American novelist and playwright
Born Newton Booth Tarkington in Indianapolis, Indiana on July 29, 1869. Booth was the second child of attorney John S. Tarkington and mother Elizabeth Booth Tarkington. When he was quite young his family suffered an economic setback in the Panic of 1873, losing much of their financial security. They resorted to living in rented houses in less desireable neighborhoods until helped by Booth's uncle Newton Booth, who served as both a California Governor and Senator.
Booth Tarkington had a mediocre high school career then attended Phillips Exeter Academy. Booth Tarkington then attended Purdue University, then Princeton University. His achievements while at Princeton included becoming editor of the Nassau Literary Magazine and founding the Triangle Club, as well as being voted most popular man of his class. When his class graduated in 1893 Tarkington failed to earn his degree due to insufficient credits. He was later awarded an honorary A. M. in 1899, as well as an honorary D. Litt in 1918.
Following his attendance at Princeton, Booth Tarkington returned home to Indianapolis. He attempted to earn a living as a writer and artist but mainly garnered rejection notices until 1895 when his first success came, selling a sketch to Life magazine. In 1898 Tarkington sold his first book, The Gentleman From Indiana to New York publisher S. S. McClure. The novel became a bestseller in 1900.
The Gentleman From Indiana was the beginning of a long and lucrative literary career. His 1914 novel Penrod , along with it's sequels, detailed the idyllic life of a young midwestern boy. The novels were somewhat in the vein of Tom Sawyer and Huckleberry Finn.
By 1921, the Publisher's Weekly poll of booksellers ranked him the 'most significant American author', above other luminaries such as Sinclair Lewis, Robert Frost, and Carl Sandberg. Tarkington's short story Cider of Normandy was to win the 1931 O Henry Memorial Award.
Booth Tarkington is best remembered for his Pulitzer Prize winning novel The Magnificent Ambersons, a novel tracking the rising and falling fortunes of 3 generations of the Amberson family. The novel was published in 1918 and won the Pulitzer Prize the following year. The novel was adapted for the stage in 1927, initially entitled Pampered Youth, but finally released under the name Two to One. The novel was to become a film by Orson Welles in 1942.
Booth Tarkington rang up another Pulitzer Prize in 1922 with his novel Alice Adams, published in 1921, the story of a fading aristocratic family's ridiculous attempts to reclimb the social ladder. The novel was adapted into a play in 1945 by Elizabeth Trotter.
His accomplishments include 2 of his novels appearing on the annual bestseller lists 9 times. He also illustrated the works of other authors, including a 1933 edition of Huckleberry Finn He made the cover of Time Magazine the week of December 21, 1925.
His financial success allowed him to pursue a devotion to collecting antique furniture and paintings. He became a trustee of the John Herron Art Museum which was to become the Indianapolis Museum of Art.
Booth Tarkington believed it was a man's duty to serve his fellow man and to that end he ran for political office in 1902. He ran on the Republican ticket and won a seat in the Indiana House of Representatives. He became increasingly conservative and was vocally opposed to the policies of FDR and the New Deal.
Also in 1902 Booth Tarkington was to marry for the first time. His wife was the former Laurel Louise Fletcher. They had a daughter also named Laurel, born in 1906. She sadly was to die at a young age in 1923. Booth and Laurel were to divorce in 1911.
Booth Tarkington was to remarry in 1912 to Susanah Kiefer Robinson. They were to remain wed until his death, and she survived him by another 20 years.
Booth and his new wife were to have no children but he enjoyed the relationship he had with his sister Haute Jameson's sons. His nephews names were Donald, John, and Booth. His letters to his nephews were collected and released as Your Amiable Uncle; Letters to His Nephews (1949). The collection was illustrated with the author's original sketches.
Many of Booth Tarkington's stories were set in his native midwest, but he also had a deep affection for the new England region. He was to build an estate named Seawood near Kennebunkport, Maine. Booth, along with his second wife Susanah, usually resided there from May through December, returning to Indiana for the remainder of the year. Facilities at Kennebunkport also included a schooner named Regina and The Floats, a renovated boatworks shop used for coffe and conversation. The boathouse now holds the Kennebunkport Maritime Museum/Gallery
Booth Tarkington was also fond of travel, journeying extensively in both Europe and North America.
Booth Tarkington was known for his philanthropic contributions, particularly to his midwestern college Purdue University, where Tarkington Hall is named in his honor.
Booth Tarkington eyesight began to deteriorate in the late 1920's and he was to become blind in his latter years. He continued to write through dictation.
Booth Tarkington was to die on May 19, 1946 following a two month Illness. He is buried at Crown Hill Cemetery, Indianapolis, Marion County, Indiana. He rests in good company, being interred with other famed people such as President Benjamin Harrison, poet James Whitcomb Riley, Richard Gatling (inventor of the Gatling gun) and Col. Eli Lilly.
Booth Tarkington wrote about a kinder, gentler America. His Penrod stories conjure up a picture of a nation where boys ran free, able to discover the world and themselves in safety. He also wrote about class and the changes to the class structure. He lived through the Roaring 20's as well as the Great Depession of the 30's. He saw much of the good as well as the bad of a boisterous America. In a time of real literary giants, he made a significant mark on the landscape.
The Gentleman from Indiana (1899, novel)
Monsieur Beaucaire (1900, novel)
The Two Vanrevels (1902, novel)
Penrod (1914, novel)
Penrod and Sam (1916, novel)
Seventeen (1917, novel)
Gentle Julia (1922, novel)
The Turmoil (1915, novel)
The Magnificent Ambersons (1918, novel)
Alice Adams (1921, novel)
The Midlander (1924, novel)
Growth (1927, The Magnificent Ambersons and The Midlander combined)
The Plutocrat (1927, novel)
Claire Ambler (1928, novel)
Mirthful Haven (1930, novel)
Mary's Neck (1932, novel)
Presenting Lily Mars (1933, novel)