by Ken Brown
Yesterday (make that three days ago--a time warp occurred at the Brown house), I finished Edna Ferber's book, Cimarron, an epic story that began with the 1890s land run into present-day northern Oklahoma and ended with the area's oil boom in the 1920s. The Ozark Uncle became aware of the book during his 2010 Lonesome Road Trip that took him across northern Oklahoma--the same as the setting for Ms. Ferber's book. While total immersion into the history of this area would be rewarding, the Ozark Uncle shall let the Ferber book reading and this blog post bring an end to the topic so he can pursue his many other writing projects.
Edna Ferber -- One can find several biographies of Edna Ferber online. All of them will say that she was a great writing talent and also suggest that she walked to the "beat of a different drummer." Her well-known works include Giant, Ice Palace, and Show Boat.
Temple Lea Houston -- A fascinating pioneer lawyer who was the son of Sam Houston of Texas fame. He is the person on whom Ferber based her Cimarron fast-drawing lawyer and publisher, Yancey Cravat. Unlike, Houston, whose roots and life can be traced, Ferber left Yancey's past only to speculation. Her Yancey was almost mystical and more of a spirit than a person. (Note: Houston is also the basis for Jeffrey Hunter's 1963-64 TV series, Temple Houston).
Glenn Ford and Maria Schell -- The Ozark Uncle had almost finished Ferber's book when he looked to see who had been cast as Yancey in the 1960 film Cimarron. Understandably Glenn Ford brought people to the movie theatre but he didn't fit my vision for the part--perhaps in a perfect casting world, a Tom Selleck body with a Charles Bronson personality.
- Ferber's main characters, Yancey and Sabra Cravat, were incredibly unique both individually and as a married couple. I simply have to put my perceptions of them in writing.
- Through Ferber's book, the Ozark Uncle learned about the use of conflict in fiction writing--something necessary in writing if one is to keep a reading audience.
- The Oklahoma chaotic oil boom and Ferber's description of the strife and ironies included has caused the Ozark Uncle to wonder about the new-found mineral wealth in Afghanistan. No doubt, as I write, individuals are gearing up a plot, scheme, and steal their way to that wealth.
For the last couple of years, Google Earth has provided the Ozark Uncle with a visual aid for his book reading. Try this if you haven't--as you read a book, go to Google Earth and find the locations mentioned in the book. One can get a geography lesson while at the same time enjoying a good book.
Identifying the Caribbean isles and related hide-a-way bays helped me overcome boredom with Jimmy Buffett's A Salty Piece of Land. Jimmy's book often mentioned and led me to read Rudyard Kipling's short story, A Man Who Would be King--one that became a 1975 film starring Sean Connery and Michael Caine. The story takes the reader through 19th Century India and Afghanistan. The main character in Kipling's story was Daniel "Danny" Dravot. In a different way, he was ever bit as unique a character as Ferber's Yancey Cravat.
Google Earth wasn't needed for Ferber's Cimarron because the territory was still etched in the Ozark Uncle's mind from his 2010 Lonesome Road Trip in late May and early June. Ferber states that her fictional town "Osage" could have been one of five existing cities. I'm guessing that I traveled through some of them with possible candidates being Enid, Ponca City, Pawhuska and Bartlesville.
Fact Stranger Than Fiction
In her preface, Ferber states that her characters (like the town of Osage) are fictional but the events, although sensational, are none the less true. Her model for the almost mystical Yancey Cravat was Woodward Oklahoma's gun-toting lawyer, Temple Lea Houston. Temple was the son of Texas's Sam Houston, and he came to the newly sprouted village of Woodward in northwest Oklahoma right after the land run.
Yancey Cravat's courtroom adventures were actual occurrences from Houston's past. One that Ferber didn't use but gives you an idea of the pair's eccentricity is the following::
Once a judge persuaded Houston to represent a penniless horse thief and Houston promised, "I'll provide the unfortunate gentleman the best defense I can." Houston asked the judge for a private office in which he could confer with his client. Sometime later, a court official decided to check on Houston and the horsethief. He found Houston sitting alone in the room with the window wide open. Houston smiled and remarked, "I gave him the best advice I could." From http://www.texasescapes.com
Main Character? Yancey or His Wife?
On the Ozark Uncle's "Must Watch" list is the 1960 movie version of Ferber's book with Glenn Ford as Yancey--although probably already seen, it was really not on my radar when I watched it years ago. Without even seeing the movie (again?), I'll wager that Glenn Ford is definitely "the star" lest his agent would never have signed the contract. Yet, when I think about the book version and even Edna Ferber's own life, her 1929 novel really had Yancey's wife Sabra as the main character. She was the person who not only held Yancey's life together but all the glue that held the book together.
Edna, with a journalist background, wrote the entire book from Sabra's point of view. She didn't write in first person but almost like Sabra's shadow. There is no scene in the book where Sabra wasn't present. We learned Sabra's thoughts and views. On the other hand, Yancey was but a story book character described to us. Sabra kept couple's newspaper, the Osage Wigwam, alive and eventually quite successful.
In the book, Yancey would be gone for years only to resurface at an opportune moment when some area crisis or event was occurring. In just a few moments after his arrival, Sabra would melt in his arms and forget all the hurt caused by his absences. He would take over the editorial page and unlike current media, he would espouse a point of view that could be quite divisive and unpopular particularly with the white settlers. Yet, it never really hurt the newspaper--if anything, subscriptions would surge after one of these episodes.
Edna Ferber never married and some suggested she wasn't the "marryin' kind." The book would not have worked had the Cravats divorced, but probably the most incredible of all the incredibles in the book was that the couple's love for each other never wavered. What is most credible, however, was the accomplishments attained by Sabra entirely on her own. To me, she was the real story.
Well, the Ozark Uncle is hooked on Edna Ferber for the time being. The Springfield-Greene County MO library will have to find him a couple of Ferber's Giant. Oh, I've seen the movie version with Rock Hudson, Elizabeth Taylor, and James Dean more than once. But how did Ferber tell the story originally -- that's the question.