Born: November 19, 1907
Died: January 24, 1991
Ohio connection: Birth
Jack Schaefer was born on Cleveland’s East Side in 1907. Growing up in a house of voracious readers, Schaefer read everything from the exotic “Tarzan” stories of Edgar Rice Burroughs, to the thrilling western fiction of Zane Grey. In 1910, Schaefer’s family moved to Lakewood, into an imposing house on the northwest corner of Belle and Franklin. While attending Lakewood High School with his siblings Richard, Dorothy and Catherine, Schaefer edited the school’s yearbook and submitted numerous stories to its literary magazine. After graduating in 1925, he attended Oberlin College, receiving his bachelor-of-arts degree in 1929. Following his graduation, he pursued graduate studies at Columbia University, initially specializing in Eighteenth century English literature. When in 1930 the faculty withheld their consent to his change of focus to the development of motion pictures, he left the University before the end of his first year.
After a short stint as a rewrite man for the United Press news service in New Haven, Connecticut, he accepted the position of assistant director of the Connecticut Reformatory in Cheshire in 1931. During that same year he married Eugenia Ives, raising three sons and a daughter until their divorce in 1948. Unable to find fulfillment in any field unconnected with writing and journalism, he resigned in 1932, embarking upon a twenty-year period in which edited the New Haven Journal-Courier, worked as an editorial writer for the Baltimore Sun, and worked on the Norfolk Virginian-Pilot as the assistant editor. Dabbling in fiction writing for an evening’s recreation, he hit upon a viable story line concerning a heroic, though weary gunfighter whose efforts to settle down with a homestead family are perniciously thwarted.
Published in 1949, Shane was an instant best seller, so successful that Schaefer was encouraged to quit journalism and devote himself entirely to fiction. Though he might have been more pleased if George Raft had been given the title role in the 1953 film adaptation, he was happy with the end result, the book itself selling more than twelve million copies by 1988 in various foreign languages. In a productive four year period 1949 and 1953, he wrote two acclaimed novels, First Blood and The Canyon. The latter story, about a lone Cheyenne that is forced to choose between the customs of his tribe and the necessities of his community, always retained a special place within Schaefer’s affections. In 1960 he published Old Ramon, his first work of children’s literature. Awarded the Newbery Honor Roll, Old Ramon was further distinguished in 1961 with the Ohioana Book Award and by the American Library Association as one of its Notable books. Four years later Monte Walsh reached the bookstores, a novel depicting a lean, squinty-eyed itinerant cowhand whose time is divided between months on the range and occasional excursions to town, where he spends much of his time with a prostitute, Martine Bernard, with whom he has fallen in love. In 1967, his book Mavericks appeared, in which Schaefer created a dying cowboy forced to accept his own role in the destruction of his beloved western frontier. Sixteen years after having received the Western Literature Association Distinguished Achievement award, Jack Schaefer died on January 24, 1991, in Santa Fe, New Mexico. The Jack Schaefer collection, currently housed in the Special Collections Department of the Oberlin College Library, includes numerous short stories, newspaper and magazine articles, and first editions of all thirteen of his novels.
Newbery Honor Roll, American Library Association Notable book, and the Ohioana Book Award, 1961, for Old Ramon; Distinguished Achievement award from the Western Literature Association, 1975; The Western Writers of America name Shane the best Western novel ever written, 1985.