Birthday: August 19, 1902
Died At Age: 68
Sun Sign: Leo
Born in: Baltimore, Maryland, United States
Famous as: Poet
Quotes By Ogden Nash
Spouse/Ex-: Frances Rider Leonard (m. 1931-1971)
father: Edmund Nash
mother: Mattie Chenault
children: Isabel Nash Eberstadt, Linell Nash Smith
Died on: March 19, 1971
place of death: Baltimore
City: Baltimore, Maryland
U.S. State: Maryland
education: St. George's School, Harvard University
Frederic Ogden Nash was an American poet, well-known for his light verses with unconventional rhymes. Poetically inclined from a young age, he began scribbling verses from the age of six and started keeping a diary from the age of fourteen. An alumni of St. George's School and a Harvard-dropout, he initially had a number of jobs, but did not fit anywhere until he joined the publishing industry. It was while working in one that he first received international acclaim with his collection of humorous poems, ‘Hard Lines’. He was then twenty-nine years old. The following year, he left his job to concentrate fully on writing. Apart from more than five hundred hard-hitting poems that criticized the middleclass pretentious mentality, he was also equally successful in writing children’s verses and in his later years, he often wrote about his experiences on babysitting his grandchildren. In addition, he had also written scripts for three MGM films and three Broadway productions, one of which was hugely successful. Although he mostly used everyday vocabulary, which often included unprintable words, he was highly respected in literary circles and his poems were frequently anthologized in serious collections.
Childhood & Early Years
Frederic Ogden Nash was born on August 19, 1902 in Rye, New York into an American blue-blooded family, whose roots stretched back to the American Revolutionary era. His great-great-great grandfather Abner Nash was the Governor of North Carolina, while Abner’s brother Francis was the founder of Nashville.
Ogden’s father, Edmund Strudwick Nash, was of remarkable character. During the civil war in 1865, he was only twelve years old. Yet, because he was the only man left in the family, he felt responsible for his mother and sisters and to protect them, he would patrol the family estate armed with a shotgun.
As he grew up, Edmund shifted to New York, where he started an export-import business. Later he married Mattie Chenault, whose father was a professor of classics. Frederic Ogden, born as one of their children, had three known siblings; Eleanor Arnett Whitherell, Shirley Gwendoline Nash, and Frederick Aubrey Nash.
Because of the nature of Edmund’s business, the family had to move around a lot. In general, they lived in places like Savannah and Georgia for six months, procuring resins and other things; these were then sold in New York, where they lived for the rest of the year.
Ogden had a usual childhood for his times. As a boy, he hated girls and collected frogs. At home, he learned the right manners and also the classics from his mother. What was unusual was that, from the age of six, he started writing “verses, jingles and rhymes”.
Although it had been decided that he would go to some good boarding school when the time came, the plan had to be put aside. Because his father’s business took a sudden downward turn, he was enrolled at a local school in Rye.
Then at the age of ten, he was sent to a boarding school in Groton, Massachusetts. But soon, he developed eye trouble and so his mother took him out of the school to be taught at home.
Later with the onset of the First World War, the demand for resin increased and with that the family’s fortunes too became brighter. His eyes too did not create any major problem and therefore in 1917, he was enrolled at St. George's School in Newport County, Rhode Island.
Here Ogden excelled, not only he won prizes in Latin and French, but was also on the editorial board of the school yearbook ‘Lance’ and a literary magazine called ‘Dragon.’ He was also a member of the school’s football and baseball first team.
In 1920, Nash graduated from school to enter Harvard University. Unfortunately, the family finances took a downward turn once more. Nash could have worked his way through; but he was already tired of formal education and therefore he left Harvard in 1921 without completing his course.
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Beginning a Career
Although Ogden Nash did not have the necessary qualifications, he received his first appointment as a French teacher at his old school, St. George. However, teaching fourteen-year-olds was not his cup of tea and so he quit the job within one year.
Thereafter, he managed to get a job at Dillon, Read & Co, an investment bank in New York. There he mostly worked in the mailroom from four o’clock in the evening to midnight.
At other times, he was supposed to sell bonds; he sold only one and that too to his godmother. However, he found time to see lots of movies and after two years, came to the conclusion that he did not want to work there.
Now the question was what he did want? He considered writing. He had already written many sonnets about serious matters like beauty, truth and eternity, but had realized that they were not actually his style. He also thought of writing plays but discarded that plan too.
Subsequently, he decided that he must have some writing exposure and this he found in commercial advertisement. In 1925, Nash joined Barron G. Collier, where he wrote advertising copies for streetcars. As the company had a franchise for New York, his works appeared all over the city.
Within a short period, Nash became fed up of his job. He was then living with five other aspirant writers in a cheap apartment in the vicinity of the Third Avenue and one of his roommates was Joseph Alger. Together they wrote a children’s book, titled ‘The Cricket of Corador’.
The book was published in 1925 by Doubleday, Page & Co, whose advertising manager happened to be his childhood acquaintance, Daniel Longwell. He offered Nash a job at $90 a month; he gladly took it up.
In the Publishing Industry
Initially, Nash was appointed in the marketing department but eventually became the manuscript reader in the editorial department. While reading manuscripts, some good others bad, the idea of writing crept into his mind once again. But he should write what?
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He now started scribbling comic verses in small bits of papers, throwing them at his colleagues across the room. Out of it came ‘Born in a Beer Garden; or, She Troupes to Conquer’. Published in 1930, the book also contained pieces by his colleagues, Christopher Morley, Cleon Throckmorton, and Earnest Elmo Calkins.
