Born: December 27, 1896
Died: March 18, 1956
Ohio connection: Birth
Louis Bromfield, a Pulitzer-Prize-winning novelist, Hollywood screenwriter, and farmer, was born on December 27, 1896, in Mansfield, Ohio. Having lived on his grandfather’s farm his last year in high school and proud of his family’s rural beginnings, Bromfield attended Cornell University Agricultural College in 1914 and 1915, but decided to switch his major to journalism and study at Columbia University. After working for various magazines, including Time, Bromfield published his first novel, The Green Bay Tree in 1924. Hailed by critics as an excellent first novel, it is set in a small Ohio farm town that, like much of America in the 1920’s, is slowly changing to an industrial community. The novel also introduces readers to Lily, the first of many strong-willed female characters that populate Bromfield’s novels. The first of a four-novel series with “escape” as its main theme, The Green Bay Tree was followed by Possession (1925) which introduces new characters from the same town, Early Autumn (1926), the 1927 Pulitzer Prize winner for fiction that focuses on relatives from the East Coast who now live in the town, and A Good Woman(1927), about a manipulating woman who destroys her family. A Bookman reviewer, Henry B. Fuller, commented about the series: “His prime impulse…would seem to be the necessity for escape. Escape from a barbarized Western Reserve, escape from an enfeebled New England. Escape, on the one hand from too crude and violent a growth, and, on the other hand, from too deplorable a decadence.” Many other books followed, including Twenty-four Hours (1930) in which guests at a dinner party in New York talk about their day, The Farm (1933) about an aristocratic agrarian family that must deal with industrial encroachment, The Rains Came: A Novel of Modern India (1937), one of his best known novels, and Until the Day Break (1942) about intrigue in Paris during World War II. Bromfield wrote scripts for Hollywood movies during this time as well and in 1938 decided to take his earnings and return to Ohio, where he bought one thousand acres of farmland in Richland County that he named Malabar Farm. The farm, where his famous friends Humphrey Bogart and Lauren Bacall were married in 1945, became widely known for its “scientific farming” methods and became the source of inspiration for Bromfield’s seven books of well-regarded nature writing. Selections from those books were published in 1991’s Louis Bromfield at Malabar: Writings on Farming and Country Life. The farm is now a state park, hosting hundreds of thousands of visitors a year who see plays, tour the “Big House” and learn about agriculture, animals, conservation, and the life of Louis Bromfield. Bromfield, who died on March 18, 1956, would be proud.
Pulitzer Prize for fiction, 1927, for Early Autumn; chevalier, Legion d’honneur (France), 1939; Audubon medal, 1952, for leadership in conservation farming, writing, and lecturing; honorary degrees from Marshall College, Parsons College, and Ohio Northern University.