is chronicled. Polish immigrant culture is sympathetically presented, and the indigenous New Englanders are depicted as played-out aristocrats. Judy Oakes and her niece, Tamar Pring, are strong, stubborn women devoted to their aristocratic background and ancestral home. Their hired man, Ondy Olszak, a kindhearted, hard-working, unimaginative Polish immigrant, maintains the farm at just above subsistence level. Tamar seduces and marries Ondy, and their son Orrange combines Ondy’s peasant vigor and Tamar’s cultural sensibilities. Although Orrange inherits the farm, Ondy’s family forces him to sell. Millionaire True Baldwin, who, as an impoverished farm lad, had aspired to marry Judy Oakes, buys it. Baldwin’s architect daughter, Candace (Candy) Baldwin, sexually attracted to Orrange, then hires him to manage the farm.

Come and Get It
Ferber draws heavily on her own background in this story of resource exploitation, unrestrained capitalism, and social contrast. After lumberjack Barney Glasgow fights his way up to a managerial position at the mill, he marries his boss’s spinsterish daughter. Timbering and papermaking thrive under his direction, until he is fatally attracted to Lotta Lindaback, granddaughter of his longtime lumberjack pal, Swan Bostrom. Barney’s daughter, frustrated by unacknowledged desire for her father, marries a dull young businessman. Bernard, Barney’s son, pursues Lotta when Barney restrains his own passion for her. Barney then fights with Bernard and expels him from the house. Immediately afterward, Barney and his family are killed in an explosion. Bernard marries Lotta and builds an industrial empire in steel and paper. Lotta, meanwhile, enters international high society. The Great Depression forces Lotta’s return toWisconsin, where her twins come under the influence of Tom Melendy, an idealistic young man of a mill-hand family. Rejecting their parent’s materialism, they return to the simple Bostrom ways.

Saratoga Trunk
In this story, Ferber decries the evils of unrestrained capitalism and the decadent snobbery of New Orleans high society. She also promotes women’s causes and natural resource conservation. Illegitimate Clio Dulain and Texas cowboy-gambler Clint Maroon join forces to extort money from Clio’s aristocratic father. Then they move to Saratoga, New York, where Clio sets out to snare a rich husband. Although she entraps railroad millionaire Van Steed, she drops him for Clint when Clint is injured fighting for Van Steed’s railroad, the Saratoga Trunk. Thereafter Clio and Clint become railroad millionaires but idealistically give their wealth to charity. Clio subtlely manipulates Clint in all important matters.

Giant
Ferber’s flamboyant version of Texas history and culture exemplified the Texas mythology and earned violent protests from Texans. Ferber’s typical strong female central character, Leslie Lynnton, daughter of a world-famous doctor living in genteel shabbiness, is swept off her feet by a visiting Texas rancher. Transported to his gigantic ranch, she finds her husband ruled by his spinster sister, Luz. Luz dies violently, and, with great skill and wisdom, Leslie guides her man through repeated crises as the great cattle and cotton “empires” are hemmed in by vulgar oil billionaires. The original Texans, Mexican Americans, are shown as deeply wronged, patient, dignified, and noble. However, the book’s end leaves ongoing problems unsolved.

Major works
Long fictionDawn O’Hara: The Girl Who Laughed, 1911 Fanny Herself, 1917 The Girls, 1921 So Big, 1924 Show Boat, 1926 Cimarron, 1930 American Beauty, 1931 Come and Get It, 1935 Saratoga Trunk, 1941 Great Son, 1945 Giant, 1952 Ice Palace, 1958.
Short fiction: Buttered Side Down, 1912 Roast Beef Medium, 1913 Personality Plus, 1914 Emma McChesney and Co., 1915 Cheerful—By Request, 1918 Half Portions, 1919 Mother Knows Best, 1927 They Brought Their Women, 1933 Nobody’s in Town, 1938 (includes Nobody’s in Town and Trees Die at the Top) One Basket, 1947.
Plays: Our Mrs. McChesney, pr., pb. 1915 (with George V. Hobart) $1200 a Year, pr., pb. 1920 (with Newman A. Levy) Minick, pr., pb. 1924 (with George S. Kaufman) The Royal Family, pr. 1927, pb. 1928 (with Kaufman) Dinner at Eight, pr., pb. 1932 (with Kaufman) Stage Door, pr., pb. 1936 (with Kaufman) The Land Is Bright, pr., pb. 1941 (with Kaufman) Bravo!, pr. 1948, pb. 1949 (with Kaufman).
Nonfiction: A Peculiar Treasure, 1939 (revised 1960 with new introduction) A Kind of Magic, 1963.

Source: Notable American Novelists Revised Edition Volume 1 James Agee — Ernest J. Gaines Edited by Carl Rollyson Salem Press, Inc 2008.


