Tuesday, November 25, 2008

A Childhood Treasure Expanded and the Trail of Three Interesting Women

One of the books that I adored as a child and still treasure in my collection is an old Scholastic paperback reprint from the 1970s of Marian Cockrell's Shadow Castle (New York: Whittlesey House, 1945). This magical tale of a little girl, who while playing in the woods near her home, follows a cute little dog through the woods into a mysterious and scary tunnel, and finds a castle in a shadowy green valley, still enchants me. My paperback copy was even printed in green ink as were the delicious illustrations.

Lucy, the little girl, meets a nice young man, Michael who takes her into the castle and shows her a room where there are shadows on the wall of people who live elsewhere and tells her tales about these people. I won't spoil the plot for those of you who have not yet read this wonderful book.

Recently I thought to try to find out something on the Internet about this book and to my surprise I found it had been reprinted with 6 additional chapters by Marian Cockrell's daughter, Amanda Cockrell, who is herself a novelist and the director of the Graduate Programs in Children's Literature at Hollins University. I happily ordered a copy immediately and when it arrived, devoured it. The six chapters added two tales about some of those shadow people, but the book is great in either version.

I decided it would make a fun post about the two editions and hunted through the Internet, biographical databases and historical newspapers to try to dig up information on Marian Cockrell and Olive Bailey, the illustrator. The information I found is scattered and was difficult to find...

Marian Brown Cockrell was born 1909 in Birmingham, Alabama, lived for many years in California and died in 1999 in Roanoke, Virginia at age 90. She wrote short stories for magazines such as Liberty Magazine, The Saturday Evening Post, Redbook, and Collier's in the 1930s and 1940s, six novels, and one children's book. Then I discovered she was also a screenwriter for movies and tv shows from the 1930s to the 1980s, including the tv series Alfred Hitchcock Presents and Batman. Her husband Frank Cockrell was also a screenwriter from the 1930s to the 1970s and even directed a couple of episodes of Alfred Hitchcock Presents. Aha, I thought. Here's why she didn't write more. More money in the movies. Sigh....

Still that wasn't enough for a good post, was it? Courageously, I sent an email to Amanda Cockrell via her website, explaining that I was a fan of Shadow Castle and was putting together a blog post about it and her mother. Could she possibly answer some questions? To my astonishment she promptly replied!

The first question she answered was why the book had come back into print with six additional chapters. With her permission I am quoting our emails:

AC: The book came back into print oddly. What happened was that her original publisher forgot to renew the copyright in time and the book went into the public domain. Mama was furious, but a literary lawyer said there was nothing she could do. She couldn't get the copyright back and couldn't sue the publisher since she couldn't prove she had been damaged-- no one wanted to reprint it anyway. About ten years later, a publisher called Buccaneer Books (appropriately) who specializes in reprinting stuff that's gone out of copyright, reprinted it, and of course Mama didn't get a nickel for it. Then the lawyer said that now she could theoretically sue but the statue of limitations had passed. Arrgh! But at about that time the Authors Guild began their backinprint.com program, through which authors could re-issue their own out of print books. So we took the extra chapters (these had been cut because the book was too long when it was originally published) and copyrighted those, then issued the new edition. Buccaneer can still reprint the old version but they can't reprint the new chapters, so we hope we are pulling the rug out from under them. Anyway, that's the tale.

I've heard tales of problems with copyright before but that really made me go ouch, espcially since I remembered that I had bought that edition years before so as to have a hardback copy to supplement my old paperback copy. Oh dear!

I promptly sent back another email asking some questions:

JS: I didn't remember the frontispiece illustration and one or two of the illustrations in the new chapters. Do I assume they were cut too? Was Olive Bailey a friend of Marian Cockrell or an illustrator assigned by the publisher?

AC: All the illustrations in the new edition are from the original. I couldn't find out how to get in touch with Olive Bailey or her estate, but I had the copyright office do a copyright check, and the copyright on the illustrations and the cover had not been renewed either (as I suspected since Buccaneer used most of the interior illustrations) so we could use them, since I own the original of the cover, which Olive Bailey gave to my mother. They didn't know each other. The publisher assigned the illustrator. It was interesting, adding the extra chapters. Since each chapter starts with an illustrated letter, we had to make the new ones start with letters we already had. I had to tweak the first sentences of most of them. Fortunately we had some essential letters, like T for "The" and M for "Mika" and W for "When." I also had to add a few sentences here and there to introduce the two new storylines, since they had been cut from the original and the rest revised to take out all mention of them. They had been cut because publisher thought the book was too long, and also that these two stories were too scary.

[They aren't scary to my modern eyes!]

JS: Since your mother lived in Virginia in later years, I wondered if Shadow Castle might actually be set in Virginia rather than Alabama where she was born. Something about the description of the forest and mountain makes me think of the western part of the state...

