Althea Addams Thurber (1925-1935)
Helen Wismer Thurber
James Grover Thurber (December 8, 1894 – November 2, 1961) was an
American cartoonist, author, humorist, journalist, playwright, and
celebrated wit. He was best known for his cartoons and short stories
published mainly in
The New Yorker
The New Yorker magazine, such as "The Catbird
Seat," and collected in his numerous books. He was one of the most
popular humorists of his time, as he celebrated the comic frustrations
and eccentricities of ordinary people. He wrote the Broadway comedy
The Male Animal
The Male Animal in collaboration with his college friend Elliott
Nugent; it was later adapted into a film starring
Henry Fonda and
Olivia de Havilland. His short story "The Secret Life of Walter Mitty"
has been adapted for film twice, once in 1947 and again in 2013.
1.1 Move to New York
1.2 Marriage and family
2 Legacy and honors
4 Popular culture
5.2 Children's books
5.4 Posthumous books
5.5 Short stories
6 See also
8 Further reading
8.1 Biographies of Thurber
8.2 Literature review
9 External links
Thurber was born in Columbus, Ohio, to Charles L. Thurber and Mary
Agnes "Mame" (née Fisher) Thurber on December 8, 1894. Both of his
parents greatly influenced his work. His father was a sporadically
employed clerk and minor politician who dreamed of being a lawyer or
an actor. Thurber described his mother as a "born comedian" and "one
of the finest comic talents I think I have ever known." She was a
practical joker and, on one occasion, pretended to be crippled and
attended a faith healer revival, only to jump up and proclaim herself
Thurber and one of his brothers were playing a game of William Tell,
and his brother shot James in the eye with an arrow. He lost that eye,
and the injury later caused him to become almost entirely blind. He
was unable to participate in sports and other activities in his
childhood because of this injury, but he developed a creative mind
which he used to express himself in writings. Neurologist V .S.
Ramachandran suggests that Thurber's imagination may be partly
explained by Charles Bonnet syndrome, a neurological condition which
causes complex visual hallucinations in people who have suffered some
level of visual loss. (This was the basis for the piece "The
Admiral on the Wheel".)
From 1913 to 1918, Thurber attended
Ohio State University
Ohio State University where he was
a member of the
Phi Kappa Psi
Phi Kappa Psi fraternity. He never graduated from the
university because his poor eyesight prevented him from taking a
mandatory ROTC course. In 1995 he was posthumously awarded a
Thurber's house in Columbus, Ohio
From 1918 to 1920, Thurber worked as a code clerk for the United
States Department of State, first in Washington, D.C. and then at the
embassy in Paris. On returning to Columbus, he began his career as a
The Columbus Dispatch
The Columbus Dispatch from 1921 to 1924. During part of
this time, he reviewed books, films, and plays in a weekly column
called "Credos and Curios", a title that was given to a posthumous
collection of his work. Thurber returned to Paris during this period,
where he wrote for the
Chicago Tribune and other newspapers.
Move to New York
In 1925, Thurber moved to
Greenwich Village in New York City, getting
a job as a reporter for the New York Evening Post. He joined the staff
The New Yorker
The New Yorker in 1927 as an editor, with the help of E.B. White,
his friend and fellow New Yorker contributor. His career as a
cartoonist began in 1930 after White found some of Thurber's drawings
in a trash can and submitted them for publication; White inked-in some
of these earlier drawings to make them reproduce better for the
magazine, and years later expressed deep regret that he had done such
a thing. Thurber contributed both his writings and his drawings to The
New Yorker until the 1950s.
Marriage and family
Thurber married Althea Adams in 1922, but the marriage was troubled
and ended in divorce in May 1935. They lived in Fairfield County,
Connecticut, with their daughter Rosemary. He married Helen Wismer
(1902–86) in June 1935.
Thurber's behavior became increasingly erratic and unpredictable in
his last year. He was particularly so at a party hosted by Noël
Coward and had to go back to the
Algonquin Hotel at six in the
morning. Thurber was stricken with a blood clot on the brain on
October 4, 1961, and underwent emergency surgery, drifting in and out
of consciousness. The operation was successful, but he died, aged 66,
due to complications from pneumonia. The doctors said his brain was
senescent from several small strokes and hardening of the arteries.
