H. Allen Smith

H. Allen Smith

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For the congressman see H. Allen Smith
H. Allen Smith (representative)
H. Allen Smith was a Republican representative from California.Born in Dixon, Lee County, Illinois, October 8, 1909, Smith was an F.B.I...

Harry Allen Wolfgang Smith (December 19, 1907—February 24, 1976) was an American journalist and humorist whose books were popular in the 1940s and 1950s, selling millions of copies.

Smith was born in McLeansboro
McLeansboro, Illinois
McLeansboro is a city in Hamilton County, Illinois, United States. The population was 2,883 at the 2010 census. It is the county seat of Hamilton County. Located in Southern Illinois, the town was named for Dr. William B. McLean, who donated the land for its founding...

, Illinois
Illinois is the fifth-most populous state of the United States of America, and is often noted for being a microcosm of the entire country. With Chicago in the northeast, small industrial cities and great agricultural productivity in central and northern Illinois, and natural resources like coal,...

, where he lived until the age of six. His family moved to Decatur
Decatur, Illinois
Decatur is the largest city and the county seat of Macon County in the U.S. state of Illinois. The city, sometimes called "the Soybean Capital of the World", was founded in 1823 and is located along the Sangamon River and Lake Decatur in Central Illinois. In 2000 the city population was 81,500,...

 in 1913 and then to Defiance
Defiance, Ohio
As of the census of 2000, there were 16,465 people, 6,572 households, and 4,422 families residing in the city. The population density was 1,562.4 people per square mile . There were 7,061 housing units at an average density of 670.0 per square mile...

, Ohio
Ohio is a Midwestern state in the United States. The 34th largest state by area in the U.S.,it is the 7th‑most populous with over 11.5 million residents, containing several major American cities and seven metropolitan areas with populations of 500,000 or more.The state's capital is Columbus...

, finally arriving in Huntington
Huntington, Indiana
Huntington, known as the "Lime City", is a small city in and the county seat of Huntington County, Indiana, United States. It is in Huntington Township and Union Township...

, Indiana
Indiana is a US state, admitted to the United States as the 19th on December 11, 1816. It is located in the Midwestern United States and Great Lakes Region. With 6,483,802 residents, the state is ranked 15th in population and 16th in population density. Indiana is ranked 38th in land area and is...

. It was at this point Smith dropped out of high school and began working odd jobs, eventually finding work as a journalist.

He began in 1922 at the Huntington Press, relocating to Jeffersonville
Jeffersonville, Indiana
Jeffersonville is a city in Clark County, Indiana, along the Ohio River. Locally, the city is often referred to by the abbreviated name Jeff. It is directly across the Ohio River to the north of Louisville, Kentucky along I-65. The population was 44,953 at the 2010 census...

, Indiana, and Louisville
Louisville, Kentucky
Louisville is the largest city in the U.S. state of Kentucky, and the county seat of Jefferson County. Since 2003, the city's borders have been coterminous with those of the county because of a city-county merger. The city's population at the 2010 census was 741,096...

, Kentucky
The Commonwealth of Kentucky is a state located in the East Central United States of America. As classified by the United States Census Bureau, Kentucky is a Southern state, more specifically in the East South Central region. Kentucky is one of four U.S. states constituted as a commonwealth...

. In Florida
Florida is a state in the southeastern United States, located on the nation's Atlantic and Gulf coasts. It is bordered to the west by the Gulf of Mexico, to the north by Alabama and Georgia and to the east by the Atlantic Ocean. With a population of 18,801,310 as measured by the 2010 census, it...

, editing the Sebring American in 1925, he met society editor Nelle Mae Simpson, and they married in 1927. The couple lived in Oklahoma
Oklahoma is a state located in the South Central region of the United States of America. With an estimated 3,751,351 residents as of the 2010 census and a land area of 68,667 square miles , Oklahoma is the 28th most populous and 20th-largest state...

, where Smith worked at the Tulsa Tribune
Tulsa Tribune
The Tulsa Tribune was an afternoon daily newspaper published in Tulsa, Oklahoma from 1919 to 1992. Owned and run by three generations of the Jones family, the Tribune closed in 1992 after the termination of its joint operating agreement with the morning Tulsa World.-Antecedents:In 1895, a group of...

