Irvin S. Cobb (1876-1944) has long deserved induction into the Kentucky Writers Hall of Fame.
Beginning at age sixteen he developed his talents for writing, first for the Paducah Evening News. He moved on the New York City in 1904 and began a long career as reporter, short story writer, novelist, scriptwriter, and actor.
He developed his famous “Judge Priest” stories and novels based on people he had known in Paducah. Some of his best writing was about his observations during World War I. Paths of Glory is a classic in battlefield reporting. He became nationally and internationally known as a “wordsmith” in the best sense of the word, writing for New York newspapers, The Saturday Evening Post, Cosmopolitan, and other magazines.
Mostly known for his humor writing he could also wrote serious fiction which he described as his “grim” tales. During my presentation on March 30 I will describe these in some detail as these are the most neglected form of his publications.
Cobb was very much a man of his times and region and he never strayed far from his Jackson Purchase upbringing. He was progressive about such subjects as prison reform, women’s rights, and the rights of labor. He opposed the Ku Klux Klan, national Prohibition, but never lost his sense of rather benign racism.
If Cobb had a fault it is that he wrote too much and spread his talents too thinly. He worked very hard at his craft. Though he received the accolades of millions of readers and most critics, such intellectual mavens as H. L. Mencken ridiculed his work.
No writer in Kentucky history demonstrated such a wide variety of writings and talents. He counted among his friends such luminaries as Will Rogers and appeared as a steamboat captain in Rogers’ last movie, Steamboat ‘Round the Bend. As he aged, the world of the late 1930s and early 1940s passed him by, but from 1915 through 1935 he was one of the best-known and best-loved American writers.
—-William E. Ellis is a graduate of Georgetown College, Eastern Kentucky University, and the University of Kentucky; a history teacher for over 40 years; and the author of the forthcoming Irvin S. Cobb: The Rise and Fall of an American Humorist to be published by the University Press of Kentucky. He will be presenting “An Evening With the Stories and Takes of Irvin S. Cobb” at the McCracken County Library on March 30 at 7 PM.
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