Edna Ferber

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Edna Ferber
Edna Ferber in 1928
BornAugust 15, 1885
Kalamazoo, Michigan, United States
DiedApril 16, 1968 (age 82)
New York City, New York, United States
Occupation Novelist, playwright
NationalityUnited States
GenreDrama, romance

Edna Ferber (August 15, 1885 [1] – April 16, 1968) was an American novelist, short story writer and playwright. Her novels included the Pulitzer Prize-winning So Big (1924), Show Boat (1926; made into the celebrated 1927 musical), Cimarron (1930; made into the 1931 film which won the Academy Award for Best Picture), Giant (1952; made into the 1956 Hollywood movie) and Ice Palace (1958), filmed in 1960.


Life and career

Early years

Ferber was born August 15, 1885, in Kalamazoo, Michigan, to a Hungarian-born Jewish storekeeper, Jacob Charles Ferber, and his Milwaukee, Wisconsin-born wife, Julia (Neumann) Ferber, who was of German Jewish descent. [2] She moved often due to her father's business failures, likely caused by his early blindness and eventual death. [3] After living in Chicago, Illinois, she lived in Ottumwa, Iowa with her parents and older sister, Fannie, from age five to twelve. In Ottumwa, Ferber faced brutal anti-Semitism as just a child. The anti-Semitism she faced in her childhood only strengthened her pride in being Jewish, [4] and helped her develop the ability to caricature her insensitivity to criticism. [5] She recalled when adult males would verbally abuse her, mock her, and spit on her every day as she brought lunch to her dad. [6] At the age of 12 Ferber and her family moved to Appleton, Wisconsin, where she graduated from high school and briefly attended Lawrence University. When recovering from anemia, [7] Ferber's short stories were compiled and published before she began writing novels. The quality of her work was so high that many literary critics believed a man to have written her narratives under a pseudonym of a woman. [4] She took newspaper jobs at the Appleton Daily Crescent and the Milwaukee Journal before publishing her first novel. She covered the 1920 Republican National Convention and 1920 Democratic National Convention for the United Press Association.


Ferber's novels generally featured strong female protagonists, along with a rich and diverse collection of supporting characters. She usually highlighted at least one strong secondary character who faced discrimination ethnically or for other reasons; through this technique, Ferber demonstrated her belief that people are people and that the not-so-pretty people have the best character.

Ferber's workers often concerned small subsets of American culture, and took place in locations she was not intimately familiar with, like Texas or Alaska. By using places she hadn't visited in her novel and only describing them only through her research, she helped to highlight the diversity of American culture to those who did not have the opportunity to experience it.

[7] Several theatrical and film productions have been based on her works, including Show Boat , Giant , Ice Palace , Saratoga Trunk , Cimarron (which won an Oscar) and the 1960 remake. Three of these works – Show Boat, Saratoga Trunk, and Giant – have been developed into musicals.

When composer Jerome Kern proposed turning the very serious Show Boat into a musical, Ferber was shocked, thinking it would be transformed into a typical light entertainment of the 1920s. It was not until Kern explained that he and Oscar Hammerstein II wanted to create a different type of musical that Ferber granted him the rights. Saratoga , based on Saratoga Trunk, was written at a much later date, after serious plots had become acceptable in stage musicals.

In 1925, she won the Pulitzer Prize for her book So Big , which was made into a silent film starring Colleen Moore that same year. An early talkie movie remake followed, in 1932, starring Barbara Stanwyck and George Brent, with Bette Davis in a supporting role. A 1953 remake of So Big starring Jane Wyman in the Stanwyck role is the version most often seen today. Ferber initially believed her draft of what would become So Big lacked a plot, glorified failure, and had a subtle theme that could easily be overlooked. When she sent the book to her usual publisher, Doubleday, she was surprised to learn that he strongly enjoyed the novel. This was reflected by the several hundreds of thousands of copies of the novel sold to the public. [8]

Ferber was a member of the Algonquin Round Table, a group of wits who met for lunch every day at the Algonquin Hotel in New York. Ferber and another member of the Round Table, Alexander Woollcott, were long-time enemies, their antipathy lasting until Woollcott's death in 1943, although Howard Teichmann states in his biography of Woollcott that their feud was due to a misunderstanding. According to Teichmann, Ferber once described Woollcott as "a New Jersey Nero who has mistaken his pinafore for a toga".