, followed by a position at the Denver Post. In 1929, he became a United Press rewrite man, also handling feature stories and celebrity interviews. He continued as a feature writer with the New York World-Telegram
New York World-Telegram
The New York World-Telegram, later known as the New York World-Telegram and Sun, was a New York City newspaper from 1931 to 1966.-History:...

 from 1934 to 1939.

WWII bestsellers

He found fame when his humor book Low Man on a Totem Pole (1941) became a bestseller during WWII
World War II
World War II, or the Second World War , was a global conflict lasting from 1939 to 1945, involving most of the world's nations—including all of the great powers—eventually forming two opposing military alliances: the Allies and the Axis...

, popular not only on the homefront but also read on troop trains and at military camps. Featuring an introduction by his friend Fred Allen
Fred Allen
Fred Allen was an American comedian whose absurdist, topically pointed radio show made him one of the most popular and forward-looking humorists in the so-called classic era of American radio.His best-remembered gag was his long-running mock feud with friend and fellow comedian Jack Benny, but it...

, it eventually sold over a million copies. Damon Runyon
Damon Runyon
Alfred Damon Runyon was an American newspaperman and writer.He was best known for his short stories celebrating the world of Broadway in New York City that grew out of the Prohibition era. To New Yorkers of his generation, a "Damon Runyon character" evoked a distinctive social type from the...

 called it, "Rich funny stuff, loaded with laughs." As noted by Eric Partridge
Eric Partridge
Eric Honeywood Partridge was a New Zealand/British lexicographer of the English language, particularly of its slang. His writing career was interrupted only by his service in the Army Education Corps and the RAF correspondence department during World War II...

 in A Dictionary of Catch Phrases, the book's title became a catchphrase for the least successful individual in a group.

With his newfound financial freedom, he left the daily newspaper grind for life as a freelance author, scripting for radio while also writing (for six months) The Totem Pole, a daily column for United Features Syndicate
United Media
United Media is a large editorial column and comic strip newspaper syndication service based in the United States, owned by The E.W. Scripps Company. It syndicates 150 comics and editorial columns worldwide. Its core business is the United Feature Syndicate and the Newspaper Enterprise Association...

, making personal appearances and working on his next book, Life in a Putty Knife Factory (1943), which became another bestseller. He spent eight months in Hollywood as a screenwriter for Paramount Pictures
Paramount Pictures
Paramount Pictures Corporation is an American film production and distribution company, located at 5555 Melrose Avenue in Hollywood. Founded in 1912 and currently owned by media conglomerate Viacom, it is America's oldest existing film studio; it is also the last major film studio still...

, and wrote about the experience in Lost in the Horse Latitudes (1944). His first three books were widely circulated around the world in Armed Services Editions. The popularity of these titles kept Smith on the New York Herald Tribunes Best Seller List for 100 weeks and prompted a collection of all three in 3 Smiths in the Wind (1946). By the end of World War II, Smith's fame as a humorist was such that he edited Desert Island Decameron (1945), a collection of essays and stories by such leading humorists as Dorothy Parker
Dorothy Parker
Dorothy Parker was an American poet, short story writer, critic and satirist, best known for her wit, wisecracks, and eye for 20th century urban foibles....

, Robert Benchley
Robert Benchley
Robert Charles Benchley was an American humorist best known for his work as a newspaper columnist and film actor...

 and James Thurber
James Thurber
James Grover Thurber was an American author, cartoonist and celebrated wit. Thurber was best known for his cartoons and short stories published in The New Yorker magazine.-Life:...

. Histories of the Manhattan Project
Manhattan Project
The Manhattan Project was a research and development program, led by the United States with participation from the United Kingdom and Canada, that produced the first atomic bomb during World War II. From 1942 to 1946, the project was under the direction of Major General Leslie Groves of the US Army...

 mention Desert Island Decameron because it's the book Donald Hornig
Donald Hornig
Donald Frederick Hornig is an American chemist, explosives expert, teacher and presidential science advisor. He served as president of Brown University, 1970–1976....

 was reading when he was sitting in the Trinity Test tower babysitting the atomic bomb on July 15, 1945, the stormy night prior to the first nuclear explosion.