AC: I think she was thinking of Alabama. She grew up there and didn't move to Virginia until she was in her 80s, long after she wrote Shadow Castle.

JS: Did your mother tell you stories about whether Lucy went back to the enchanted valley and what she saw there? I always wondered what happened next!

AC: She started a couple of sequels, but never felt that she really was on the right track.

JS: I found through searching for biographical material on your mother that she also wrote tv and movie scripts and 6 adult novels. I would like to know why she didn't write more children's books. Was this a set of stories she told you as a child that she turned into a book?

AC: She did write another children's book but could never get it published (not a Shadow Castle sequel). She told me those stories as a child, and read me Shadow Castle, but it was published before I was born.

[I want to read that book. I hope Amanda gets it published someday!]

JS: Would you mind sharing memories of this book and of your mother? Since your father also wrote movie scripts you grew up in a very literary family. I wondered if, since there was more money in the movies, your mother focused on scriptwriting rather than novels? I'm thinking about checking out her novels through interlibrary loan. Which would you particularly recommend?

AC: She liked writing novels better, but TV did pay better, as you suggest. My favorites of her books are The Revolt of Sarah Perkins and Yesterday's Madness (that one will seem very dated, though. It came out in the 40s. The heroine breaks off her engagement with her fiancé and then discovers she is pregnant by him after just being talked into going to bed with him once. She marries a childhood friend as a way to keep the baby. The Saturday Evening Post turned it down as a serial because it was too "lurid."

JS: I would like to know more about the Author's Guild's Backinprint.com program too. How many authors have used it and how many children's books have been reprinted through it? I had trouble searching iUniverse for just the Author's Guild books.

AC: I don't know how many, but a lot. Try going to the Author's Guild site and click on backinprint.com under "Resources" on the right. That should take you to just the backinprint.com books. [There are 1448 books listed, and there are some interesting looking children's book reprints among them].

This interview sparked more questions in my mind and I went off to dig some more. One of my passions is genealogy so I know how to find people. I began to dig harder on Olive Bailey. I had already found that she illustrated two other books, Arthur Ageton's Mary Jo and Little Liu (New York: Whittlesey House, 1945) and Isabel Manning Hewson's The Land of the Lost (New York: Whittlesey House, 1945) [see the cover image above]. So in 1945 she was working for Whittlesey House, which was a division of McGraw-Hill. While I was looking for covers and information on these books, I came across a mention of her as a cartoonist! It turns out that The Land of the Lost was a popular children's radio show from 1943 to 1948 and I found a detailed discussion of the show and its spinoffs, particularly the comic series Olive Bailey illustrated at Scott Shaw's Oddball Comics. The creator of the show was Isabel Manning Hewson and I dug further and found an Isabel Manning Hewson tribute page with photos and short biographies of her and Olive Bailey (scroll down to see them). Olive Bailey's biography stated that she was married to Arno Scheiding. Aha! Any genealogist knows that when you can't find a woman, you must look for her married name. It turned out that Olive Bailey Scheiding (1904-1994) lived most of her life in Darien, Connecticut with her husband, industrial designer, Arno Scheiding. After the 1940s she seems to have quit illustration and focused on painting. The Bridgeport Post (CT) has various articles on group shows that included her work. Arno Scheiding's 1975 New York Times obituary named no children, only his wife, and an unnamed brother and sister. Olive Scheiding died in Manatee county, Florida, and I have been unable to locate her heirs other than a bank (trustee)... Sigh. I had hoped to find another friendly correspondent to tell me more about her...

For those who would like to see more of her comic artwork after examining the illustrations at Oddball Comics, rather than spending money on collectible comics or original art (both have been sold in the past at auction), I would recommend hunting down a copy of Trina Robbins' A Century of Women Cartoonists (1993) at AtomicAvenue.com

It's been expanded and rewritten as

So who is the third interesting woman I mentioned? Isabel Manning Hewson, of course! According to her biography she was a pioneer woman radio commentator and developed, narrated and presumably produced The Land of the Lost. You can hear six episodes from this radio program here. You click on the radio shows link and then on the mp3 files which seem to work. Here's a Library of Congress discussion of the prominence of women in early radio which mentions Hewson.

I even found another copyright "ouch" item:

Isabel Manning Hewson Kirkland vs NBC
USDC, E.D. Penn (12-17-1976) ¤ 425 F.Supp. 1111
In 1933, Kirkland originated a story called “Land of the Lost” which became a radio program broadcast from 1943 to 1948. Children listeners formed “Land of the Lost” clubs, but the last disbanded by January 1954.

NBC started a new children’s television program called Land of the Lost (unrelated but for the title) in September 1974. Kirkland thought her rights to the title had been infringed. The Judge ruled that “a copyright in literary material does not secure any right in title itself”. Any secondary meaning attained by the title had been abandoned by her doing nothing for more than 20 years since the last commercial use by Kirkland. There was no “likelihood of confusion” between the programs of NBC and Kirkland. Whatever her previous success, “her extended non-use has resulted in a loss of rights to the title”.