Before most other Americans in 1922, Ferber became troubled by the rise of the Nazi Party and its spreading of the antisemitic prejudice she had faced in her childhood. Her fears greatly influenced her work, which often featured themes of racial and cultural discrimination. Her 1938 autobiography, A Peculiar Treasure , originally included a spiteful dedication to Adolf Hitler, claiming that her hatred for his actions was the inspiration for the book. While this was changed by the time of the book's publication, it still alluded to the Nazi threat. [9]

Ferber collaborated with Round Table member George S. Kaufman on several plays presented on Broadway: Minick (1924), The Royal Family (1927), Dinner At Eight (1932), The Land Is Bright (1941), Stage Door (1936), and Bravo! (1948). [10]

Plaque located in Manhattan, at 65th Street & Central Park West, in the building in which Edna Ferber lived for six years Edna Feber Plaque.jpg
Plaque located in Manhattan, at 65th Street & Central Park West, in the building in which Edna Ferber lived for six years

Political Views

In a poll carried out by the Saturday Review of Literature , asking American writers which Presidential candidate they supported in the 1940 election, Atherton was among the writers who endorsed Franklin D. Roosevelt. [11]

Personal life

Ferber never married, had no children, and is not known to have engaged in a romance or sexual relationship. [12] In her early novel Dawn O'Hara, the title character's aunt is said to have remarked, "Being an old maid was a great deal like death by drowning – a really delightful sensation when you ceased struggling." Ferber did take a maternal interest in the career of her niece Janet Fox, an actress who performed in the original Broadway casts of Ferber's plays Dinner at Eight and Stage Door.

Ferber was known for being outspoken and having a quick wit. On one occasion, she led other Jewish guests in leaving a house party after learning the host was anti-Semitic. [4] Once, after a man joked about how her suit made her resemble a man, she replied, "So does yours." [5]

Ferber died at her home in New York City, of stomach cancer, [13] at the age of 82. Ferber left her estate to her remaining female relatives, but gave the American government permission to spread her literary work to encourage and inspire future female authors. [4]


Art, entertainment, and media




Novellas and Short Story Collections




Essays and reporting

Musical adaptations

Related Research Articles

<i>Cimarron</i> (novel) novel by Edna Ferber

Cimarron is a novel by Edna Ferber, published in April 1930 and based on development in Oklahoma after the Land Rush. The book was adapted into a critically acclaimed film of the same name in 1931 through RKO Pictures. In 1960, the story was again adapted for the screen by Metro-Goldwyn-Mayer, to meager success.

<i>Giant</i> (1956 film) 1956 American film directed by George Stevens

Giant is a 1956 American epic Western drama film, directed by George Stevens from a screenplay adapted by Fred Guiol and Ivan Moffat from Edna Ferber's 1952 novel. The film stars Elizabeth Taylor, Rock Hudson and James Dean and features Carroll Baker, Jane Withers, Chill Wills, Mercedes McCambridge, Dennis Hopper, Sal Mineo, Rod Taylor, Elsa Cardenas and Earl Holliman. Giant was the last of James Dean's three films as a leading actor, and earned him his second and last Academy Award nomination – he was killed in a car accident before the film was released. Nick Adams was called in to do some voice dubbing for Dean's role.

<i>Show Boat</i> 1927 musical by Jerome Kern and Oscar Hammerstein II

Show Boat is a musical in two acts, with music by Jerome Kern and book and lyrics by Oscar Hammerstein II, based on Edna Ferber's best-selling novel of the same name. The musical follows the lives of the performers, stagehands and dock workers on the Cotton Blossom, a Mississippi River show boat, over 40 years from 1887 to 1927. Its themes include racial prejudice and tragic, enduring love. The musical contributed such classic songs as "Ol' Man River", "Make Believe", and "Can't Help Lovin' Dat Man".

Algonquin Round Table

The Algonquin Round Table was a group of New York City writers, critics, actors, and wits. Gathering initially as part of a practical joke, members of "The Vicious Circle", as they dubbed themselves, met for lunch each day at the Algonquin Hotel from 1919 until roughly 1929. At these luncheons they engaged in wisecracks, wordplay, and witticisms that, through the newspaper columns of Round Table members, were disseminated across the country.