His novel, Rhubarb (1946), about a cat that inherits a professional baseball team, led to two sequels and a 1951 film adaptation. Larks in the Popcorn (1948, reprinted in 1974) and Let The Crabgrass Grow (1960) described "rural" life in Westchester County, New York
New York
New York is a state in the Northeastern region of the United States. It is the nation's third most populous state. New York is bordered by New Jersey and Pennsylvania to the south, and by Connecticut, Massachusetts and Vermont to the east...

. People Named Smith (1950) offers anecdotes and histories of people named Smith, such as Presidential candidate Al Smith
Al Smith
Alfred Emanuel Smith. , known in private and public life as Al Smith, was an American statesman who was elected the 42nd Governor of New York three times, and was the Democratic U.S. presidential candidate in 1928...

, religious leader Joseph Smith
Joseph Smith
Joseph Smith was founder of what later became known as the Latter Day Saint movement or Mormons.Joseph Smith may also refer to:-Latter Day Saints:* Joseph Smith, Sr. , father of Joseph Smith...

 and a man named 5/8 Smith. He collaborated with Ira L. Smith on the baseball anecdotes in Low and Inside (1949) and Three Men on Third (1951). The Compleat Practical Joker (1953, reprinted in 1980) detailed the practical jokes pulled by his friends Hugh Troy
Hugh Troy
Hugh Charles Troy, Jr. was a US painter who is noted for his pranks.Troy was a son of a Cornell University dairy professor of the same name, and both father and son were members of the Quill and Dagger society...

, publicist Jim Moran
Jim Moran (publicist)
James Sterling Moran was an imaginative publicist who was active as a press agent for various clients in a career that spanned five decades, from the 1930s to the 1980s...

 and other pranksters, such as the artist Waldo Peirce
Waldo Peirce
Waldo Peirce was an American painter, born in Bangor, Maine.Peirce was both a prominent painter and a well-known character. He was sometimes called "the American Renoir"...

. His futuristic fantasy novel, The Age of the Tail (1955), describes a time when people are born with tails. One of his last books was Rude Jokes (1970).

Smith also wrote hundreds of magazine articles for Esquire
Esquire (magazine)
Esquire is a men's magazine, published in the U.S. by the Hearst Corporation. Founded in 1932, it flourished during the Great Depression under the guidance of founder and editor Arnold Gingrich.-History:...

, Holiday, McCall's
McCall's was a monthly American women's magazine that enjoyed great popularity through much of the 20th century, peaking at a readership of 8.4 million in the early 1960s. It was established as a small-format magazine called The Queen in 1873...

, Playboy
Playboy is an American men's magazine that features photographs of nude women as well as journalism and fiction. It was founded in Chicago in 1953 by Hugh Hefner and his associates, and funded in part by a $1,000 loan from Hefner's mother. The magazine has grown into Playboy Enterprises, Inc., with...

, Reader's Digest
Reader's Digest
Reader's Digest is a general interest family magazine, published ten times annually. Formerly based in Chappaqua, New York, its headquarters is now in New York City. It was founded in 1922, by DeWitt Wallace and Lila Bell Wallace...

, The Saturday Evening Post
The Saturday Evening Post
The Saturday Evening Post is a bimonthly American magazine. It was published weekly under this title from 1897 until 1969, and quarterly and then bimonthly from 1971.-History:...

, The Saturday Review of Literature, True
True (magazine)
True, also known as True, The Man's Magazine, was published by Fawcett Publications from 1937 until 1974. Known as True, A Man's Magazine in the 1930s, it was labeled True, #1 Man's Magazine in the 1960s. Petersen Publishing took over with the January 1975, issue...