His last words, aside from the repeated word "God", were "God bless...
God damn", according to his wife, Helen.
Legacy and honors
Established in 1997, the annual Thurber Prize honors outstanding
examples of American humor.
The Library of America
The Library of America selected Thurber's story, " A Sort of
Genius", first published in The New Yorker, for inclusion in its
two-century retrospective of American True Crime.
Two of his residences have been listed on the U.S. National Register
of Historic Places: his childhood
Thurber House in Ohio and the
Thurber House in Fairfield County, Connecticut.
Uniquely among major American literary figures, he became equally well
known for his simple, surrealistic drawings and cartoons. Both his
skills were helped along by the support of, and collaboration with,
fellow New Yorker staff member E. B. White, who insisted that
Thurber's sketches could stand on their own as artistic expressions.
Thurber drew six covers and numerous classic illustrations for The New
The last twenty years of Thurber's life were filled with material and
professional success in spite of his handicap. He published at least
fourteen more books, including The Thurber Carnival (1945), Thurber
Country (1953), and the extremely popular account of the life of the
New Yorker editor Harold Ross, The Years with Ross (1959). A number of
his short stories were made into movies, including "The Secret Life of
Walter Mitty" (1947). Many of his short stories are humorous fictional
memoirs from his life, but he also wrote darker material, such as "The
Whip-Poor-Will", a story of madness and murder. His best-known short
stories are "The Dog That Bit People" and "The Night the Bed Fell";
they can be found in My Life and Hard Times, which was his "break-out"
book. Among his other classics are The Secret Life of Walter Mitty,
The Catbird Seat, A Couple of Hamburgers, The Greatest Man in the
World, If Grant Had Been Drinking at Appomattox. The Middle-Aged Man
on the Flying Trapeze has several short stories with a tense
undercurrent of marital discord. The book was published the year of
his divorce and remarriage. His 1941 story "You Could Look It Up",
about a three-foot adult being brought in to take a walk in a baseball
game, is said to have inspired Bill Veeck's stunt with Eddie Gaedel
with the St. Louis Browns in 1951. Veeck claimed an older provenance
for the stunt, but was certainly aware of the Thurber story.
In addition to his other fiction, Thurber wrote over seventy-five
fables, some of which were first published in "The New Yorker" (1939),
then collected in Fables for Our Time & Famous Poems Illustrated
(1940) and Further Fables for Our Time (1956). These were short
stories that featured anthropomorphic animals (e.g. The Little Girl
and the Wolf, his version of Little Red Riding Hood) as main
characters, and ended with a moral as a tagline. An exception to this
format was his most famous fable, The Unicorn in the Garden, which
featured an all-human cast except for the unicorn, which doesn't
speak. Thurber's fables were satirical, and the morals served as
punchlines as well as advice to the reader, demonstrating "the
complexity of life by depicting the world as an uncertain, precarious
place, where few reliable guidelines exist."
His stories also included several book-length fairy tales, such as The
White Deer (1945),
The 13 Clocks
The 13 Clocks (1950) and
The Wonderful O
The Wonderful O (1957).
The latter was one of several of Thurber's works illustrated by Marc
Simont. Thurber's prose for
The New Yorker
The New Yorker and other venues included
numerous humorous essays. A favorite subject, especially toward the
end of his life, was the English language. Pieces on this subject
included "The Spreading 'You Know'," which decried the overuse of that
pair of words in conversation, "The New Vocabularianism", "What Do You
Mean It Was Brillig?", and many others. His short pieces – whether
stories, essays or something in between – were referred to as
"casuals" by Thurber and the staff of The New Yorker.
Thurber wrote a biographical memoir about the founder/publisher of The
New Yorker, Harold Ross, entitled The Years with Ross (1958). He wrote
a five-part New Yorker series, between 1947 and 1948, examining in
depth the radio soap opera phenomenon, based on near-constant
listening and researching over the same period. Leaving nearly no
element of these programs unexamined, including their writers,
producers, sponsors, performers, and listeners alike, Thurber
republished the series in his anthology, The Beast in Me and Other
Animals (1948), under the section title "Soapland." The series was one
of the first to examine such a pop-culture phenomenon in depth.