Franklin P. Adams United States humor writer

Franklin Pierce Adams was an American columnist known as Franklin P. Adams and by his initials F.P.A.. Famed for his wit, he is best known for his newspaper column, "The Conning Tower", and his appearances as a regular panelist on radio's Information Please. A prolific writer of light verse, he was a member of the Algonquin Round Table of the 1920s and 1930s.

<i>The Royal Family</i> (play) play written by Edna Ferber

The Royal Family is a play written by George S. Kaufman and Edna Ferber. Its premiere on Broadway was at the Selwyn Theatre on 28 December 1927, where it ran for 345 performances to close in October 1928. It was included in Burns Mantle's The Best Plays of 1927–1928.

<i>Come and Get It</i> (1936 film) 1936 American drama film directed by Howard Hawks and William Wyler

Come and Get It is a 1936 American drama film directed by Howard Hawks and William Wyler. The screenplay by Jane Murfin and Jules Furthman is based on the 1935 novel of the same title by Edna Ferber.

Edna May Oliver American actress

Edna May Oliver was an American stage and film actress. During the 1930s, she was one of the better-known character actresses in American films, often playing tart-tongued spinsters.

<i>Saratoga Trunk</i> 1945 film by Sam Wood

Saratoga Trunk is a 1945 American romantic drama film directed by Sam Wood and starring Gary Cooper, Ingrid Bergman, and Flora Robson. Written by Casey Robinson, and based on the novel Saratoga Trunk by Edna Ferber, the film is about a Texas gambler and a Creole daughter of an aristocratic family who work together to seek justice from a society that has rejected them.

<i>Cimarron</i> (1931 film) 1931 film by Wesley Ruggles

Cimarron is a 1931 Pre-Code Western film directed by Wesley Ruggles, starring Richard Dix and Irene Dunne, and featuring Estelle Taylor and Roscoe Ates. The Oscar-winning script was written by Howard Estabrook based on the Edna Ferber novel Cimarron. It would be RKO's most expensive production up to that date, and its winning of the top Oscar for Best Production would be only one of two ever won by that studio. It is also one of the few Westerns to ever win the top honor at the Academy Awards. Epic in scope, spanning forty years from 1889 to 1929, it was a critical success, although it did not recoup its production costs during its initial run in 1931.

<i>So Big</i> (novel) 1924 novel

So Big is a 1924 novel written by Edna Ferber. The book was inspired by the life of Antje Paarlberg in the Dutch community of South Holland, Illinois, a Chicago suburb. It won the Pulitzer Prize for the Novel in 1925.

<i>Saratoga</i> (musical) musical

Saratoga is a musical with a book by Morton DaCosta, lyrics by Johnny Mercer, and music by Harold Arlen.

<i>So Big</i> (1932 film) 1932 film by William A. Wellman

So Big! is a 1932 American drama film directed by William A. Wellman and starring Barbara Stanwyck. The screenplay by J. Grubb Alexander and Robert Lord is based on the 1924 Pulitzer Prize-winning novel of the same name, without the exclamation point, by Edna Ferber.

<i>Show Boat</i> (novel) book

Show Boat is a 1926 novel by American author and dramatist Edna Ferber. It chronicles the lives of three generations of performers on the Cotton Blossom, a floating theater on a steamboat that travels between small towns along the banks of the Mississippi River, from the 1880s to the 1920s. The story moves from the Reconstruction Era riverboat to Gilded Age Chicago to Roaring Twenties New York, and finally returns to the Mississippi River.

<i>Saratoga Trunk</i> (novel) book by Edna Ferber

Saratoga Trunk is a best-selling novel by American author Edna Ferber, originally published by Doubleday, Doran in 1941.

<i>Personality Plus</i> (novel) book by Edna Ferber

Personality Plus is an early novel by American author Edna Ferber. Originally published in 1914, Personality Plus is the second of three volumes chronicling the travels and events in the life of Emma McChesney. Ferber achieved her first successes with a series of stories centering on this character, a stylish and intelligent divorced mother who rises rapidly in business.

