Friday, January 8, 2016

BIRTH: Christopher Morley 125 This Year

Christopher Morley (1890-1957)
Christopher Morley if still alive would be celebrating his 125th birthday this year on May 25. He was a columnist, novelist, essayist, editor, critic.

He was also a founding member of New York City's venerable private meeting place for writers, The Coffee House, still conveniently located across the street from the Harvard Club. A sampling of his famous quotes is here.

Born in Bryn Mawr, Pa. on May 5, 1890, and raised there and in Baltimore, Md. until he went to college, he returned from a Rhodes Scholarship at Oxford in 1913 to a literary life in the United States that began as an editor at Doubleday, Page & Co.

He was a compulsive member of many off-beat clubs that he helped create, like The Three Hours for Lunch Club and the Baker Street Irregulars, a Sherlock Holmes literary club which like The Coffee House continues today.

His father, Frank Morley, was a mathematics professor at Haverford College. His mother, Lilian Janet Bird, was a violinist and poetry lover.

In 1906 Christopher entered Haverford College, where he began writing for and editing The Haverfordian. He provided scripts for and acted in the college's drama program. He played on the cricket and soccer teams and graduated in 1910 as valedictorian.

He then went to New College, Oxford, for three years on a Rhodes scholarship, studying "modern" history (the modern era at Oxford in the 1960s meant up to the creation of the United States and the Revolution in France; possibly in 1910 it ended even earlier).  In Oxford a volume of his poems, The Eighth Sin (1912), was published.

In 1913 Morley moved to New York City, beginning his literary career at Doubleday as publicist and publisher's reader. He got his start as an editor for Ladies' Home Journal (1917-18), then as a newspaper reporter and newspaper columnist in Philadelphia for the Philadelphia Evening Public Ledger. Morley's first novel, Parnassus on Wheels, appeared in 1917. The protagonist, traveling bookseller Roger Mifflin, appeared again in his second novel, The Haunted Bookshop in 1919.

On June 14, 1914, he married Helen Booth Fairchild, with whom he would have four children. They first lived in Hempstead, and then in Queens Village. They then moved to Philadelphia, Pa.

In 1920 they moved back to New York, to a house they called "Green Escape", in Roslyn Estates, N.Y. He then began writing "The Bowling Green" column for the New York Evening Post.

He was one of the founders and a longtime contributing editor of the Saturday Review of Literature. He wrote the introduction to the standard omnibus editions of The Complete Sherlock Holmes and The Complete Works of Shakespeare in 1936. That year, he was appointed to revise and enlarge Bartlett's Familiar Quotations (11th ed., 1937; 12th ed., 1948). He was one of the first judges for the Book of the Month Club, until the early 1950s. Morley is probably best known for his 1939 novel Kitty Foyle, which became an Academy Award-winning movie. Another well-known work is Thunder on the Left (1925).  In 1928-1930, Morley co-produced theater productions in Hoboken, N.J., which he had "deemed the last seacoast in Bohemia".

In 1951 Morley suffered a series of strokes, which greatly reduced his literary output. He died on March 28, 1957, and was buried in the Roslyn Cemetery in Nassau County, N.Y. After his death, two New York newspapers published his last message to his friends:
Read, every day, something no one else is reading. Think, every day, something no one else is thinking. Do, every day, something no one else would be silly enough to do. It is bad for the mind to continually be part of unanimity.
In 1961, a 98-acre park was named in his honor on Searingtown Road in Nassau County. This park preserves his studio built in 1936, the "Knothole", along with its furnishings.

Other Oxford Birthdays

1 comment:

  1. Christopher Morley was one of the people who helped make New York City into one of the preeminent literary capitals of the world. He would have been 125 years old this year but he died nearly 60 years ago, his Sherlock Holmesian pipe in hand.