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Irvin S. Cobb

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Irvin S. Cobb was an author, journalist, and sometime actor whose greatest influence on film came through the adaptations of his work by director John Ford, who made two major adaptations of his work two decades apart. The second of four children, he was born Irvin Shrewsbury Cobb in Paducah, KY, in 1876; one ancestor, his grandfather Reuben Saunders (1808-1891), achieved fame as the physician who developed the hypodermic use of morphine-atropine as a treatment for cholera, as well as being the earliest known advocate of fresh air as a treatment for pneumonia and tuberculosis. Cobb was born in the year in which radical Reconstruction came to an end in the south, and he came of age in an era whose most pronounced characteristic was the imposition of Jim Crow laws and other manifestations of racial segregation restricting the rights of African American citizens. Many of the images and much of the content and sensibilities behind his writing were derived from childhood memories of Paducah and the surrounding area during the last decade of the nineteenth century, amid the slowly changing rural environment of his part of the south. It was Cobb's hope to pursue a career in law, but the death of his grandfather in 1892, and his father's subsequent descent into alcoholism, forced him to go to work full-time at age 16. His writing career began soon after, at the Paducah Daily News, when he was 17. Two years later, he was the newspaper's managing news editor, reportedly the youngest man ever to have held such a job on a daily newspaper. He later wrote for the Louisville Evening Post and then moved to New York City in 1904. Cobb coverage's of the Russian-Japanese peace conference in Portsmouth, NH, was picked up by newspapers all over the United States, transforming him into a leader in his profession and resulting in his being hired by the New York World under Joseph Pulitzer.He also wrote numerous short stories, mostly about life in the south of the late nineteenth century. In his work, he depicted a world that was already starting to fade from view in the first two decades of the new century, populated by a cast of lovable eccentrics, colorful reprobates, upright and honorable civic leaders, and -- most controversially, in retrospect -- contented and deferential African Americans. Many of these tales were later collected in book form. The first of those, Old Judge Priest, was published in 1915; it later became common knowledge that the writer had based Judge Priest on a real-life local figure from Kentucky, Judge William Pitman Bishop. It was around this time that Cobb also made his first screen appearances. He was sufficiently well-known to play himself, alongside actress Billie Burke and financier and philanthropist Andrew Carnegie (also playing themselves), in John W. Noble's Our Mutual Girl (1914); and he portrayed an American tourist in the 1915 Cecil B. DeMille-directed drama The Arab. He was a rotund but attractive, even striking looking man -- and his appearance and fame made him easily caricatured -- and might have created something of a second career for himself as a screen actor; but his ventures into movies were interrupted by the onset of the First World War, which Cobb covered as a journalist for the Saturday Evening Post. He later published a book about the war entitled Paths of Glory.By the end of the teens, he was again writing articles for numerous periodicals and was as famous as ever. Cobb's short stories began getting licensed for movie adaptations during the silent era, and he was both the star and subject of an experimental early sound short entitled Irvin S. Cobb All-American Storyteller, made in 1921. During this time he also became a screenwriter, composing the titles (which is to say, the dialogue up on the screen) for the comedies Peck's Bad Boy and Pardon My French (both 1921), among other films. His writing was still popular in the early '30s and became the source for such movies as The Woman Accused (193

Filmography

MOVIES

RATING TITLE CREDIT BOX OFFICE YEAR
No Score Yet The Young in Heart
  • Mr. Jennings
1938
No Score Yet Hawaii Calls
  • Capt. O'Hare
1938
No Score Yet Steamboat Round The Bend
  • Captain Eli
1935

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