H. Allen Smith rewriting stories.
New York World-Telegram.
Mid to late 1930's.
From To Hell In A Handbasket
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H. Allen Smith

H. Allen Smith was a well known journalist, author and humorist. The majority of his books were published during the 1940's, 50's and 60's and he was for many years the best selling humorist author in the United States. He is perhaps most well known for writing Low Man on a Totem Pole and Rhubarb, about a cat that inherited a professional baseball team. He was involved in the very first Chili cookoff and also took the unofficial first drink at the end of prohibition (During the 1920's and early 1930's it was not legal to drink alcohol in the United States.). Before becoming an author, H. Allen Smith had a twenty year career as a newspaper man. He interviewed and wrote about many famous people and authored over thirty books including Low Man on a Totem Pole, Life In A Putty Knife Factory , Lost In The Horse Latitudes and Rhubarb. Complete Book List.

H(arry) Allen Smith was born December 19,19071 in McLeansboro, Illinois. In 1913, H. Allen Smith's parents moved to Decatur, Illinois and again to Defiance, Ohio in 1918. The family moved to Huntington, Indiana in 1922, when H. Allen Smith was fifteen years old. He spent only two days of his ninth grade year at Huntington High School before leaving. His father would get him a job at a poultry house where he was working at the time, but H. Allen Smith would soon move on to the barber shop on Market Street. His job was to sharpen safety razor blades and shine shoes. One day, his sister's boyfriend, Donnelly Sullivan (his sister and Don later married), stopped into the barber shop to get a haircut and while waiting got a shoe shine. H. Allen Smith and Don got to talking and Don Sullivan mentioned he was a reporter at the Huntington Press. During the conversation Don Sullivan asked H. Allen Smith if he would like to be a reporter - he said yes. Within a week he was hired as a proofreader and within a month was writing items about local farmers in the area. While working at the Press, H. Allen Smith would meet his life long friend, John Moynihan. Later, John Moynihan would accept the position of city editor of the Jeffersonville, Indiana Bulletin and hire H. Allen Smith to work for that paper. H. Allen Smith would later move on to the Louisville, Kentucky Times.

In 1925, at the urging of his friend, John Moynihan, who had moved to Sebring, Florida, H. Allen Smith would also move to Sebring, where he would become editor of the Sebring American at the age of nineteen. There he met Nelle Mae Simpson, whom he married in Tulsa, Oklahoma in 1927 after accepting a position with the Tulsa Tribune. (H. Allen Smith and Nelle Mae Simpson had two children and were married forty nine years until his death in 1976.) In the summer of 1927, H. Allen Smith would move on to the Denver Post, where he worked until moving to New York in 1929 to begin working for the United Press, then CBS for a year in 1935 and later the New York World-Telegram until 1941. While working at the New York World-Telegram H. Allen Smith became well known for interviewing all types of people and for writing humorous weather forecasts. He counted among his friends such legendary newspaper men as Gene Fowler and H. L. Mencken. In 1930 at a Literary Tea for a new Lowell Thomas book he met Harold Matson, who was to become his friend and life long agent.

H. Allen Smith especially liked to interview people and sought out these assignments . During his newspaper career in New York he covered, met or interviewed such famous people as; Charles Lindbergh, Albert Einstein, Henry Ford, Florenz Ziegfeld, Sally Rand, Gypsy Rose Lee, sports figures Babe Ruth, Lou Gehrig, Walter Johnson, Knute Rockne, Red Grange, heavyweight boxing champions Jack Dempsey and Max Baer, writers Sinclair Lewis, Damon Runyon, H. L. Mencken, Thorne Smith, Edgar Wallace, Sax Rohmer and then New York Governor Franklin D. Roosevelt. He writes in his autobiography To Hell In A Handbasket, "It would take twenty books the size of this one to encompass all the interviews I wrote during the dozen years I was a newspaperman in New York." 2

H. Allen Smith authored his first book in 1939 at the age of thirty-two and became nationally known with the publication of Low Man on a Totem Pole in 1941. After the success of this book and his next book Life In A Putty Knife Factory H. Allen Smith briefly worked in Hollywood for Buddy DeSylva at Paramount Studios. He wrote about his experiences in Hollywood and the people he met in a book called Lost In The Horse Latitudes. These three books kept H. Allen Smith on the New York Herald Tribune Best Seller List for over 100 straight weeks in the 1940's. After working in Hollywood for eight months H. Allen Smith moved back to New York city and in 1945 to Mount Kisco, New York. Becoming a full time author upon his return to New York, H. Allen Smith would author twenty-one books and hundreds of magazine articles for such magazines as The Reader's Digest, Saturday Evening Post, Playboy and Esquire during the 1940' and 1950's. Many of his books contained humorous drawings by illustrator Leo Hershfield. During this period he also found time to appear on numerous radio shows and was a guest on Edward R. Murrow's Person To Person CBS television program June 28, 1959.

H. Allen Smith's first novel, Rhubarb published in 1946, was about a cat that inherited a professional baseball team. It was make into a movie (available on DVD) by Paramount Studios in 1951 and inspired two follow up books, Son of Rhubarb in 1967 and The View From Chivo in 1971.

