1968-04-16

EDNA FERBER, American author died (b. 1885); In 1925, she won the Pulitzer Prize for her book So Big, which was made into an early talkie movie in 1932, starring Bette Davis, Barbara Stanwyck, and George Brent. It was the only movie Stanwyck and Davis ever appeared in together, and Stanwyck played Davis’ mother-in-law, although only a year older in real life, which allegedly displeased her, as did the attitude of the hoydenish Davis. A 1953 remake of So Big starred Jane Wyman in the Stanwyck role, and is the version most often seen today.

A close friend of and correspondent with English playwright and bon vivant, Noël Coward, Ferber was a member of the Algonquin Round Table, a group of wits who met for lunch every day at the Algonquin Hotel in New York. Ferber and another member of the Round Table, Alexander Woolcott, were long-time enemies, their antipathy lasting until Woolcott’s death in 1943, although Howard Teichmann states in his biography of Woollcott that this was due to a misunderstanding. According to Teichmann, Ferber once described Woollcott as “a New Jersey Nero who has mistaken his pinafore for a toga.”

Edna Ferber died on April 16, 1968, at her home in New York City, of cancer, at the age of 82. The New York Times said, “…she was among the best-read novelists in the nation, and critics of the 1920s and 1930s did not hesitate to call her the greatest American woman novelist of her day.”

Her novels generally featured a strong female as the protagonist, although she fleshed out multiple characters in each book. She usually highlighted at least one strong secondary character who faced discrimination ethnically or for other reasons; through this technique, Ferber demonstrated her belief that people are people and that the non-so-pretty persons have the best character.

Ferber had no children, never married, and is not known to have engaged in a romance or sexual relationship with anyone of either gender. In her early novel Dawn O’Hara, the title character’s aunt is said to have remarked, “Being an old maid was a great deal like death by drowning — a really delightful sensation when you ceased struggling.” Ferber did take a maternal interest in the career of her niece Janet Fox, an actress who performed in the original Broadway casts of Ferber’s plays Dinner at Eight and Stage Door.