Stewart, Donald Ogden, 1894-1980

Alternative names
Birth 1894-11-30
Death 1980-08-02

Biographical notes:

American dramatist, humorist, screenwriter.

From the description of Letter to Ivan Somerville, [1922] December 24. (University of Virginia). WorldCat record id: 53284516

Donald Ogden Stewart, American playwright, humorist, screenwriter, and political activist, was born in Columbus, Ohio on November 30, 1894 to Gilbert Holland and Clara Landon Ogden Stewart. Stewart attended Philip Exeter Academy (1909-1912) and Yale University (1912-1916), where he was a member of Skull and Bones and served as the assignments editor for the Yale Daily News . Following graduation Stewart worked for American Telephone and Telegraph and enlisted in the Navy during World War I. In 1919, while once again working for American Telephone and Telegraph, Stewart was transferred to Minneapolis where he met F. Scott Fitzgerald who was at that time living in St. Paul.

In 1920 Stewart devoted himself to becoming an author and moved to New York where he reconnected with Fitzgerald. Fitzgerald introduced Stewart to Edmund Wilson, and by extension, members of the Round Table, a group of writers who met at the Algonquin Hotel (most famously including Dorothy Parker and Robert Benchley). Like many of the “Round Table” authors, Stewart wrote for Vanity Fair as well as Smart Set, Bookman, and Harper's Bazaar . Stewart's first book, A Parody Outline of History (1921), is a collection of his pieces from the Bookman .

In 1922 Stewart traveled to Europe with his mother, first visiting Paris and then going to Vienna and Budapest. Stewart began work on Aunt Polly's Story of Mankind (1923) in Europe and completed the book while at the MacDowell Colony in New Hampshire. Stewart continued to visit Europe in the 1920s where his circle of friends included Philip and Ellen Barry, F. Scott and Zelda Fitzgerald, Ernest Hemingway, John Dos Passos, Archibald MacLeish, Gerald and Sara Murphy, and Gilbert Seldes. This circle of friends inspired Stewart, who wrote Mr. and Mrs. Haddock Abroad (1924) with their encouragement, over a month-long period.

While in Paris in 1925 Stewart met Beatrice Ames, and the two married on July 24, 1926 in Montecito, California. The couple honeymooned in Europe, which Stewart subsidized by writing for the Chicago Tribune, and then moved to the U.S. where they lived in Hollywood and then New York City. During this period Stewart wrote for the New Yorker and became involved in acting. Stewart appeared in Philip Barry's play Holiday and performed in the movie Not So Dumb . These experiences compelled Stewart to write and act in his first play Rebound (1930).

In 1932 Stewart moved to Hollywood with his family (which now included sons Ames Ogden and Donald Ogden, Junior) in order to pursue a career as a screenwriter. Stewart had already written scripts for Laughter (1930) and Tarnished Lady (1931). With the exception of his original screenplays Tarnished Lady (1931) and Night of Nights (1939), Stewart's work as a screenwriter largely involved adapting plays or working with a team of other writers. Stewart was nominated for an Academy Award for best screenplay for Laughter (1930-31) and won best screenplay for his adaptation of Philip Barry's play The Philadelphia Story (1940).

Stewart served as president of the Hollywood Anti-Nazi League, president of the League of American Writers, and a member of the board of the Screen Writer's Guild. Stewart met his second wife, author Ella Winter, at a political rally and the two were married on March 4, 1939 (Stewart and Beatrice Ames had divorced in 1938). Stewart and Winter lived at Frazzle Top Farm (New York), New York City, and California. While living at Frazzle Top Farm Stewart focused on writing plays, but was pulled back to Hollywood to work on Keepers of the Flame (1942). In 1950 Stewart was blacklisted for his political activities and in 1951 he and Winter moved to London. While Stewart's career as a screenwriter was effectively curtailed he continued to write plays, including The Kidders (1957), and wrote screenplays, such as Escapade (1955), using his father's name (Gilbert Holland) as a pseudonym. Stewart's last book was his autobiography By a Stroke of Luck! (1975).

