Introduction: Here is a
deeply moving study of Hal Wright, the man, written by one who has known the
novelist intimately --in the saddle, by the campfire, and in the study.
Reading this, you will meet, too, his wife and
his sons. And above all, you will understand why it was inevitable that the
young clergyman should become a great and deservedly popular author-the pastor
of a congregation embracing more than two million souls. It is such a picture as
one rarely is vouchsafed of a man in the public eye, because it really reveals
the sitter--instead of obscuring him with stereotyped epithets and phrases.
have always wanted to meet Harold Bell Wright," a friend said to me
when I told him I was going to Arizona to meet the famous novelist.
"I've always felt he would turn out to be my kind of man."
Perhaps this was the feeling of the folk in McCall Street when they
telegraphed me in my Los Angeles home, asking me to go and see
Wright. "We want you to go out to Tucson and get us a picture story
of Wright," the telegram said. "We want you to tell the McCall
family what sort of man has written the novel they will read in our
magazine soon. We want you to tell them how he works, how he plays,
his ideas of God and mankind, why he has selected the Arizona desert
for his home."
So this is to be the story of Harold Bell Wright, the man--not the
novelist to millions. It is to be the story of a man popularly and
favorably known in Arizona among his friends as "Hal" Wright. And it
is intended for those less fortunate than I, the millions who have
met Harold Bell Wright between the covers of his books, but who do
not know him in the flesh.
It was characteristic of Wright to meet me at the train. That I
learned afterward. He and my charming hostess, Mrs. Wright, were
both there. And the day I left Tucson, they stood with me at the
steps of the Pullman until the train pulled out. It was no mark a of
special beneficence to me. I could see that it was simply their fine
sense of hospitality.
I should describe Wright's appearance as "rangey," if you know what
I mean by that. He is tall, and spare, but rugged; modelled after
lines not unlike those of Abe Lincoln. There is, however, little or
no trace of the terrific battle he once fought with the White
Plague. It is very evident that this battle has been won. His
movements are rather rapid, decisive; and an army man might describe
his stride as "snappy." He speaks softly, but always giving the
impression that he speaks precisely what he wishes to say. His
smile, too, is quiet. By that I mean it is a smile of genuine
pleasure, of one who finds much in life that is good and worth
smiling about. In the days I was with him--in his home, in the
desert, on the cattle range, in town--I don't believe I ever heard
him really laugh out loud. Yet he laughed whole-heartedly many times
in the quiet way which is typical of the man.
We first drove about Tucson while Mrs. Wright shopped for
provisions. They live five miles out, where there are no deliveries.
While we waited, Wright inquired about the folks in McCall Street.
He told me he had just mailed the first two installments of the new
novel. He was very anxious that his first serial please them, r and
the McCall family.
Presently we were driving out through the country. In a few minutes
we had passed all cultivated land, all signs of human habitation.
The sage, the greasewood, the cactus and the mesquite replaced
orderly rows of trees, well kept yards, attractive homes and
gardens. Almost before I knew it, we were at the Wright gate. The
road winds in leisurely fashion through a heavy, natural desert
growth up to the top of a gently sloping knoll upon which stands the
little group of buildings which comprise the Wright homestead. A
mile away one would scarcely know a building stood there. The
Wrights have happily combined the southwestern Indian pueblo and the
Spanish hacienda in the general architectural scheme.
When I stepped into the house I expressed my first thought aloud.
"Why, these windows frame perfect pictures in every direction I
look," I exclaimed. The Wrights smiled. Another visitor had
confirmed the success of their house-building plans.
"We built the house around these windows," Wright explained. "We
nailed some boards together in the form of frames, and set them
about until they framed the views you see from here, until each was
a picture. Then we told the contractor to build the house around
After luncheon Wright took me to his literary workshop, a wing on
the east side of the house. In building and furnishing it, he
fashioned for himself his ideal of a workshop. The windows, like
those in the living room and dining room, are very large, perhaps
six feet wide and four feet high. Each is a single sash, and may be
thrown up entirely out of sight so that the room may be made
practically an outdoor spot. Open on three sides, it looks out upon
undisturbed desert growth, with clumps of mesquite trees touching
the window frames in places.
Wright used to be a
minister. Most people are aware of this fact. They know that when he
wrote "That Printer of a Udells" and "The Shepherd of the Hills" he
was performing pastoral duties at the same time. In fact, he told me
the congregation of his last church had always consistently declined
to accept his resignation, so that he really is still a sort of
pastor-emeritus, as it were.
