This Day In Literary History
On August 19th, 1902, the famous American poet Ogden Nash was born in Rye, New York. His father owned an import-export company; due to the nature of the business, the Nash family moved frequently when Ogden was a boy.
After he graduated St. George's School in Middletown, Rhode Island, Ogden Nash entered Harvard University. He dropped out a year later and returned to St. George's School to teach.
A year after that, he quit teaching and worked a series of menial jobs, including writing advertisement cards for streetcars at an agency that once employed writer F. Scott Fitzgerald.
Eventually, Nash landed a job as an editor for the Doubleday publishing house and began to write poetry. He would say in a 1958 interview that he always had a fondness for rhyme: "I think in terms of rhyme, and have since I was six years old."
In 1931, Ogden Nash published his first book of poetry, Hard Lines. It became a huge success and earned Nash national recognition, establishing his talent for humorous verse with playful rhyming and anti-establishment themes.
That same year, he married his wife, Frances Leonard. Three years later, in 1934, the couple moved to Frances' hometown, Baltimore, Maryland, where Ogden Nash would live for the rest of his life.
When Nash wasn't writing poems, he made guest appearances on radio shows and toured the U.S. and England, where he gave lectures at colleges and universities.
He was respected by the literary establishment and his poems were published frequently in anthologies, even serious ones such as Selden Rodman's A New Anthology of Modern Poetry (1946).
As a poet, Nash was known for his pun-like rhymes and for deliberately misspelling words for comic effect, as in this riff on Dorothy Parker's famous lines "Men seldom make passes / At girls who wear glasses:"
A girl who is bespectacled
She may not get her nectacled
But safety pins and bassinets
Await the girl who fassinets.
In one of Nash's most famous rhymes, he parodied Joyce Kilmer's famous lines "I think that I shall never see / A poem as lovely as a tree:"
I think that I shall never see
A billboard lovely as a tree.
Perhaps, unless the billboards fall,
I'll never see a tree at all.
My favorite Nash lines are these classics from his poem Reflections On Ice-Breaking:
Nash also wrote a series of poems dedicated to his favorite football team, the Baltimore Colts, now known as the Indianapolis Colts.
In 1943, Ogden Nash collaborated on writing the Broadway musical One Touch Of Venus. Nash wrote all the song lyrics himself and co-wrote the libretto with S.J. Perelman.
The music was composed by the great Kurt Weill. The musical is a loose spoof of the Pygmalion myth that satirizes modern (1940s) suburban America and its values, artistic fads, and social and sexual mores.
The original Broadway production opened on October 7th, 1943, at the Imperial Theatre and closed on February 10th, 1945, after 567 performances. Directed by Elia Kazan, it starred Mary Martin, Kenny Baker, and Paula Laurence.
Marlene Dietrich was originally cast in the title role of Venus, but backed out during rehearsals, calling the musical "too sexy and profane." Mary Martin took over the role and used it to establish herself as a Broadway star.
In addition to his poetry collections, Odgen Nash also wrote children's books. His daughter Isabel was married to the celebrated photographer Fred Eberstadt.
Nash's granddaughter, Fernanda Eberstadt, became an acclaimed writer - a child prodigy who wrote her first novel at the age of eleven.
Ogden Nash died of Crohn's Disease in 1971 at the age of 68. On August 19th, 2002, the U.S. Postal Service issued a stamp featuring Ogden Nash and six of his poems to commemorate the centennial of his birthday.
It was the first stamp in the history of the Postal Service to contain the word sex.
Quote Of The Day
"People who have what they want are very fond of telling people who haven't what they want that they really don't want it, and I wish I could afford to gather all such people into a gloomy castle on the Danube and hire half a dozen capable Draculas to haunt it." - Ogden Nash
Today's video features Ogden Nash reading his poem Portrait of the Artist as a Prematurely Old Man. Enjoy!