, Venture, Golf and other publications. Smith made a number of appearances on radio and television. Fred Allen was one of his friends, and he was a guest on The Fred Allen Show on December 7, 1947 and January 9, 1949. On June 28, 1959, he was interviewed by Edward R. Murrow
Edward R. Murrow
Edward Roscoe Murrow, KBE was an American broadcast journalist. He first came to prominence with a series of radio news broadcasts during World War II, which were followed by millions of listeners in the United States and Canada.Fellow journalists Eric Sevareid, Ed Bliss, and Alexander Kendrick...

 on Person to Person
Person to Person
Person to Person was a popular television program in the United States that ran from 1953 to 1961. Well-respected news reporter Edward R. Murrow hosted it until 1959, interviewing celebrities in their homes from a comfortable chair in his New York studio Person to Person was a popular television...


Smith's autobiography, To Hell in a Handbasket
To hell in a handbasket
"Going to hell in a handbasket", "going to hell in a handcart", "going to hell in a handbag" and "sending something to hell in a handbasket" are variations on an American alliterative locution of unclear origin, which describes a situation headed for disaster without effort or in great haste.Its...

, was published in 1962. H. Allen and Nelle Smith lived in Mount Kisco, New York, for 23 years before relocating to Alpine, Texas, in 1967. He died in San Francisco, and his last book, The Life and Legend of Gene Fowler, was published posthumously in 1977. His papers are in special collections at Sul Ross State University (Alpine, Texas) and Southern Illinois University (Carbondale, Illinois). The SIU photograph collection contains pictures of Smith, his family, friends and celebrities.

Chili champ

Allen competed with Wick Fowler in the first Chili Cookoff in history, held in Terlingua, Texas
Terlingua, Texas
Terlingua is a mining district in southwestern Brewster County, Texas, United States. It is located near the Rio Grande and the Texas villages of Lajitas and Study Butte, Texas,as well as the Mexican village of Santa Elena. The discovery of cinnabar, from which the metal mercury is extracted, in...

 in October 1967. The competition ended in a tie. According to his book, The Great Chili Confrontation, three judges sampled the chili. Smith and Fowler received one vote each with a third judge uttering a decision that was undiscernable to either competitors or attendees. Smith competed with the following recipe:
Get three pounds of chuck, coarse ground. Brown it in an iron kettle. (If you don’t have an iron kettle you are not civilized. Go out and get one.) Chop two or three medium-sized onions and one bell pepper and add to the browned meat. Crush or mince one or two cloves of garlic and throw into the pot, then add about half a teaspoon of oregano and a quarter teaspoon of cumin seed. (You can get cumin seed in the supermarket nowadays.) Now add two small cans tomato paste; if you prefer canned tomatoes of fresh tomatoes, put them through a colander. Add about a quart of water. Salt liberally and grind in some black pepper and, for a starter, two or three tablespoons of chili powder. (Some of us use chile pods, but chile powder is just as good.) Simmer for an hour and a half or longer, then add your beans. Pinto beans are best, but if they not available, canned kidney beans will do – two 15-17 oz. cans will be adequate. Simmer another half hour. Throughout the cooking, do some testing from time to time and, as the Gourmet Cookbook puts it, “correct seasoning.” When you’ve got it right , let it set for several hours. Later you may heat it up as much as you want and put the remainder in the refrigerator. It will taste better the second day, still better the third, and absolutely superb the fourth. You can’t even begin to imagine the delights in store for you one week later.

Smith claimed to have downed the first legal drink in the United States once prohibition
Prohibition of alcohol, often referred to simply as prohibition, is the practice of prohibiting the manufacture, transportation, import, export, sale, and consumption of alcohol and alcoholic beverages. The term can also apply to the periods in the histories of the countries during which the...

 was repealed with the Twenty-first Amendment to the United States Constitution
Twenty-first Amendment to the United States Constitution
The Twenty-first Amendment to the United States Constitution repealed the Eighteenth Amendment to the United States Constitution, which had mandated nationwide Prohibition...

, and he wrote about the incident in Chapter VI of Life in a Putty Knife Factory. However, others also claimed to have taken the first Repeal
A repeal is the amendment, removal or reversal of a law. This is generally done when a law is no longer effective, or it is shown that a law is having far more negative consequences than were originally envisioned....

 drink; in New York City, Joe Weber of the comedy team Weber and Fields
Lew Fields
Lew Fields , born as Moses Schoenfeld, was an American actor, comedian, vaudeville star, theatre manager and producer....

 took the first legal drink with several reporters as his witnesses.


External links