Edison Marshall

Born - Aug 28, 1894   |   Died - Oct 30, 1967   |   Genres - Adventure, Action

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Biography by Bruce Eder

From the 1920s until the end of the 1950s, Edison Marshall was one of the most popular authors of adventure and historical fiction in the United States. Born Edison Tesla Marshall in Rensselaer, IN, in the northwest part of the state in 1894, he showed an interest in writing early in life. Marshall began his professional career while still a freshman at the University of Oregon, when he sold his first story to Argosy. He entered the army after graduation and received a commission -- he was stationed at Camp Hancock in Augusta, GA, where he served as public relations officer for the duration of his service, and he subsequently married and made his permanent home in Augusta. During the 1920s, he became one of the most successful authors of adventure short stories in America, developing a readership numbering in the millions in Harper's Bazaar, Good Housekeeping, and Reader's Digest -- his stories were also published in book form, interspersed with the occasional longer piece of fiction. He also had a handful of early works, including The Far Call and Isle of Retribution, filmed during the 1920s, but those early adaptations made no lasting impression on the screen or the moviegoing public. In 1941, however, Marshall began a new phase of his career when he brought out his novel Benjamin Blake, a historical romance set in 18th century England. The story told of a young man's stolen birthright and his battle to reclaim his heritage from an unscrupulous uncle -- it was told in a vividly detailed, somewhat overheated fashion, with many lusty sexual impulses (for its time) ascribed to the hero and the villain alike. It was this element, along with a flowing style and vivid period detail, that helped turn the book into a huge success.

20th Century Fox purchased the screen rights immediately and transformed the story into Son of Fury (1942), a colorful and exciting costume drama starring Tyrone Power, George Sanders, Gene Tierney, Frances Farmer, Dudley Digges, and John Carradine, which was a huge hit in its own right. Marshall had found his niche and, over the next 20 years, wrote more than a dozen novels in a similar vein, telling of life and lusty adventure in bygone eras and faraway places. It was a winning formula, combining elements of potboiler and the pop history lesson with some mild titillation, and Marshall's popularity soared -- from the beginning of the 1940s through the start of the 1960s, he was one of the most reliable fixtures on popular book lists, appealing as much to men as to women.

Fox remade Son of Fury with Cornel Wilde in 1952 as Treasure of the Golden Condor, and two more of Marshall's most popular books, Yankee Pasha and The Viking, were bought by Universal and United Artists, respectively. Yankee Pasha (1954), directed by Joseph Pevney, proved a popular vehicle for Jeff Chandler, telling the lively story of an American's effort to infiltrate the ranks of the Barbary pirates when his betrothed is taken prisoner at sea. And The Vikings (1958) (as it was retitled) was also a huge success from director Richard Fleischer and gave Kirk Douglas and Tony Curtis two of their best period costume roles. During the 1960s, Marshall's sales fell off as the public's taste for his brand of fiction declined. Never taken too seriously by the critics, his passing was scarcely noticed by the literary community when he died in 1967, at the age of 73; but his books were sufficiently popular so that copies of Benjamin Blake remained fairly common in used book stores into the 1990s, four decades after its initial publication.