Eyes of World
Man's a Man
Son of Father
Long Ago Told
To My Sons
I know Him
BSC no numb.
Hall Photo Co.
Matt's Cabn RP
Matt's Cabn tnt
Matt, Mollie, etc
Uncle Ike RP
Uncle Ike Tint
Bennett Sp. Tint
Bennett Spr RP
1925, Son Father
1925. Brian K
1926, Barb W
1935, When Man
1936, The Mine
1936, Wild Brian
1937, West Gold
1937, Out West
1937, Secret Vly
1959, Shep (TV)
Indiana U. Libr.
E Clampus Vitus
Who Was Harold Bell Wright?
by Gerry Chudleigh
| Most people today are surprised to learn that
during the first quarter of the twentieth century the novels of Harold
Bell Wright (1872-1944) outsold every other American writer. [Click
here for New York Times Obituary]. Newspapers
of the day claimed Wright was the first person to become a millionaire by
writing novels, and some say he was the first author to write a novel that
reached a million sales. If not true, neither statement can be far wrong.
Click here to read Ronald Reagan's
statement about the effect of Wright's books on his life.
Between 1903 and 1942, Harold Bell Wright wrote nineteen books (see
list in left margin), several scripts for
stage plays, and several magazine articles. At least fifteen movies were made from his novels.
Seven of Wright's books appeared
ten best sellers lists, two of them twice, including a number one
seller in 1914, a number two in 1916 and a third best seller three
times. For some reason The Shepherd of the Hills and
The Calling of Dan Matthews don't appear on these lists
though they each sold over a million copies within a few months of
their publication in 1907 and 1909. It is possible that the people
counting didn't keep track of The Book Supply Company titles,
since BSC was a wholesaler and had never published books before
Wright's titles. Or perhaps Elsbery Reynolds, the BSC owner and
president, had not yet started reporting his sales to the list
Wright's best known
titles are The Shepherd of the Hills, set in the Ozark
mountains of Missouri, and The Winning of Barbara Worth, set in the
Imperial Valley of southeastern California.
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| Just how popular was Harold Bell Wright? Frank
Luther Mott developed a system to compare bestsellers from 1665 to 1945,
when he wrote Golden Multitudes, the Story of Bestsellers in the United
States. To make
comparisons meaningful, Mott defines a bestseller as a book with sales equal
to one percent of the U.S. population at the time of publication. His ranking: Charles
Dickens, 16; Earl Stanley Gardner, 7; Walter Scott, 6; Gene Stratton
Porter, 6; and James Fenimore Cooper and Harold Bell Wright, five each.
Scott and Dickens were not American authors, and Gardner came much
later than Wright. So by
Mott's reckoning Harold
was one of only three American authors to write five or more best sellers from the
arrival of the pilgrims in America through the first quarter of the 20th
Later in this introduction
we will examine the angry criticism poured upon Harold Bell Wright by other writers,
scholars, preachers, and even librarians. But before we get to
that we need to consider why people bought and
read his books by the millions. Marketing
had a lot to do with it. His
publisher, Elsbery W. Reynolds, of the Book Supply Company, was one of the
first to recognize that rural and largely uneducated people would buy and
read books if they were made available and attractive. As a result,
millions of people who had never read a "better" book found Harold
books in their local small town stores, and listed in the Sears
Do You Have a
Click here to
| But his success didn't depend on marketing alone. Harold Bell Wright
was a master of description. Readers
learned to expect that between the covers of a Wright book they
would travel to other places and learn about other ways of life. Wright went to enormous effort to research his locations, usually
living there for several months or years before taking his readers
there through his words.
Click to Enlarge
Harold Bell Wright was a
good storyteller, but more; he
made it seem that his stories mattered.
In some moral sense, the resolution of the conflicts and dilemmas
in the stories resolved issues the readers faced in their own lives. Wright became the common reader's entertainer, pastor, counselor and social
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information about Harold Bell Wright
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| Most of the critics'
ridicule and animosity
Wright's simple characters. Wright tended to see people as all good or all bad. That simplistic view of people and issues
permeates every book. Readers quickly recognize which characters
are intended to be models for good behavior, and which are
symbols of evil. In other words, readers always know
Wright is preaching.
Harold Bell Wright's books defy easy classification. In
some ways they are religious novels, like those of the later Lloyd C.
Douglas. Many are westerns, like Zane Grey's. Most are romances, like Gene Stratton Porter's. All of Wright's stories were about the West, and most dealt with
romance, pioneers and, sometimes, cowboys. There were gunfights in the canyons, illegal distilleries, cattle
rustlers, fights at the mill, Indians, gold mines, and all-day chases on
horseback, though not in every book. But Wright always went deeper. Wright's pivotal issues were always moral, and he spent much time
delving into the emotional and spiritual struggles of the heroes. The hero
with the fastest gun, but the one with the
strongest character. For many modern readers those issues are still
The values Harold Bell
were just what millions of people, especially rural and western people,
wanted someone to champion. In Wright's books the values of the country and mountains and
deserts were always strongest and best, even if transferred to the city. What were those values? Hard
work, honesty, responsibility, perseverance, integrity, respect, physical health,
and living a life that is true to the work God has assigned to you
that might be. (Continue...)
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Click links in left sidebar for TONS more information about
Harold Bell Wright
Your Questions and Comments are Welcome.
Click Here for
This Harold Bell Wright web site
contains information from the book, "Harold Bell Wright's Books
and Collectibles," plus additions and corrections. Learn
about Postcards related to Harold Bell Wright, Old Matt's Cabin, The
Shepherd of the Hills, Branson, Missouri, Uncle Ike, El Centro,
California, Harold Bell Wright as Author, Lebanon, Missouri, The Calling
of Dan Matthews, Hiram College, The Winning of Barbara Worth, and more.
This Harold Bell Wright web site is written and produced
by Gerry Chudleigh with the help of many friends.
Copyright © 2000-May, 2011 by Gerry Chudleigh