Also in 1930, Nash submitted one of his poem, ‘Spring Comes to Murray Hill’ to the ‘New Yorker,’ one of the most well-read and respected magazines of the day. They not only published the poem, but also asked him for more, an offer Nash gladly took up.
Getting Established as a Poet
Subsequently, Ogden Nash began to contribute regularly to the ‘New Yorker’ and his regular presence in the magazine resulted in the publication of his first book titled, ‘Hard Lines’. Published in 1931 by Simon & Schuster, it contained a number of wry and witty verses.
The book was a huge success, going into seven printings in the first year alone. It also earned great reviews in journals like ‘Saturday Review of Literature’ and ‘New York Herald Tribune Books.’ The critics noted that although the poems look rather superficial at first reading, many of them show great depths.
Subsequently in 1932, Nash quit his job at Doubleday and joined the ‘New Yorker.’ But he soon found that he earned more money from writing than from his job. Therefore within three months, he quit that job too, never to take up another.
He now concentrated fully on writing. All through the 1930s and 1940s his works continued to appear in popular journals like ‘Life,’ ‘McCall's,’ ‘Saturday Evening Post,’ ‘Vogue,’ ‘Harper's’ and the ‘New Republic.’
While his works mostly depicted his dismay at the American way of life, he also criticized pompous politicians as well as religious teachings through his witty verses. While writing reviews for Nash’s 1935 book, ‘The Primrose Path’ in the New York Times Book Review, critic Charles Poore found that Nash was still "magnificently unsound."
Later with the birth of his daughters another dimension was added to his creativity, resulting in ‘The Bad Parents' Garden of Verse’ (1936). In one of the poems, ‘Song to be Sung by the Father of Female Infant Children’ he writes, “I never see an infant / A-sleeping in the sun, / Without I turn a trifle pale / And think, is he the one?”
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In Films & Broadway Shows
From 1936 onwards, he also started writing screenplays for Metro-Goldwyn-Mayer films; the first among which was ‘The Firefly’, released in 1937. Later he co-authored ‘The Shining Hair’ (1938) with Jane Murfin and ‘The Feminine Touch’ (1941) with George Oppenheimer and Edmund L. Hartman. However, none of them were box-office success.
Sometime now, he also co-wrote ‘One Touch of Venus’ with Sidney Joseph Perelman. It was a hugely successful musical, based on the novella ‘The Tinted Venus’ by Thomas Anstey Guthrie. It opened in the Broadway in 1943 and ran for 567 performances.
Although he later wrote two more plays for the Broadway, they were not as successful as the first one. Also from the 1940s, he started appearing on radio and television shows and in this, he achieved consistent successes, albeit less spectacular.
Concentrating on Childrenï¿½
Meanwhile, Ogden Nash continued writing poems, producing a number of books such as ‘I’m a Stranger Here Myself’ (1938), ‘The Face is Familiar’ (1940), ‘Good Intentions’ (1942), ‘Many Long Years Ago’ (1945) and ‘Versus’ (1949). Many verses in ‘Many Long Years Ago’ show his concern for his health.
Then from late the 1950s, he once again started producing a number of children’s books. Among them, ‘The Boy Who Laughed at Santa Claus’ (1957), ‘Custard the Dragon’ (1959), and ‘Girls are Silly’ (1962) are some of his more significant works.
In his later years, he suffered from various diseases. It led him to write a number of poems on the medical establishments. In 1969, these were collected together to be published as ‘Bed Riddance: A Posy for the Indisposed’. This was the last book that was published in his lifetime.
However before that, he had a few other books published. Among the books published in 1960s, 'Everyone But Thee and Me' (1962), 'Marriage Lines' (1964) and 'There's Always Another Windmill' (1968) are the most significant.
Most of Ogden Nash’s works criticize with cunning humor the pretensions of the middle-class existence of the modern time. In ‘A Lady Who Thinks She Is Thirty’, he talks about Miranda who, in her sight “Is old and gray and dirty” because “Twenty-nine she was last night/ This morning she is thirty”.
However, he had also written poems of other genres quite successfully. For example, in ‘A Word to Husbands’, he tells them, “To keep your marriage brimming/ With love in the loving cup/ Whenever you’re wrong, admit it/ Whenever you’re right, shut up.”
In the poem ‘Common Cold’ he tells a M.D., “Go hang yourself… I did not call you to be told / My malady is a common cold.” Again, in 'Line-Up for Yesterday: An ABC of Baseball Immortals' he dedicated twenty-four letters of the alphabet to twenty-four iconic Major League Baseball players.
Personal Life & Legacy
In 1931, Ogden Nash married Frances Leonard. The couple had two daughters, Isabel Nash Eberstadt and Linell Nash Smith. One of his granddaughters, Fernanda Eberstadt, later grew up to be a well-known author.
Initially they lived in New York. But later in 1934, the family moved to Baltimore, Maryland. He considered the city his home and lived there for rest of his life. He had later said, "I could have loved New York had I not loved Balti-more."
Towards the end of his life Nash developed a type of inflammatory bowel disease, known as Crohn's disease. In 1971, he was admitted to the Johns Hopkins Hospital when his condition was aggravated by a lactobacillus infection and died there on May 19.
To commemorate his birth centenary on 19 August 2002, the US Postal Service released a postage stamp featuring his photograph as well as text from six of his poems; ‘The Turtle’, ‘The Cow’, Crossing The Border’, ‘The Kitten’, ‘The Camel’, and ‘Limerick One’.