H. Allen Smith liked to cook and had arguably the best Chili recipe in the world. He published an article entitled "Nobody Knows More About Chili Than I Do" in the August 1967 issue of Holiday Magazine and was involved in the very first Chili Cookoff with Wick Fowler of Texas (creator of 3-Alarm Chili). The event was held in Terlingua, Texas in October 1967 with the judges declaring a draw between H. Allen Smith and Wick Fowler. H. Allen Smith subsequently wrote a book about this event entitled The Great Chili Confrontation published in 1969.

After living in Mount Kisco for twenty-three years, H. Allen and Nelle Smith moved to Alpine, Texas in 1967. There he met Elton Miles, who was at the time head of the English department at Sul Ross State University. Elton Miles would write the Introduction to The Best of H. Allen Smith published in 1972 and author an unpublished biography entitled: H. Allen Smith: Reporter of the Human Farce. H. Allen Smith continued to write until his death in February 1976 in San Francisco.

H. Allen Smith wrote an autobiography titled To Hell in a Handbasket published in 1962. Additional autobiographical information is contained in Lo, the former Egyptian! published in 1947. The Sul Ross State University Bryan Wildenthal Memorial Library Archives, in Alpine, Texas has a collection of original H. Allen Smith papers including an audio interview conducted by Elton Miles with the Morris Library at Southern Illinois University, in Carbondale, Illinois  having the main collection donated by H. Allen Smith. GaleNet also has an online H. Allen Smith biography. Galenet is available by subscription and is available at many libraries.

Some of H. Allen Smith's books are still in print, the library and out of print book stores also usually have some of his books. List of H. Allen Smith Books and Magazine Articles.

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Short Stories
Introduction - By Fred Allen To Low Man On A Totem Pole
A Traipsin' Totem Pole - H. Allen Smith's Famous Totem Pole
American Spoken Here - About trying to communicate when you don't speak the language.
Carlos - Travel guide story, maybe the best ever.
The First Drink - One version of how prohibition ended December 5, 1933.
A Friend In Baltimore - Story about H. Allen Smith's friendship with H.L. Mencken.
Green Bottles in the Rio Grande - Fishing on the river.
Notes on a Father - A story about visiting his father later in life.
The Kidnapping of Albert Einstein - Who knew?

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H. Allen Smith Biography & Papers - Morris Library, Southern Illinois University.
H. Allen Smith - Lots of information about H. Allen Smith books with photos.
H. Allen Smith - Wikipedia Encyclopedia Article.
H. Allen Smith Appreciation Society - Facebook.
H. Allen Smith Chili Recipe - John M. William's Web Page - Reprinted from H. Allen Smith's book The Great Chili Confrontation pp. 26-27.
"Nobody Knows More About Chili Than I Do" - Holiday Magazine August 1967 issue, article reprinted at Holiday Magazine at Wordpress.com.
"The Great Chili Championship Fix" - Sports Illustrated Magazine December 11, 1967 issue.
Fred Allen Show .. episodic log - H. Allen Smith appeared on the Fred Allen Radio show 12-7-1947 and 1-9-1949.

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WebPost Footnotes:
1_ p. 25 To Hell In A Handbasket, H. Allen Smith's autobiography. H. Allen Smith writes that after he was past the age of thirty some members of his family, including his Aunt Nellie, presented him with a copy of his birth certificate indicating his birthday was actually December 19, 1906. Since H. Allen Smith lists his birthday as December 19, 1907 in his autobiography published in 1962 after this event took place, have concluded H. Allen Smith probably thought the birth certificate presented to him with the 1906 date was the result of mistake by his Grandmother Smith - see below. The Smith family's information from the 1910 census, attached which presumably was completed with information provided by one or both of H. Allen Smith's parents supports H. Allen Smith's birthday as being in 1907. Here is the exact language H. Allen Smith wrote about his birth date from page 26 of his autobiography To Hell In A Handbasket:
    "My father's name was Henry Arthur but he was always called Harry and that was the name my mother wanted for me. She reckoned without my Grandmother Smith, a woman of backbone. She (Grandmother Smith) felt that I should be named Henry Arthur Smith, the same as my father and the same as The Little Fat One (Henry "Dicker" Smith). There was a small argument about it and Grandmother Smith - always called "Gran" for short - let it appear that she had lost. But she had her way. The doctor who brought me into the world was her son-in-law, husband to Aunt Nellie, and Gran saw to it that he put my name into the records as Henry Arthur. And a while later she came to the house and carried me off to St. Clement's Church and had me baptized the way she wanted me baptized. Meanwhile my parents knew nothing of her cloak-and-dagger activities and they brought me up as Harry Allen Smith. Eventually I had to make a decision. I could be Henry Arthur or Harry Allen. I chose to continue through life as myself. That is, as myself was, or had been, or thought I was all along, regardless of error. The county clerk in McLeansboro proclaimed my legal name to be Harry Allen Smith. Esquire." - back.
2_ p. 253 To Hell In A Handbasket - back

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Version 4.7  W.A. Haugen
Last Modified: July 14, 2020.
Origination date of page July 16, 1998.
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