Aha! Kirkland, another married name to track down...

Much Later: Ooof. She was the hardest of all. Newspaper databases like NewspaperArchive.com and Ancestry.com with its historical newspapers, and through my university, Proquest's historical newspaper databases, such as the New York Times and Chicago Tribune archives, don't have that much actual information about her. There are plenty of references to her radio broadcasts from Philadelphia in the 1930s and 1940s but not much personal information. I finally figured out some genealogical information that I think would be boring to go into. Isabel Manning Hewson Kirkland (1898-1980) may have gone into radio broadcasting because she was a divorced woman, looking to support herself. She seems to have had a very successful career. [I found a 1946 article that refers to her as a beautiful, blonde childless divorcee, while talking about her successful children's radio show, which made me go ouch at the period biases implicit in such a description]. In 1948, when The Land of the Lost went off the air, she seems to have ceased any radio work. I think she remarried at this point to Frederic R. Kirkland, and chose to retire.

To pull everything back towards Shadow Castle, I would like to point out that all the female characters in Shadow Castle are strong girls and women who do things and have adventures. Even Gloria flings things at her ugly suitor and fights like hell before being rescued by Mika. And what about adventurous little Lucy, fairy godmother Flumpdoria, and Meira who becomes best friends with a dragon? Legions of young girls seem to have responded to that. Amazon.com is full of rave reviews of this book by people who remember it from their childhoods, and are excited to have found it again!

So, Shadow Castle led me to explore the lives of three interesting women who had successful careers [despite the mythology that few women had successful careers before the 1960s]. This long and winding trail has led me to explore the history of radio, comics, publishing, genealogy, and to fun posts by people who share my love of this book. Every time I research a book or author, I end up finding such great stories and people!

Sunday, November 2, 2008

The Power of Presidential Biographies

There has been a flood of biographies of presidential candidates this year. The president elected on November 4th, 2008, will undoubtedly have many more biographies written about him in the future, whether or not he is a "great" president. The times are such that if he deals effectively with them he will probably be acclaimed as one of the greatest presidents the U.S. ever had. If he is the person I will be voting for, I think many of my historical heroes will be cheering from Heaven (smile).

In any case, presidential biographies taught me to love reading and many other children have also experienced similar fascination with history and biography. We have generally gone on to believe firmly in the importance of voting. There are many articles right now about how children are participating in mock elections and watching the current election with fascination. For the sake of all our children, do go vote, no matter who you vote for.

This is my story of the power of presidential biographies:

I can't remember a time when I didn't read. My family tells the story of how I became an enthusiastic reader as follows:

On my seventh birthday, January 10th, 1972, I came home from school and proclaimed that Richard Nixon was the greatest president ever. Apparently my teacher had been praising Nixon to her class. She had been talking about Nixon's upcoming visit to China. The class had even written a letter to Nixon and he had replied with a signed book. This was before Watergate of course.

My parents, life-long Democrats, were very upset to hear me praising Nixon. My father said there were many many much greater presidents. I said who?, and he started listing them all in order from George Washington on down. When he got tangled up with Grover Cleveland, et al, he took me down to the local library and we came back with a bag of children's presidential biographies. I sat down and read all of those books then went back for more. By the end of that school year, the teacher, who had been complaining I wasn't reading on my own enough, was complaining I was reading too much!

I did some exploring and found two familiar covers that are shown above. I don't remember the stories in the books, but I remember those covers and the stepping lion symbol, for the series: Step-Up Books.

This bookdealer's website has covers and scans of some of the pages of books in the Step-Up series and they look very familiar.

I went on to read other biographies and historical fiction, and one author that I really loved was Genevieve Foster. She wrote and illustrated George Washington's World (New York: Scribner's, 1941) and Abraham Lincoln's World (New York: Scribner's, 1946) as well as quite a few other books. These two books won Newbery honor medals in 1942 and 1946 respectively. What was magical about these books for me was that they not only began with images of the main characters' childhoods but talked about historical events worldwide, setting their lives into historical perspective and telling me about fascinating people and events happening at the same time around the world. I collected any of Foster's books I could lay my hands on, and since I've discovered I don't have them all, may collect the rest! While digging for information for this post, I found that five are in print at Beautiful Feet Books, although the two I name here have been changed and expanded by Genevieve Foster's daughter Jeanne Foster. They are apparently very popular with homeschool families.

I would go on to read many more biographies and works of historical fiction and ended up a historian, genealogist, and rare book librarian, all through the power of these books.

So, on Tuesday morning, I will go stand in line to vote, and I hope all of you that read my blog will go to vote. If you live outside of the U.S., please vote in your own elections!

See Chasing Ray's Blog the Vote for many great posts on the importance of voting!