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Adams, Franklin P. (15 November 1881–23 March 1960), newspaper columnist, humorist, and radio personality, was born Franklin Pierce Adams in Chicago, Illinois, the son of Moses Adams, a dry-goods merchant, and Clara Schlossberg, both German-Jewish immigrants. During his childhood he was an avid reader of the classics, history, nineteenth-century fiction, and light verse. He studied mathematics and science at the Armour Scientific Academy in Chicago, graduating in 1899. He attended the University of Michigan for less than a year, during which he studied literature and after which he began to earn his own living....

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Bagby, George William (13 August 1828–29 November 1883), journalist and humorist, was born in Buckingham County, Virginia, the son of George Bagby, a merchant, and Virginia Young Evans. A frail constitution forced Virginia Bagby to move to the mountain town of Covington, where she died when George was eight years old. Bagby’s father, who owned a general merchandise store in Lynchburg, sent him and his younger sister to live on the Cumberland County plantation of their aunt, Elisabeth Hobson. In 1843, at the age of fifteen, Bagby entered Delaware College. He then studied medicine at the University of Pennsylvania, from which he graduated in 1849....

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Buchwald, Art (20 October 1925–17 January 2007), journalist and humorist, was born Arthur Buchwald in Mount Vernon, New York. His father, Joseph Buchwald, a Jewish immigrant from Austria, was a draper in New York City; his mother, Helen Klineberger, whom he never met, was placed in a mental hospital shortly after Arthur’s birth and remained institutionalized for the rest of her life. Arthur was the couple’s fourth child and only son....

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Clark, Charles Heber (11 July 1841–10 August 1915), journalist and humorist, known by the pseudonym “Max Adeler,” was born in Berlin, Maryland, the son of Annabella McCullough and William James Clark. Two years after Clark’s birth, his father, an itinerant Episcopal clergyman, moved his family to Churchtown, Pennsylvania, where his abolitionist sympathies were more acceptable to his congregation. In 1856 financial problems forced the family to live apart, and at age fifteen Clark found himself in Philadelphia, where he took a series of low-paying jobs. He served the Union cause as a member of the Blue Reserves for about one month in 1862 and slightly longer in the summer of 1863....

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Cobb, Irvin Shrewsbury (23 June 1876–10 March 1944), newspaperman, author, and humorist, was born in Paducah, Kentucky, the son of Joshua Clark Cobb, a Confederate army soldier and later a tobacco trader, steamboat businessman, and manager of a river-supply store, and Manie Saunders. Cobb attended Paducah schools until 1892 and then became a reporter for the ...

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Daly, Thomas Augustine (28 May 1871–04 October 1948), humorist, poet, and columnist, was born in Philadelphia, Pennsylvania, the son of John Anthony Daly and Anne Victoria Duckett, owners of the first Catholic bookstore in Philadelphia. He attended public schools and at age fourteen entered Villanova College, “majoring in cigarettes and baseball.” Daly dropped out in 1889 and completed two more years at St. John’s College (later Fordham University). In 1896 he married Nannie Barrett and settled in the Germantown section of Philadelphia. A 1910 ...

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De Quille, Dan (09 May 1829–16 March 1898), humorist and journalist, was born William Wright near Fredericktown, Ohio, to Paxson Wright and Lucinda Markley, farmers. Wright was the oldest of nine children. In 1847 his father moved the family to a farm near West Liberty, Iowa, but died soon afterward, leaving Wright with the responsibility for the farm and the rest of the family. In 1853 Wright married Caroline Coleman and started his own family. Five children were born in quick succession to the couple, two of whom died in infancy....

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Ephron, Nora (19 May 1941–26 June 2012), screenwriter, film director, journalist, and humorist, was born on the Upper West Side of Manhattan and grew up in Beverly Hills, California. Her parents, Henry Ephron and the former Phoebe Wolkind, were a successful screenwriting team best known for scripting such light-hearted fare as ...

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Joel Chandler Harris. Photograph by Frances Benjamin Johnston. Courtesy of the Library of Congress (LC-USZ62-103981).

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Harris, Joel Chandler (09 December 1848–03 July 1908), journalist and author, was born near Eatonton, Georgia, the son of Mary Harris. His father was apparently a young itinerant Irish day laborer who lived with Harris’s mother until the child was born and then deserted her. The Harrises moved to a cottage on the Andrew Reid plantation, where the boy was exposed to the major components of mid-nineteenth-century Georgia society—poor white farmers; the social and economic upper-class, plantation-owning elite; and black slaves. At this time Harris began thinking about becoming a writer. Recalling his early life in ...

