"Imagination can help you reach into the heavens to grasp an idea, bring it down to earth, and make it work."
- Walter Farley
Farley is the author of numerous books, most famously 1941's The Black Stallion which has been translated into 21 languages, and been made into a major motion picture by Francis Ford Coppola in 1979.
Walter Farley was born in Syracuse, NY in 1915. As a boy, his family moved to New York City, but young Walter spent much of his time with an uncle who was a horse trainer, where he learned about several different kinds of competitive horsemanship, including racing, jumping and dressage.
"We lived in the lower six rooms of a two-story house in Syracuse, New York, in a section called Tipperary Hill because of its large Irish population. Each year we went with our parents to the New York State Fair near Syracuse for the Hamiltonian Stakes and a week of trotting races. Summer vacations were spent at Aunt Doll's on Oneida Lake, with Mr. Messinger's farm nearby. Walter was up on the farm horses at every opportunity." - Bill Farley, the author's brother.
As a 15 year old student at Erasmus Hall High School in Brooklyn, Walter started writing an adventurous "boy's tale" about a young man named Alec Ramsey who ends up befriending and riding an Arabian stallion after having been shipwrecked. The late 30's were filled with this type of adventure story for young adults,though the genre has become less popular in recent decades. I blame hippies for that. Farley had actually been working on the basic elements of the book as a small child.
Walter entered every contest that had a horse or a pony for a prize. To his parents' relief, he never won. But among his mother's papers (found after her death years later) was a picture of. a black pony. On the back she had written, 'The only pony Walter ever had. Sorry. Mother." She also had saved a third-grade composition, a story about a big black horse. - Rosemary Farley, author's wife.
Obviously Farley had black horses on the brain for quote a while before starting to write down his thoughts in a novel. His son Steve has reflected on where the idea for the story laid down in The Black Stallion came from.
Where did The Black Stallion come from? I recall a story credited to one of the men in my father's family, an American soldier in France during World War I who shot and killed a German officer to steal the man's beautiful black horse. The soldier managed to get the horse all the way back to London bUt was forced to abandon him in a train station there, never to see the horse again. Whether this story is true, who knows? I personally doubt it, considering my father's people were Irish and, I'm sure, appreciated a good yarn, true or not. But such a romantic, powerful image would naturally stoke the fires of any horse-crazy boy's imagination. Here you are with the most beautiful horse you have ever seen and you can't take him with you. How incredibly frustrating! I am reminded of the rescue scene on the island in The Black Stallion. Steve Farley, author's son.
While a freshman at Columbia University, Walter finished his book and Random House published the 26 year old's novel, entitled The Black Stallion in 1941. It was an immediate success, and gave Walter enough financial security that he quit school and started travelling around the world.
Though flooded with an avalanche of requests for sequels to his book, Farley was drafted into the service during WWII, preventing the release of his second book, The Black Stallion Returns until after he returned from working as a government reporter during the war.
Restationed in New York in 1944, Farley met a young model Rosemary Lutz, who worked for the John Robert Powers Modeling Agency on Fifth Avenue. Rosemary had a political science degree from the University of Pittsburgh, so when they married in May of 1945, they moved to Pennsylvania for the cheap housing. Farley wanted to write full time, but did not receive encouragement from his editor. The response in a letter dated February 8, 1945:
"Your desire to devote yourself exclusively to writing after the war is perfectly natural, but I know of only one writer of teenage books who has managed to come pretty close to what you're after. Even he admitted to me once that if he were to depend on book royalties alone, he wouldn't be able to support his family. The last thing in the world I'd want to do would be to crush an extremely worthwhile ambition, but I would feel remiss both as a friend and as a publisher if I didn't caution you to do some careful arithmetic before you decide to burn your bridges." - Louise Bonino, Farley's editor.
In October of 1945 the war time restrictions on publishing were lifted and The Black Stallion Returns. It was an immediate success, and the royalties were soon enough that the Farley's had no concerns about making ends meet.
Farley went on to publish 34 books, most of them in the Black Stallion series. Farley had received over 500,000 letters from fans at the time of his death in 1989, and his books remain popular, as evinced by the recent Imax release "The Young Black Stallion", based on one of his books.
A list of publications includes:
Farley was active in children's reading programs, making frequent appearances at schools, libraries, and book fairs. In 1989 his local library in Venice, Florida, designated its children's wing the Walter Farley Literary Landmark. A permanent exhibit of Black Stallion memorabilia is on display there. He died in Florida shortly before publication of his last book, co-authored with his son Steve, in 1989. Steve Farley continues the Black Stallion series.
I believe half the trouble in the world comes from people asking "What have I achieved?" rather than "What have I enjoyed?" I've been writing about a subject I love as long as I can remember, horses and the people associated with them, anyplace, anywhere, anytime. I couldn't be happier knowing that young people are reading my books. But even more important to me is that I've enjoyed so much the writing of them. -Walter Farley.
Much material, especially quotations, comes from http://www.theblackstallion.com