Stewart died on August 2, 1980 of complications following a heart attack.

Writer, lecturer, and political activist Ella Winter was born Eleonora Sophie Wertheimer on March 17, 1898 in Melbourne, Australia, to Adolph and Freda Lust Wertheimer. The family moved to England in 1910 so that Winter and her siblings Rosa and Rudolph could receive a European education. German-born, Ella Winter's parents converted from Judaism to Lutheranism and around 1910 changed the family name from Wertheimer to Winter.

Winter graduated from the University of London with Honours in Modern Languages (1914) and from the London School of Economics, B. Sc. (Econ), with First Class Honours in Public Administration (1919). While a student Winter worked as a research assistant and secretary for Professor Felix Frankfurter, a position that involved her in the Paris Peace Conference in 1918. Winter returned to London where she finished her studies, taught at the London School of Economics, worked for the Committee on Nationalization, and was an assistant to Henry F. Grady. Between 1920 and 1923 Winter was a member of the Foreign Affairs Committee of Parliamentary Labor Party and managed H.G. Wells' campaign for Parliament. The Institute of Industrial Research awarded Winter a research fellowship at Cambridge University's Psychology Laboratory. During this period Winter also translated Diary and Letters of Otto Braun (1924) and Mentality of Apes by Wolfgang Köhler (1926) from German into English.

While in Paris in 1918 Winter had met and fallen in love with American journalist Lincoln Steffens, who was thirty-two years her senior. The couple reunited in 1923 and moved to France and then Italy. While living on the continent their circle of acquaintances included Jo and Yvonne Davidson, Ernest Hemingway, Louise and Billy Bullitt, Charles Erskine Scott Wood and Sara Bard Field. Winter, who was six months pregnant, and Steffens married in Paris to avoid social stigma in the U.S. (reacting against what Steffens considered restraining social convention they later divorced but continued to live happily together). Their son Pete Stanley was born in San Remo, Italy in 1924.

In 1927 Winter and Steffens moved to the U.S. and settled in Carmel, California (Winter became a naturalized American citizen in 1929). While living in Carmel Winter and Steffens befriended a number of artists, journalists, and political figures, including Robinson and Una Jeffers, John Steinbeck, Marie de L. Welch, and Samuel Darcy.

Having already written articles for the Manchester Guardian, Winter pursued a career in journalism, first editing The Carmelite (1928-1930), and then The Pacific Weekly (1934-1936), and Your World (1946), and contributing articles to Argosy, Collier's, Hollywood Tribune, Ladies' Home Journal, Liberty, London Daily News, The Nation, New Republic, New York Times, Scribner's Magazine, and U.S. Week .

Winter also worked as a foreign correspondent. She made several trips to the Soviet Union, first in 1930-1931, which resulted in her book Red Virtue (1933), and then during World War II, at which time Winter was a correspondent for the New York Post, an experience that led to her book I Saw the Russian People (1945).

As a journalist Winter visited post-war Germany, Austria, Czechoslovakia, and Yugoslavia (where she interviewed Tito for Alliance ) in 1947. In 1958, with the Chinese National Women's Federation as hosts, Winter visited China for two months with the intention of writing another book.

Politically astute and engaged, Winter often addressed social injustice in her writings, for example, in Red Virtue she considers the status of women in Russia, and in other articles she argued for the rights of migrant workers in California.

Following the death of Lincoln Steffens, Winter published a number of books celebrating his life and work, including Lincoln Steffens Speaking (1936), Letters of Lincoln Steffens (1938), and The World of Lincoln Steffens (1962).

Winter married Donald Ogden Stewart on March 4, 1939 and the two lived in California, Frazzle Top Farm in upstate New York, New York City, and London, where they settled in Hampstead. Winter published her autobiography, And Not to Yield, in 1963.

She died on August 5, 1980, two days following Donald Ogden Stewart's death.

From the guide to the Donald Ogden Stewart and Ella Winter papers, ca. 1839-1951, (Beinecke Rare Book and Manuscript Library)


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