<i>Ice Palace</i> (film) 1960 film by Vincent Sherman

Ice Palace is a 1960 Technicolor historical drama adventure film directed by Vincent Sherman starring Richard Burton, Robert Ryan, Carolyn Jones and Martha Hyer. It dramatized the debate over Alaska statehood. Alaska had become a state in 1959.

<i>So Big</i> (1953 film) 1953 film by Robert Wise

So Big is a 1953 American drama film that stars Jane Wyman, Sterling Hayden and Steve Forrest, directed by Robert Wise.

<i>So Big</i> (1924 film) 1924 film by Charles Brabin

So Big is a 1924 American silent drama film based on Edna Ferber's novel of the same name. It was produced by independent producer Earl Hudson the film and distributed through Associated First National. Unseen for decades, it is considered to be a lost film. Only a trailer survives at the Library of Congress.

<i>The Land Is Bright</i>

The Land Is Bright is a 1941 dramatic play by George S. Kaufman and Edna Ferber.


  1. Boudreau, Richard (1986). The Literary Heritage of Wisconsin: Beginnings to 1925. Juniper Press. p. 412. Though she generally claimed 1887 as her birth year, an entry in her mother's diary reveals that Edna Ferber was born in 1885 in Kalamazoo, Michigan....
  2. "Edna Ferber | Jewish Women's Archive". jwa.org. Retrieved 2019-02-15.
  3. 1 2 3 4 "Edna Ferber". www.jewishvirtuallibrary.org. Retrieved 2019-09-27.
  4. 1 2 "Edna Ferber". www.nndb.com. Retrieved 2019-09-27.
  5. "Edna Ferber | Jewish Women's Archive". jwa.org. Retrieved 2019-02-15.
  6. 1 2 "So Big". Tablet Magazine. 2007-05-02. Retrieved 2019-09-27.
  7. Smyth, J. E. (2010). Edna Ferber's Hollywood: American fictions of gender, race, and history (1st ed.). Austin: University of Texas Press. ISBN   9780292719842. OCLC   318870278.
  8. Shapiro, Ann R. (2002). "Edna Ferber, Jewish American Feminist". Shofar. 20 (2): 52–60.
  9. "About the Playwright: The Royal Family – The Kaufman-Ferber Partnership". Utah Shakespeare Festival. The Professional Theater at Southern Utah University. Retrieved February 8, 2017.
  10. "Among those who have stated they will vote for President Roosevelt are Edna Ferber..." "Editorial: Presidential Poll", Saturday Review of Literature. November 2nd, 1940 (p.8).
  11. Ferber has been rumored to be a lesbian in several undocumented sources. Professor John Unsworth makes an unsupported claim in John Sutherland (2007) Bestsellers: A Very Short Introduction Oxford University Press: 53. Haggerty and Zimmerman imply she was gay because of her visits to Provincetown in the early 20th century (Haggerty and Zimmerman (2000), Lesbian Histories and Cultures: An Encyclopedia, Taylor and Francis, p. 610). Porter (Porter, Darwin (2004) Katherine the Great, Blood Moon Productions, Ltd, p. 204) comments in passing that Ferber was a lesbian, but offers no support. Burrough (Burrough, Brian (2010) The Big Rich: The Rise and Fall of the Greatest Texas Oil Fortunes, Penguin) also remarks in passing that Ferber was gay, citing the biography written by Julie Goldsmith Gilbert (Ferber's great niece, see bibliography). Gilbert, however, makes no mention of lesbian relationships.
  12. Great American Writers: Twentieth Century
  13. "Mrs Parker and the Vicious Circle". Imdb.com. imdb.com. Retrieved 27 September 2015.
  14. The Postal Store (2008). "Distinguished Americans Series: Edna Ferber". United States Postal Service. Archived from the original on 2008-05-07. Retrieved 2008-08-09.
  15. "Edna Ferber". Chicago Literary Hall of Fame. 2013. Retrieved 2017-10-08.
  16. Edna Ferber Elementary School homepage.
  17. "Ferber School Issue Raised Again". The Post-Crescent. October 2, 1973. p. 9. Retrieved December 18, 2015 via Newspapers.com. Open Access logo PLoS transparent.svg

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