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H. ALLEN SMITH PAPERS
Harry Allen Smith was born December 19, 1907, in McLeansboro, Illinois, where he spent the first six years of his life. In 1913 the family moved to Decatur, and Smith entered grammar school. From Decatur they moved to Defiance, Ohio, before settling in Huntington, Indiana. After lasting only a few days at high school, Smith dropped out and began to make his own way in the world, shining shoes and such until he commenced his career as newspaper reporter with the Huntington Herald-Press in 1922. By way of Jeffersonville, Indiana, and Louisville, Kentucky, Smith in 1925 found himself editor of the Sebring, Florida, American. There he met Nelle Mae Simpson, the society editor, whom he married in 1927 when he took a position on the Tulsa, Oklahoma, Tribune. From Tulsa they proceeded to Denver, where Smith worked on the Denver Post until 1929.
Lured by the excitement and glamour of newspaper reporting in the big city, Smith took a chance in 1929 and began work with the United Press as a rewrite man. He was soon doing feature stories, however, and became well known for his unconventional interviews with celebrities and assorted oddballs. He stayed five years with United Press and then worked five years with the New York World-Telegram, doing much the same thing. During these years, Smith tried to make up for his lack of formal education by embarking on a disciplined program of reading.
Smith’s first publication was a commissioned biography of industrialist Robert Gair in 1939. Soon after that he wrote a spoof of Hitler entitled Mr. Klein’s Kampf. The book’s fame was cut short, however, with Hitler’s invasion of Poland, rendering the subject unfunny. His next attempt was Low Man on a Totem Pole, culled from his experience and interviews as a columnist and newspaperman. This book, published in 1941, became a best seller and established Smith’s fame as a humorist. It also paid well, inducing him to become a free-lance writer. He signed a contract with United Features Syndicate to do a daily column but found it much too taxing as he was also working on another book, numerous magazine articles, radio and personal appearances. After six months he pulled out of the United Features contract.
In 1943 Life in a Putty Knife Factory became another great success. It was at this stage in his life that Smith answered a call from Buddy DeSylva to work for Paramount Studios. He was not happy with the job, but he gleaned enough material from his eight months in Hollywood to write Lost in the Horse Latitudes, another very successful book.
Throughout the 50s and 60s, Smith published about a book a year, plus hundreds of articles for such magazines as Reader’s Digest, Saturday Evening Post, Playboy, and Esquire. He wrote numerous articles and books based on his travels to London, Mexico, Hawaii, Tahiti, and throughout the U.S. In 1946 Smith published his first novel, Rhubarb, which subsequently became a movie and inspired him to eventually write two sequel novels. The third Rhubarb novel, The View from Chivo, was published in 1971. Around this time, Smith began collecting material for a biography of Gene Fowler, a man he had loved and respected all his life. This book, The Life and Legend of Gene Fowler, was published posthumously in spring of 1977. Smith died in February of 1976 while in San Francisco gathering material for articles and books.
For more detailed biographical material and a discussion of Smith’s writings, consult the chapters of Elton Miles’ H. Allen Smith: Reporter of the Human Farce in box 53 of this collection.
Scope and Content Note
This collection of papers of H. Allen Smith consists largely of correspondence, manuscripts, reference notes, and clippings, ranging in dates from 1930-1976.
The correspondence, organized in chronological order, includes the earliest material beginning in 1930 when Smith corresponded with Fred Allen and humorists and newspaper people of the day. Other correspondents throughout the years who are included in the papers are Gene Fowler, Fred Beck, Rufus Blair, M. L. Mencken, Joan Crawford, Alma Reed, Gene Austin, and Smith’s agent Harold Matson.
The book manuscripts begin with People Named Smith, published in 1950, so the collection is lacking early manuscripts of books such as Low Man on a Totem Pole and Life in a Putty Knife Factory. There are manuscripts for nearly all his books from 1950 through 1975, with the printer’s copy being most frequently representative. Some manuscripts do include rough drafts, final drafts, galley proofs, and page proofs. Notably lacking is the manuscript of Smith’s last and probably his favorite book, The Life and Legend of Gene Fowler. There are, however, copious reference notes and clippings for the book included in these papers. Included with book manuscripts are three chapters plus bibliographic material from Elton Miles’ biography, H. Allen Smith: Reporter of the Human Farce. Missing are chapters three through six and eight through thirteen. Other manuscripts include most of Smith’s magazine articles, his early United Features Syndicate articles, numerous early radio scripts, and some TV scripts. Of particular interest in this section is a record book of magazine article sales from 1939-1975 and an index to phrases in H. Allen Smith books.
The reference notes consist of handwritten and typed notes, many of which were recorded during Smith’s travels. These notes are organized by book in chronological order, except those which do not refer specifically to books, which are organized alphabetically by person and by subject.
The clippings files include newspaper and magazine articles about Smith, as well as clippings of most of his magazine articles and book reviews of his books. There is also a large section of clippings in alphabetical order concerning people, subjects, and places, which were used as reference by Smith.
There are two scrapbooks of early newspaper articles by Smith which have been packaged and a number of early tapes of interviews for radio programs. A television tape of One Coat of White, which was taped for the Playhouse 90 series, is packaged at the end of the collection, along with microfilms of early interoffice "memo" correspondence with Ed Bellerson and Bo McAnney of the New York World-Telegram. One records center box of photographs has been removed from the papers to the photograph collection.
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