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Ferber, Edna/Kaufman, George S.


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Edna Ferber was born in Kalamazoo, MI, Aug. 15, 1885, the daughter of a Hungarian-born Jewish storekeeper, Jacob Ferber, and his Milwaukee-born wife, Julia Neumann Ferber. In some sources, perhaps because of vanity, she claimed to have been born in 1887, but census documents show otherwise. She spent her early years in Chicago and Ottumwa, IA. At age twelve, she moved to Appleton, WI, where her father ran a general store called My Store. She expressed her writing talents early as “personal and local” editor of her high school newspaper, the “Ryan Clarion.” When she graduated from Ryan High, her senior essay so impressed the editor of the “Appleton Daily Crescent” that he offered her a job as a reporter at age seventeen, for the salary of three dollars per week. Limited by family finances from pursuing her real dream—studying at Northwestern University’s School of Elocution for a career on stage—she took the job. After being fired by the “Crescent,” she went on to write for the “Milwaukee Journal,” where she worked so hard that one day she collapsed in exhaustion. While home in Appleton recuperating from anemia, she wrote her first short story and her first novel. In 1910, “Everybody’s Magazine” published the short story “The Homely Heroine,” set in Appleton. Her novel “Dawn O’Hara,” the story of a newspaperwoman in Milwaukee, followed in 1911. She gained national attention for her series of Emma McChesney stories, tales of a traveling underskirt saleswoman that were published in national magazines. She wrote thirty Emma stories before finally refusing to do any more. Her first play, OUR MRS. McCHESNEY, was produced in 1915, starring Ethel Barrymore. Ferber was a prolific and popular novelist. She won the Pulitzer Prize in 1924 for “So Big,” the story of a woman raising a child on a truck farm outside of Chicago. Others of her best known books include “Showboat” (1926), “Cimarron” (1929), “Giant” (1952), and “Ice Palace” (1958). Ferber wrote two autobiographies—“A Peculiar Treasure,” published in 1939, and “A Kind of Magic” in 1963. She died of cancer at age eighty-two on April 16, 1968, at her Park Avenue home. In a lengthy obituary, the “New York Times” said, “Her books were not profound, but they were vivid and had a sound sociological basis. She was among the best-read novelists in the nation, and critics of the 1920s and ’30s did not hesitate to call her the greatest American woman novelist of her day.” / Playwright, director; born in Pittsburgh, PA. After brief periods studying law and as a salesman, he began to contribute humorous material to newspapers; by 1915 he was writing for the theater section of the “New York Tribune,” moving to the “New York Times” (1917-30). His first successful play, DULEY (1921), was in collaboration with Marc Connelly, and during the next thirty-five years he enjoyed the almost unparalleled success, writing a string of sophisticated satires of contemporary life for the stage and movies in collaboration with others – Marc Connelly, Edna Ferber, Ring Lardner, Moss Hart, Alexander Woolcott, Robert Sherwood; his only success by himself was THE BUTTER AND EGG MAN (1925). After 1928 he staged most of his own plays, and although Hollywood constantly beckoned, he was never really comfortable there. With Morris Ryskind he wrote one of the most successful Marx Brothers scripts, “A Night at the Opera” (1935). He shared two Pulitzers – with Ryskind, for the book to the musical OF THEE I SING (1931), and with Moss Hart for the play YOU CAN’T TAKE IT WITH YOU (1936).