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Ring Lardner [left to right] President Warren G. Harding, Grantland Rice, Ring Lardner, and Henry Prather Fletcher, c. 1922. Courtesy of the Library of Congress (LC-USZ62-92898).

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Lardner, Ring (06 March 1885–25 September 1933), writer and journalist, was born Ringgold Wilmer Lardner in Niles, Michigan, the son of Henry Lardner, a prosperous businessman, and Lena Bogardus Phillips, a poet. Lardner’s childhood was idyllic. He grew up in a comfortable, upper-class home where nursemaids and other servants supplemented the indulgent, loving care of his parents. As a young child, Lardner, along with the brother and sister nearest him in age, wrote and performed in dramatic recitations, plays, and musical programs in the family home....

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Lukens, Henry Clay (18 August 1838–1900?), humorist and journalist, was born in Philadelphia, Pennsylvania, where he attended the public schools. (Nothing is known about his parents.) He began writing for local papers when he was fifteen. For a year, between 1858 and 1859, he served as associate editor of the ...

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Marquis, Don (29 July 1878–29 December 1937), columnist, short-story writer, and poet, was born Donald Robert Perry Marquis in Walnut, Illinois, the son of James Stewart Marquis, a country physician, and Virginia Whitmore. He attended local schools, lived with his mother while she ran a boardinghouse in Chicago (1888–1889), and held various odd jobs (1893–1899) both before and after briefly attending Knox College (fall 1898)....

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Mason, Walt (04 May 1862–22 June 1939), poet, humorist, and journalist, was born in Columbia, Ontario, Canada, the son of John Mason, a wool dyer, and Lydia Campbell. Mason worked at his father’s woolen mill and as a farmhand during his boyhood and attended school only sporadically. He detested mathematics but later claimed to have memorized all the poetry in his readers. Orphaned by the age of fifteen, he moved to Port Hope, Ontario, where he worked for a year and a half at a hardware store, earned low wages, and met with little success. In 1880 he sailed across Lake Huron to upstate New York, where he again worked as a farm laborer, hoeing beans, “the poorest fun I ever struck.”...

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Nye, Bill (25 August 1850–22 February 1896), American humorist and journalist, was born Edgar Wilson Nye in Shirley, Maine, the son of Franklin Nye, a lumberman, and Elizabeth Mitchell Loring. Nye actually grew up in Hudson, Wisconsin, where he “took [his] parents by the hand and gently led them” when he was but two, jested Nye years later. In Wisconsin he received nominal formal schooling. He tried his hand at farming, teaching, and studying law, but it was his interest in writing that developed most intensely and led him to write for small local newspapers. In fact, it was eventually his unsuccessful attempts to secure positions on Minneapolis and St. Paul newspapers that prompted Nye to leave the Midwest and head west in the spring of 1876....

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Will Rogers Left, with Will Hays, c. 1925. Courtesy of the Library of Congress (LC-USZ62-83080).

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Rogers, Will (04 November 1879–15 August 1935), entertainer and social commentator, was born William Penn Adair Rogers near Oologah, Oklahoma, in what was then the Cooweescoowee District of Indian Territory, the son of Clement Vann Rogers and Mary America Schrimsher, Cherokee ranchers. Rogers County, which contains both Oologah, site of the historic Rogers home, and Claremore, site of the Will Rogers Memorial and Museum, is named after the prominent father, not the prominent son. “Uncle Clem” was a major player in Oklahoma politics before and after statehood (1907), serving as a judge, as a member of the Dawes Commission (to distribute Indian lands prior to statehood), and as the first local banker. Will’s loving wife, the former Betty Blake, whom he married in 1908, later remembered that “Will had everything he wanted. He had spending money and the best string of cow ponies in the country. No boy in Indian Territory had more than Uncle Clem’s boy.” (Yet being “Uncle Clem’s boy” could have its downside, too.)...

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Smith, H. Allen (19 December 1906–24 February 1976), journalist and author, was born Harry Allen Smith in McLeansboro, Illinois, the son of Henry Arthur Smith and Adeline Allen (professions unknown). Smith’s childhood was full of transitions. The family moved to Decatur, Illinois, in 1913, then to Defiance, Ohio, in 1919, and to Huntington, Indiana, in 1922, always remaining close to the general area of southern Illinois between the Mississippi and Ohio rivers. The area, commonly called “Little Egypt,” was a geographical location that figured prominently in his later writing....

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Sullivan, Frank (22 September 1892–19 February 1976), journalist and humorist, was born Francis John Sullivan in Saratoga Springs, New York, the son of Dennis Sullivan and Catherine Shea. When he was ten years old he worked as a pump boy at a nearby race track. When he was sixteen he began editing the ...