While Thurber drew his cartoons in the usual fashion in the 1920s and
1930s, his failing eyesight later required changes. He drew them on
very large sheets of paper using a thick black crayon (or on black
paper using white chalk, from which they were photographed and the
colors reversed for publication). Regardless of method, his cartoons
became as noted as his writings; they possessed an eerie, wobbly feel
that seems to mirror his idiosyncratic view on life. He once wrote
that people said it looked like he drew them under water. Dorothy
Parker, a contemporary and friend of Thurber, referred to his cartoons
as having the "semblance of unbaked cookies". The last drawing Thurber
completed was a self-portrait in yellow crayon on black paper, which
was featured as the cover of Time magazine on July 9, 1951. The
same drawing was used for the dust jacket of The Thurber Album (1952).
Thurber teamed with college schoolmate (and actor/director) Elliott
Nugent to write The Male Animal, a comic drama that became a major
Broadway hit in 1939. The play was adapted as a film by the same name
in 1942, starring Henry Fonda,
Olivia de Havilland
Olivia de Havilland and Jack Carson.
In 1947 his short story "The Secret Life of Walter Mitty", was loosely
adapted as a film by the same name.
Danny Kaye played the title
United Productions of America
United Productions of America announced an animated feature to
be based on Thurber's work, titled Men, Women and Dogs. The only
part of the ambitious project that was eventually released was the UPA
The Unicorn in the Garden (1953).
In 1960, Thurber fulfilled a long-standing desire to be on the
professional stage and played himself in 88 performances of the revue
A Thurber Carnival
A Thurber Carnival (which echoes the title of his 1945 book, The
Thurber Carnival). It was based on a selection of Thurber's stories
and cartoon captions. Thurber appeared in the sketch "
Forget". The sketch consists of Thurber dictating a series of letters
in a vain attempt to keep one of his publishers from sending him books
he did not order, and the escalating confusion of the replies.
Thurber won a special
Tony Award for the adapted script of the
In 1961, "The Secret Life of James Thurber" aired on The DuPont Show
with June Allyson.
Adolphe Menjou appeared in the program as Fitch,
Orson Bean and
Sue Randall portrayed John and Ellen Monroe.
In 1969-70, a full series based on Thurber's writings and life,
entitled My World and Welcome to It, was broadcast on NBC. It starred
William Windom as the Thurber figure. Featuring animated portions in
addition to live actors, the show won a 1970
Emmy Award as the year's
best comedy series. Windom won an Emmy as well. He went on to perform
Thurber material in a one-man stage show.
In 1972 another film adaptation, The War Between Men and Women,
starring Jack Lemmon, concludes with an animated version of Thurber's
classic anti-war work "The Last Flower".
In 2013, a new adaptation of The Secret Life of Walter Mitty, starring
Ben Stiller as the title character.
Beginning during his own father's terminal illness, television
Keith Olbermann read excerpts from Thurber's short stories
during the closing segment of his MS
NBC program Countdown with Keith
Olbermann on Fridays, which he called "Fridays with Thurber."
On an episode of Norm Macdonald's video podcast,
Norm Macdonald Live,
Norm tells a story in which comedian Larry Miller acknowledges that
his biggest influence in comedy was Thurber.
Is Sex Necessary? or, Why You Feel The Way You Do, (1929 with E. B.
