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Saturday Art: Influential Authors: Samuel B. Shellabarger


When I began this series, Samuel B. Shellabarger was one of two authors that inspired me to start. Few people today know Shellabarger. From his wiki:

Samuel Shellabarger (1888–1954) was an American educator and author of both scholarly works and best-selling historical novels. He was born in Washington, D.C., on 18 May 1888, but his parents both died while he was a baby. Samuel was therefore reared by his grandfather, Samuel Shellabarger, a noted lawyer who had served in Congress during the American Civil War and as Minister to Portugal. Young Samuel’s travels with his grandfather later proved a goldmine of background material for his novels.

There really isn’t much more to his wiki than what I have just quoted. This bio page though does have a bit more detail:

At the age of twelve Shellabarger attended a Sardou play, staring Sir Henry Irving. Struck by the romantic play, the lad decided then and there to become a writer. Then, in 1903, when Samuel was 15, he “first toured Europe; and the impressions of London, Paris, and Rome at the turn of the century became indelible in my mind and have left a nostalgia for the past which has colored my historical writing.”

There in a nutshell is the genesis of the writer. Shellabarger attended private schools. He attended Princeton, graduating with a B.A. in 1909. After a year of study at Munich University, he returned to Harvard where he received his PhD in 1917. Shellabarger was also an instructor at Princeton from 1914 until 1917. He took a year off from his academic studies to serve during World War I, eventually ending in the Intelligence Corp. (It would be an interesting study to look at all the writers who have been in Intelligence in military duty, and study the relationship between their writing and military careers. At least two ot he writers quickly come to mind: Rafael Sabatini in World War I and Ian Fleming in Naval Intelligence in the Second World War.)

I have read at least four of Shellabarger’s novels and two of them became Tyrone Power movies. I’m not real sure which of the four books I read first but they are all set in roughly the same general historical time frame though in different countries. There is The King’s Cavalier set in France. Captain from Castile is set in Spain and Cortez’s Mexico. Lord Vanity is set in Italy and Canada. The Prince of Foxes is set in Italy at the time of the Borgias.

Captain From Castile and Prince of Foxes were the two Shellabarger books that became movies. I think I probably prefer Prince of Foxes as it covers more of the book and seems a little truer to the original story. And really, how can you resist a movie that has Orson Welles as Cesare Borgia?

As I noted above, Shellabarger is not very well know these days and really wasn’t all that well known when I discovered his writing in the early ’70s. But as the side bar at the bio site I linked above states:

Samuel Shellabarger has often been compared to Dumas in his swift narrative style, his vivid depiction of the pomp and pageantry of bygone eras. His meticulous research and fully developed characters may in fact make him a likely candidate for increased valuation and scrutiny by the literary / academic community in future years. He continues to be loved by enthusiasts of historical fiction…

As a lover and enthusiast for good historical fiction, I do concur.

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Small town Kentucky country boy lived all over the country. Currently in Ruskin, FL