Writer Edna Ferber Got Her Start As Appleton Journalist

Best known now for the movies made from her books, Edna Ferber was one of the best-selling and most prolific writers of her era.

Ferber wasn’t born in Wisconsin but she graduated high school in Appleton and got her first writing job, as a newspaper journalist, in Appleton and then Milwaukee.

Writing wasn’t Ferber’s initial goal. She wanted to be an actor and got the newspaper job to raise money to fund her training. But she soon began writing stories and gained tremendous popularity for a series of stories featuring a traveling saleswoman named Emma McChesney.

Despite their popularity, though, Ferber began to feel that these stories weren’t allowing her to grow as a writer so she turned to writing novels. She achieved her first great success with the novel “So Big,” which tells the story of a widowed mother’s struggle to forge a better a life for herself and her son. It doesn’t sound that innovative until you consider that she wrote frankly and openly about sexism and poverty in 1924. The novel won her a Pulitzer Prize.

The next year, Ferber wrote her best-known novel, “Show Boat,” which was later adapted in a musical. Many of her works made it to the movie screen as well, including “Show Boat” and her later novels “Giant,” “Cimarron,” and “Ice Palace.” Her works made her the most read American woman in the 1920s.

Ferber was disciplined and prolific, claiming that once a book had been started, nothing but death could separate her from it: “Clothes are unimportant. Teeth go unfilled. Your idea of bliss is to wake up on a Monday morning knowing that you haven’t a single engagement for the entire week. You are cradled in a white paper cocoon tied up with typewriter ribbon.”


Texas Originals

In the 1920s and '30s, Edna Ferber was one of the most widely read writers in America. She won the Pulitzer Prize for her 1924 novel So Big. Another of her novels, Show Boat, became a popular musical and a hit film. But perhaps no other work of Ferber's is remembered as well—at least in Texas—as Giant.

Published in 1952, Giant tells the story of a young Virginia woman named Leslie Lynnton who marries a wealthy Texas cattle rancher. Readers see Texas through Leslie's critical eyes.

Texans' excessive spending and the state’s "mania for bigness" are not overlooked by Leslie. She also points out the ranch's success depends on Mexican laborers, who are poorly paid and badly treated.

The Dallas News called Giant "a slander on Texas," and the Texas Observer pronounced it a "richly-conceived and rottenly written book."

But Giant became a success—as did the 1956 movie filmed in Marfa starring Rock Hudson, Elizabeth Taylor, and James Dean, whose character was based on the flamboyant Houston oil tycoon Glenn McCarthy.

The film was especially popular in Texas. Giant set attendance records at Dallas's Majestic Theater. One reviewer wrote, "Giant was the biggest witch’s broth . . . to hit . . . Texas since the revered Spindle blew its top."

Once hailed as one of America's greatest writers, Ferber's critical status has since faded. But her Texas epic remains a landmark in the state's cultural history.

For More about Edna Ferber

The principal collection of Edna Ferber's papers is held by the Wisconsin Historical Society.

Edna Ferber wrote two autobiographies. A Peculiar Treasure (1939) describes her childhood and pre-World War II literary career. A Kind of Magic (1963) chronicles the increasing acclaim and celebrity she received from the 1940s though the 1960s.

Marfa's Hotel Paisano was the location headquarters for the cast and crew of the film Giant. The hotel, which closed in the 1970s, was renovated and reopened in 2001. The hotel features a small gallery of memorabilia related to the film.

Selected Bibliography

B[rammer], B[ill]. "On Rereading 'Giant.' 'Enormous,' But 'Incredible.'" Texas Observer, July 4, 1955.

Collins, Al. "Angry Texans are Buying Ferber's 'Giant.'" Houston Chronicle, September 28, 1952.

"Edna Ferber Book Scored by Writer." Dallas News, March 6, 1953.

"Edna Ferber, Novelist, 82, Dies." The New York Times, April 17, 1968.

Ferber, Edna. Giant. Garden City, New York: Doubleday & Company, Inc., 1952.

Gilbert, Julie Goldsmith. Ferber: A Biography. Garden City, New York: Doubleday & Company, Inc., 1978.

Graham, Don. Cowboys and Cadillacs. Austin: Texas Monthly Press, 1983.

Palomo Acosta, Teresa. "Ferber, Edna." Handbook of Texas Online.

Rosenfield, John. "The Passing Show: Tallest Texas Tale Now Before Cameras." Dallas News, May 20, 1955.

Sadler, Geoff, ed. Twentieth-Century Western Writers. Detroit: Gale Research, 1982 2d ed., Chicago: St. James Press, 1991.

Smyth, J. E. Edna Ferber's Hollywood: American Fictions of Gender, Race, and History. Austin: University of Texas Press, 2009.