And here permit me to digress for a moment. Wright quit the active
ministry for just two reasons. One was that he could not stand the
physical strain. The other was to extend his ministry to a larger
audience. Thrown upon his own resources, practically, when he was
ten years old, Wright never was strong, never robust. He earned his
education. It took a lot of vitality from him to do so. As a
consequence, he found himself constantly slipping toward the
physical scrap heap when he essayed the difficult role of a busy
pastor. And always having an interest in writing he concluded to try
it while on one of his periodically enforced vacations for
recuperation. He succeeded, as the popularity of "That Printer of
Udells" proves. He determined to try one more book, and if that
succeeded he would take it as the will of God that he should work
out his ministry through books. The second succeeded. He accepted
this as God's wish that he minister to a larger field. His
congregation now totals many millions.
In A Son of His Father which begins next month in McCall's,
he wants to appeal to us to preserve and make use of the heritage of
moral, mental and physical strength, courage and principle handed
down to us by the pioneers of America.
"An artist's greatest task is to understand and perfect his own
technique," he told me. "I am trying always to perfect mine: But I
cannot do my work while trying to imitate the technique of others,
no matter how perfect theirs may be."
And then, without personal criticism of any of his contemporaries,
he indicated his belief that there is something more important in
writing that [sic] mere perfection of technique. He added: "I
would rather get a great truth from an untutored, illiterate cowman
than a lie, perfectly told, from an erudite college professor."
Wright asked if I wanted to see some of this country which is such
an inspiration to him. Of course I jumped at the opportunity. Our
time was too limited to permit adequate exploration on horseback, so
we took a big car which he has especially equipped for mountain and
desert travel. Wright drove.
As we rode along, a tiny lizard, frightened perhaps by the sudden
invasion of his quiet domain by a great panting monster of
civilization, darted out into one of the wheel tracks, scarcely a
yard in front of the car. Wright was talking, and I was listening. I
didn't even know that he saw the little lizard, and I probably was
too intent upon listening to have thought of interruption. But he
did see the lizard. The brakes screamed, so powerfully did he set
them. Wright continued to speak, and shifted into low gear. A moment
or two later the scurrying desert reptile found his way out of the
wheel track and to safety in the brush. Wright let the clutch in,
and we proceeded on our way. Neither of us mentioned the incident.
Wright never stopped talking on the point under discussion. It was
plainly evident that this was an ordinary occurrence with him, so
common that he acted subconsciously. I suppose we saw hundreds of
those little lizards that afternoon, darting through the brush. They
are the commonest living creatures of the desert. Killing one would
have made little difference. But as I have come to know Hal Wright
of Tucson, I know he did exactly what I would expect him to do.
And incidentally, it is also interesting to note that when he did
this thing he had a big .44 calibre revolver in a holster on a full
cartridge belt beside him in the seat! I asked him afterward why,
when we went out on those desert trips, he always took along a
revolver. "One doesn't need a gun very often in this country," he
explained. "But when he does, he usually needs it badly."
That evening he proposed that we might drive down into the Arivaca
country next day. It is in the Arivaca country he has laid the
scenes of his new McCall story. It lies at the foot of the Serritas,
a mountain range some sixty miles southwest of Tucson, and very
close to the Mexican border.
Mrs. Wright had a big lunch basket ready for us at half past seven
in the morning. Wright and I drove to Tucson "to pick up a couple of
friends for company." I was soon to appreciate his selection. They
stood for two distinct types the Southwest breeds. And it is among
these men that the famous novelist becomes simply "Hal" Wright,
ideal companion on a desert or a mountain excursion.
The McCall family will soon become familiar with Las Rosas Rancho,
central scene of Wright's new story. We were soon upon the ranch
Wright used for this location. The buildings were there, the country
is there, exactly as he describes it. And the people are precisely
of people he describes in the story. I know. I met some of them, or
rather their prototypes. It was like having the characters step out
of a book and shake hands with you!
The religious strain is essentially a part of the Wright character.
He is sensitive to the finest things in life, and rebellious against
those forces which tend to coarsen our national fabric. He still
believes earnestly in the importance of the church in our lives. But
I am inclined to believe that he is a bit impatient with what he may
regard as the inability of many churches and many churchmen to make
the church an essential part of man's life. He does not believe in
The Wrights seldom leave their home country. The past year or so
they have been very busy fixing up the new desert home. Much remains
to be done. While you are reading the new story, it is probable that
Wright will be in his tinker-shop in one of the out-buildings,
making furniture for the Guest House.
"Come back again," Hal Wright said as my train began to move out of
the station. Mrs. Wright nodded a second to his invitation. I will,
because I am quite certain they meant it; and equally positive that
I want more of their friendly hospitality. They are our kind of
Back to the first half
of this booklet: "The Inspired
Novelist," by Blanche Colton Williams
to Harold Bell Wright Brochures