White), 75th anniv. edition (2004) with foreword by John Updike,
The Owl in the Attic and Other Perplexities, 1931
The Seal in the Bedroom and Other Predicaments, 1932
My Life and Hard Times, 1933 ISBN 0-06-093308-9
The Middle-Aged Man on the Flying Trapeze, 1935
Let Your Mind Alone! and Other More Or Less Inspirational Pieces, 1937
The Last Flower, 1939, reissued 2007 ISBN 978-1-58729-620-8
Fables for Our Time and Famous Poems Illustrated, 1940
My World – And Welcome To It, 1942 ISBN 0-15-662344-7
Men, Women and Dogs, 1943
The Thurber Carnival (anthology), 1945, ISBN 0-06-093287-2,
ISBN 0-394-60085-1 (Modern Library Edition)
The Beast in Me and Other Animals, 1948 ISBN 0-15-610850-X
The Thurber Album, 1952
Thurber Country, 1953
Thurber's Dogs, 1955
Further Fables For Our Time, 1956
Alarms and Diversions (anthology), 1957
The Years With Ross, 1959 ISBN 0-06-095971-1
Lanterns and Lances, 1961
Many Moons, (children) 1943 (later condensed as The Princess Who
Wanted The Moon)
The Great Quillow, (children) 1944
The White Deer, (children) 1945
The 13 Clocks, (children) 1950
The Wonderful O, (children) 1957
The Male Animal, 1940 (with Elliott Nugent)
A Thurber Carnival, 1960
Credos and Curios, 1962 (ed. Helen W. Thurber)
Thurber & Company, 1966 (ed. Helen W. Thurber)
Selected Letters of James Thurber, 1981 (ed. Helen W. Thurber &
Edward Weeks) ISBN 978-0-316844-44-4
James Thurber on Writing and Writers, Humor and
Himself, 1989 (ed. Michael J. Rosen)
Thurber On Crime, 1991 (ed. Robert Lopresti)
People Have More Fun Than Anybody: A Centennial Celebration of
Drawings and Writings by James Thurber, 1994 (ed. Michael J. Rosen)
James Thurber: Writings and Drawings (anthology), 1996, (ed. Garrison
Keillor), Library of America, ISBN 978-1-883011-22-2
The Dog Department:
James Thurber on Hounds, Scotties, and Talking
Poodles, 2001 (ed. Michael J. Rosen) ISBN 978-0-060196-56-1
The Thurber Letters: The Wit, Wisdom, and Surprising Life of James
Thurber, 2002 (ed. Harrison Kinney, with Rosemary A. Thurber)
This list is incomplete; you can help by expanding it.
"The Man Who Hated Moonbaum"
"The Black Magic of Barney Haller"
"The Secret Life of Walter Mitty"
"The Night the Bed Fell"
"The Unicorn in the Garden"
"The Moth and the Star"
"The Rabbits Who Caused All the Trouble"
"The Macbeth Murder Mystery", 1937 (printed in The New Yorker)
"You Could Look It Up", 1941
"The Catbird Seat", 1942
"The Secret Life of James Thurber", 1943
"The Breaking up of the Winships", 1945
"A Couple of Hamburgers"
"The Greatest Man in the World"
"The Cane in the Corridor"
"If Grant Had Been Drinking at Appomattox"
"The Bear Who Let It Alone"
"The Princess and the Tin Box"
"The Dog that Bit People"
"The Lady on 142"
"The Remarkable Case of Mr.Bruhl"
"The Scotty Who Knew Too Much"
"The Night the Ghost Got In"
"The Car We Had to Push"
"The Day the Dam Broke"
"More Alarms at Night"
"A Sequence of Servants"
"Draft Board Nights"
"The Wood Duck"
"The Tiger Who Was to Be King"
"The Owl Who was God"
"The Peacelike Mongoose"
File and Forget"
"Mr. Preble Gets Rid of His Wife"
This section lacks ISBNs for the books listed in it. Please make it
easier to conduct research by listing ISBNs. If the Cite book or
citation templates are in use, you may add ISBNs automatically, or
discuss this issue on the talk page. (October 2014)
The Battle of the Sexes (1959 film)
The Battle of the Sexes (1959 film) based on "The Catbird Seat"
Walter Mitty, expression
^ a b c Liukkonen, Petri. "James Thurber". Books and Writers
Kuusankoski Public Library. Archived from
the original on August 19, 2006.
^ V.S. Ramachandran;
Sandra Blakeslee (1988). Phantoms in the Brain.
HarperCollins. pp. 85–7.
^ Thurber House. "James Thurber". Archived from the original on
2007-10-12. Retrieved 2007-10-14.
^ a b Thurber House. "James Thurber: His Life & Times". Archived
from the original on January 14, 2006. Retrieved 2007-10-14.
^ "Helen Thurber Is Dead at 84; Edited Writings of Husband". The New
York Times. The New York Times. Retrieved 11 January 2016.
