Biography of Don Marquis
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Portrait of author Don Marquis, taken sometime between 1910 and 1915
Donald Robert Perry Marquis (/ˈmɑːrkwɪs/ MAR-kwis; July 29, 1878, Walnut, Illinois – December 29, 1937, New York City) was a humorist, journalist, and author. He was variously a novelist, poet, newspaper columnist, and playwright. He is remembered best for creating the characters Archy and Mehitabel, supposed authors of humorous verse. During his lifetime he was equally famous for creating another fictitious character, "the Old Soak," who was the subject of two books, a hit Broadway play (1922–23), a silent movie (1926) and a talkie (1937).
Marquis grew up in Walnut, Illinois. His brother David died in 1892 at the age of 20; his father James died in 1897. After graduating from Walnut High School in 1894, he attended Knox Academy, a now-defunct preparatory program run by Knox College, in 1896, but left after three months. From 1902 to 1907 he served on the editorial board of the Atlanta Journal where he wrote many editorials during the heated election between his publisher Hoke Smith and future Pulitzer Prize winner, Clark Howell (Smith was the victor).
In 1909, Marquis married Reina Melcher, with whom he had a son, Robert (1915–1921) and a daughter, Barbara (1918–1931). Reina died on December 2, 1923.
Three years later Marquis married the actress Marjorie Potts Vonnegut, whose first husband, actor Walter Vonnegut, was a cousin of American author, playwright and satirist Kurt Vonnegut Jr. She died in her sleep on October 25, 1936.
Marquis died of a stroke after suffering three other strokes that partly disabled him.
On August 23, 1943, the United States Navy christened a Liberty ship, the USS Don Marquis (IX-215), in his memory.
Marquis began work for the New York newspaper The Evening Sun in 1912 and edited for the next eleven years a daily column, "The Sun Dial". During 1922 he left The Evening Sun (shortened to The Sun in 1920) for the New York Tribune (renamed the New York Herald Tribune in 1924), where his daily column, "The Tower" (later "The Lantern") was a great success. He regularly contributed columns and short stories to the Saturday Evening Post, Collier's and American magazines and also appeared in Harper's, Scribner's, Golden Book, and Cosmopolitan.
Marquis's best-known creation was Archy, a fictional cockroach (developed as a character during 1916) who had been a free-verse poet in a previous life, and who supposedly left poems on Marquis's typewriter by jumping on the keys. Archy usually typed only lower-case letters, without punctuation, because he could not operate the shift key. His verses were a type of social satire, and were used by Marquis in his newspaper columns titled "archy and mehitabel"; mehitabel was an alley cat, occasional companion of archy and the subject of some of archy's verses. The archy and mehitabel pieces were illustrated by cartoonist George Herriman, better known to posterity as the author of the newspaper comic Krazy Kat. Other characters developed by Marquis included Pete the Pup, Clarence the ghost, and an egomaniacal toad named Warty Bliggins.
Marquis was the author of about 35 books. He co-wrote (or contributed posthumously) to the films The Sports Pages, Shinbone Alley, The Good Old Soak and Skippy. The 1926 film The Cruise of the Jasper B was supposedly based on his 1916 novel of the same name, although the plots have little in common.
Digital image of the dust jacket of Hermione and her Little Group of Serious Thinkers, an early work of humour, produced in 1916 (early edition, hardcover).
- 1912: Danny's Own Story (novel)
- 1915: Dreams & Dust (poems)
- 1916: Cruise of the Jasper B. (novel)
- 1916: Hermione and Her Little Group of Serious Thinkers (sketches)
- 1919: Prefaces (essays)
- 1921: The Old Soak and Hail and Farewell (sketches) Dramatized 1921, 1926, 1937.
- 1921: Carter and Other People (short stories)
- 1921: Noah an' Jonah an' Cap'n John Smith (poems, sketches)
- 1922: Poems and Portraits (poems)
- 1922: Sonnets to a Red-Haired Lady and Famous Love Affairs (poems)
- 1922: The Revolt of the Oyster (short stories)
- 1924: The Dark Hours (play) This story of the trial, passion and crucifixion of Jesus had its professional premiere on 14 March 1932 at the Maryland Theatre in Baltimore, Maryland. Bretaigne Windust directed the University Players with a cast of more than 50, which included Joshua Logan as Caiaphas, Charles Crane Leatherbee as Pilate, Henry Fonda as Peter, and Kent Smith as Jesus. The play subsequently opened on Broadway on 14 November 1932 and ran 8 performances. See, Houghton, Norris. But Not Forgotten: The Adventure of the University Players, New York, William Sloane Associates: 1951, pp. 285–6.
- 1924: Pandora Lifts the Lid (novel)
- 1924: Words and Thoughts (play)
- 1924: The Awakening (poems)
- 1927: Out of the Sea (play)
- 1927: The Almost Perfect State (essays)
- 1927: archy and mehitabel (poems, sketches)
- 1928: Love Sonnets of a Cave Man (poems)
- 1928: When the Turtles Sing (short stories)
- 1929: A Variety of People (short stories)
- 1930: Off the Arm (novel)
- 1933: archys life of mehitabel (poems, sketches)
- 1934: Master of the Revels (play)
- 1934: Chapters for the Orthodox (short stories)
- 1935: archy does his part (poems, sketches)
- 1936: Sun Dial Time (short stories)
- 1939: Sons of the Puritans (novel)
- 1940: the lives and times of archy and mehitabel (omnibus)
- 1946: The Best of Don Marquis (omnibus)
- 1978: Everything's Jake (play)
- 1982: Selected Letters of Don Marquis (letters) Edited by William McCollum Jr.
- 1996: archyology (poems, sketches) Edited by Jeff Adams.
- 1998: archyology ii (poems, sketches) Edited by Jeff Adams.
- 2006: The Annotated Archy and Mehitabel (poems, sketches) Edited by Michael Sims.
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