Friday, June 23, 2017

Birth Dates of Notable Kentuckians: June 23, 1876 - Irvin S. Cobb


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From The Kentucky Encyclopedia -
Irvin S. Cobb, journalist, fiction writer, and humorist, was born in Paducah, Kentucky, on June 23, 1876, the oldest son of Joshua and Manie (Saunders) Cobb. A war injury made it difficult for his father to support the family, who lived with Irvin's maternal grandfather, Dr. Reuben Saunders, a prominent citizen of Paducah. Irvin alternated between public and private schools in the area. Irvin left school when he was sixteen to support the family as an apprentice reporter for the Paducah Evening News. When the paper was sold in 1896, he became managing editor. His youthful recklessness provoked several lawsuits, and after a year he returned to reporting for the Louisville Evening Post. In his three years there, Cobb developed a statewide reputation as a trial reporter, enhanced by his coverage of the trial of the accused assassin of Gov. William Goebel (1900). He also became known as a humorous essayist -- the reporter's reporter.

In 1901 Cobb returned to Paducah as managing editor of the new Democrat. In 1904 he left the Democrat for New York City, to pursue his ambition of being a reporter on a major newspaper. He found work with the Evening Sun, and his successful reporting on the Portsmouth Peace Conference enabled him to move to Joseph Poultice's Evening Herald, where his reputation rose dramatically, bolstered by his coverage of the murder trials of socialite Harry Thaw in 1907 and 1908. Developing his natural talent for humor, Cobb published numerous articles, many in extended series such as " The Hotel Clerk." As Cobb's reputation grew, so did the stature of his byline and the number of his pieces that were syndicated nationally. His sociable demeanor gave him entry to the fashionable society of the day, from which he drew much of his material.

Cobb also began to write fiction, returning to the rural material of his Kentucky childhood. The Saturday Evening Post published his stories, and in 1912 he left newspaper journalism for the Post staff; shortly thereafter the Post published " Words and Music," the first of more than fifty short stories and novels of post-Civil War Paducah. Perhaps the best of these stories are in the early collection Back Home (1912). Sinclair Lewis wrote, "Cobb has made Paducah and all the other Paducah's -- in Kentucky and Minnesota and California and Vermont -- from which the rest of us come live in fiction."

In 1914 Cobb went to Europe to report on the war for the Post. The United States was still neutral, and Cobb's descriptions of Germany's strength and the war's devastation were the most vivid available to most Americans. Cobb and four companions slipped behind the German lines and were captured, but they were released unharmed.

On his return from Europe, Cobb embarked on a successful lecture tour of all states east of the Mississippi. Back in New York, he was honored by a banquet at the Waldorf-Astoria featuring a film biography, From Paducah to Prosperity, Or the Life of Irvin S. Cobb. His plans to return to covering the war were interrupted by the illness that prompted his best-seller, Speaking of Operations (1915), which literary historian Norris Yates has characterized as a landmark in the development of twentieth century American humor.

A supporter and friend of President Woodrow Wilson, Cobb reluctantly supported the nation's entrance into the war in 1917, and he returned to the front to report on the American soldier for the Post -- the most popular source of war information in America. Upon his return in 1918, Cobb took up the cause of racial tolerance. His admiring descriptions of black soldiers at the front made him a hero to black Americans, and he spoke at Carnegie Hall with Theodore Roosevelt in support of relief for black soldiers. He was honored by the blacks in Paducah in December 1918. Cobb became involved in activities to quell the Ku Klux Klan in the 1920s, even returning to Paducah in 1922 to edit the Paducah News-Democrat for one day, running a strong anti- Klan editorial.

In the meantime Cobb continued his prodigious output of fiction and humorous essays, and in 1923 he left the Post for a similar position with Cosmopolitan. Fascinated with the potential of cinema, Cobb sold several scripts to Hollywood in the 1920s. In 1934 he and his family moved to California, where Irvin advised his friend Will Rogers on a movie, Judge Priest, based on Cobb's stories of a wily small-town jurist. In Hollywood Cobb served as a consultant on several films with Old South settings, was master of ceremonies for the 1935 Academy Awards, and played the Mississippi riverboat captain in the 1935 film Steamboat Round the Bend. He appeared in five other movies. In 1936 he had his own radio show, " Paducah Plantation," and later served as a regular on other shows.

Cobb's autobiography, Exit Laughing (1941), brought him a resurgence of national acclaim. Between 1900 and 1950, Cobb shared with U.S. Vice- President Alben Barkley the distinction of being the American celebrity most widely associated with his home state of Kentucky.

Cobb married Laura Spencer Baker of Savannah, Georgia, in 1900; they had one child, Elizabeth. Cobb died on March 10, 1944, and was buried in Paducah's Oak Grove Cemetery under a granite boulder inscribed "Back Home."

ANITA LAWSON, Entry Author

Selected Sources from UK Libraries:

Judge Priest [videorecording] ; Doctor Bull / Twentieth Century Fox Home Entertainment, Inc.
AV-D7647, Young Media Library

Speaking of operations, and other stories, by Irvin Shrewsbury Cobb.
PS3505.O14 S6 1923, Young Library - 5th Floor

Exit laughing, by Irvin S. Cobb ...
PS3505.O14 Z5 1941, Young Library - 5th Floor

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