Stevens, John. "Edna Ferber’s Journalistic Roots." American Journalism 12, no. 4 (Fall 1995): 497–501.

Shaughnessy, Mary Rose. Women and Success in American Society in the Works of Edna Ferber. New York: Gordon Press, 1977.

Tinkle, Lon. "Reading and Writing. Ferber Goes Both Native and Berserk: Parody, Not Portrait, of Texas Life." Dallas News, September 28, 1952.


Floating theater entertained crowds along Dismal Swamp Canal

For nearly 30 years, from 1914 to 1941, the James Adams Floating Theatre traveled the Dismal Swamp Canal twice annually through Norfolk County — now Chesapeake — to bring big entertainment to small towns throughout the mid-Atlantic region.

The Dismal Swamp Canal, a 22-mile-long, 6-foot-deep ditch, provided a vital link among towns of the Albemarle region, the Pasquotank River and Albemarle Sound in North Carolina, Tidewater Virginia and Maryland towns in the upper reaches of the Chesapeake Bay.

“Deep Creek was a perennial stopping place for the Adams Floating Theatre during the first four decades of the 20th century,” said Robert Hitchings, archivist-historian at the Wallace Room at the Central Library in Chesapeake. “Enthusiasm swept through the rural community as tugboats pushed the floating theater into its berth along the wooden wharf just south of the canal locks.”

The theater’s creator, James Adams, was a circus performer from Michigan. After retiring from the carnival business, he decided to create a showboat — an entertainment venue — that he could take to waterside communities.

In 1913, Adams drew up the plans for his traveling entertainment platform. It was constructed in Washington, North Carolina, for $8,941.42. It was 128 feet in length and 34 feet wide.

The 436-ton, two-story barge drew only 14 inches of water, a shallow draft that made it suitable for easily reaching small towns such as Smithfield, Gloucester and Mathews on tributaries of the Chesapeake Bay.

“Often, area ministers railed against the showboat claiming that it was sinful, but most residents went to see the show anyway,” said Jennifer England, director of the Isle of Wight County Museum in Smithfield. “Each night of the week featured a different show.”

The James Adams Floating Theatre visited the town of Smithfield 12 times over its decadeslong career.

“An advance man arrived at each stop and plastered the streets with posters and newspaper advertisements,” England said. “When the boat later floated into town, trumpets, concerts and costume parades drummed up further business.”

Adams hired Charles Hunter as his stage manager. Hunter recruited professional actors and actresses from the Midwest and West through industry trade papers, eschewing seasoned Broadway veterans.

Adams hired two tugs — Elk and Trouper — to shepherd his converted lumber barge to various mid-Atlantic ports of call.

In late February 1914, his floating entertainment venue debuted on the Pasquotank River in Elizabeth City, North Carolina. His inaugural week in Elizabeth City initiated what became a 40-week maiden cruise to Hertford, Edenton, Plymouth, South Mills and Deep Creek in Virginia.

This opening voyage eventually brought welcome entertainment to 15 Virginia and 21 Maryland waterside communities.

“It stopped in two places on the Dismal Swamp Canal. Deep Creek was one and South Mills was the other,” said Gerald Hartis, a docent at the Great Bridge Battlefield and Waterways Museum. “They’d stay for five days or until they didn’t sell any tickets, and then they’d move on. The Dismal Swamp Canal connects the Pasquotank River to the Southern Branch of the Elizabeth River.”

Actors also served as ushers and ticket-takers. The main auditorium had a seating capacity of 500, and a balcony seated another 350. The plays had happy endings, and the villains ultimately always got what they deserved. Vaudeville entertainers performed for the audience during set changes.

Hunter characterized the plays as “old fashioned hokum.” They were “all about mother love, faithful and unfaithful sweethearts, the lamp in the window, an occasional villain, all in a play full of smiles and tears, but mostly hilarity and fun,” he said.

Drama — as far as the floating theater was concerned — was not limited to just the stage. In 1920, the theater sank in a storm that came up suddenly while it was crossing the Chesapeake Bay.

Seven years later, it took on water again after hitting a water-logged obstruction near Norfolk.

In November 1929, the floating venue struck an underwater stump in Turner’s Cut at South Mills, North Carolina.

On Nov. 6, 1938, the theater barge hit a snag in the Roanoke River. It was raised and mended quickly in Elizabeth City.

The last hurrah of the James Adams Floating Theatre took place in Thunderbolt, Georgia, in January 1941. The showboat and its two tugs were sold to E. A. Brassell. While it was being towed to Savannah for refitting as a cargo barge, the vessel was lost in a fire.

The floating theater was not the first or even the only showboat of its era. Adams' entertainment venue helped encourage interest in artistic and economic development in rural communities throughout the mid-Atlantic.


Watch the video: Edna Ferber author of Show Boat is born August 15 1887