^ Bernstein, Burton (1975). Thurber. New York: Dodd, Mead &
Company. p. 501. ISBN 0-396-07027-2.
^ Grossberg, Michael (October 5, 2009). "Frazier first to win Thurber
Prize twice". The Columbus Dispatch.
^ "True Crime: An American Anthology". Library of America.
^ "CONNECTICUT - Fairfield County". National Register of Historic
^ "OHIO - Franklin County". National Register of Historic
^ "Dec. 8, 2015: birthday: James Thurber". The Writer’s
^ "You Could Look It Up", The Saturday Evening Post, April 5, 1941,
pp. 9–11, 114, 116]
^ Veeck, Bill; Ed Linn (1962). "A Can of Beer, a Slice of Cake—and
Thou, Eddie Gaedel", from Veeck – As In Wreck: The Autobiography of
Bill Veeck. Chicago, IL: The University of Chicago Press.
pp. 11–23. ISBN 0-226-85218-0.
^ "The Modern Fable: James Thurber's Social Criticisms", by Ruth A.
Maharg, Children's Literature Association Quarterly, Volume 9, Number
2, Summer 1984, pp. 72-73.
^ Sorel, Edward (1989-11-05). "The Business of Being Funny". The New
York Times. Time Inc. Retrieved 2007-08-17.
^ "Time Magazine Cover:
James Thurber – July 9, 1951". Time Archive:
1923 to the Present. Time Inc. 1951-07-09. Retrieved 2007-01-31.
^ "Priceless Gift of Laughter". Time Archive: 1923 to the Present.
Time Inc. 1951-07-09. Retrieved 2007-01-31.
^ "The Unicorn in the Garden". The Big Cartoon Database. Retrieved
^ Bernstein, Burton (1975). Thurber. New York: Dodd, Mead &
Company. p. 477. ISBN 0-396-07027-2.
^ "A Thurber Carnival". Internet Broadway Database. The Broadway
League. Retrieved 2008-03-01.
^ "Olbermann signs off msnbc - Entertainment - Television -
TODAY.com". Today.msnbc.msn.com. Retrieved 2012-05-06.
^ Thurber, James (January 8, 1949). "
File and Forget". The New Yorker.
24 (46): 24–48.
Biographies of Thurber
Bernstein, Burton. 1975. Thurber. William Morrow & Co.
Fensch, Thomas. 2001. The Man Who Was Walter Mitty: The Life and Work
of James Thurber. ISBN 9780738840833
Grauer, Neil A. 1994. Remember Laughter: A Life of James Thurber.
University of Nebraska Press. ISBN 9780803221550
Kinney, Harrison. 1995. James Thurber: His Life and Times. Henry Holt
& Co. ISBN 9780805039665
Holmes, Charles S. 1972. The Clocks Of Columbus: The Literary Career
James Thurber Atheneum. ISBN 9780689705748
Wikiquote has quotations related to: James Thurber
Wikisource has original works written by or about:
Wikimedia Commons has media related to James Thurber.
James Thurber Papers The
Ohio State University
Ohio State University Libraries Rare
Books and Manuscripts Collection
James Thurber at Faded Page (Canada)
Charles S. Holmes Research for The Clocks of Columbus The Ohio State
University Libraries Rare Books and Manuscripts Collection
The Harrison Kinney Archive for James Thurber: His Life and Times The
Ohio State University
Ohio State University Libraries Rare Books and Manuscripts Collection
The Paris Review Interview
Thurber House website
"Thurber's World (and Welcome To it)" by Bill Ervolino, The Record
(Bergen County, NJ), December 17, 1995
Pathfinder: James Grover Thurber – Thurber links portal
The Last Flower
The Last Flower – ballet after an idea by James Thurber; 1975
Origins of "the Thurber Dog"
James Thurber Biography, Encyclopedia of World Biography
New Yorker magazine digital archive—Abstracts of 1,758 Thurber short
stories, poems, cartoons and commentaries
a list of
James Thurber books
an alphabetical list of
James Thurber short stories
If Grant Had Been Drinking at Appomattox on
YouTube - 1982
Dramatization of the
James Thurber short story.
ISNI: 0000 0001 0877 7576
BNF: cb11926624c (data)